by Matt Bauer, Entertaiment Writer
“By her sound I couldn’t believe she was white. She seemed a divine example of reincarnation.” -Rick James speaking of Teena Marie.
It’s 1991 and I’m on my first crate digging mission at the local flea market, patiently thumbing through the endless copies of “Thriller” and “Hotel California,” when a somewhat familiar name popped out from an indigo cover—Teena Marie. “No, that can’t be the same Teena Marie from Rick’s “Fire and Desire,” I thought. It’s rare, but sometimes the buried treasure in a musty crate of non-descript records really can change your life.
I had never seen a picture of Teena, but before needle touched wax on that “It Must Be Magic” album, I’d found a kindred spirit. The poem that graced the inner sleeve lamenting “n—– lover this and n—– lover that, Oh yes I’ve been called it all” echoed my own painful ostracization from certain family members and peers due to my abiding love and allegiance to African-American music and culture. The artist born Mary Christine Brockert aka “Vanilla Choc” was an avatar of music’s celestial power to cross cultures and heal.
Yet she remains an incredibly unsung artist. Enter “Love Songs & Funky Beats” a double album full of brand new remixes by one of the most celebrated mix engineers and remixers of all time—John Morales—that reminds us how great Marie truly was while serving as an excellent introduction to the uninitiated.
There’s not a weak cut among the 18 tracks on the expansive and lovingly curated set which kicks off with a fantastic “I Need Your Lovin,” which is extended to a glorious 9-plus minutes highlighting the string arrangement and endless groove. “Square Biz” and “Behind The Groove” are given a similarly epic treatment, the former manages the uncanny feat of being rhythmically hotter than the original while the latter is an hypnotic funk opus. “I’m a Sucker for Your Love” ( recorded live in Long Beach, CA and featuring originally on the second disc of 2001 deluxe edition of “Street Songs”) is a monster: the Stone City band hitting on all cylinders as Marie and Levi Ruffin take the crowd to funk heaven.
The love songs are equally majestic. “Portuguese Love” is a sumptuous summertime treasure, “Aladdin’s Lamp” exudes a funkier aura than the original while “Love Just Wouldn’t Be Right” is a bouncy ray of soulful sweetness.
Ultimately, the crown jewel of the slow songs is, of course, “Fire & Desire.” A masterwork that strips back the instrumentation that highlights both voices, it’s 11 minutes of pure rapture, and in this mix Rick and Teena have never sounded better.
While rights issues prohibited Morales from venturing beyond Teena Marie’s Motown years, “Love Songs & Funky Beats” is a superb and substantial overview of a one of a kind artist in their prime.