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J P Ryan
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
An interesting collection for fans, "Funky As I Can Be" is by no means the best Lee Dorsey album on the market for the unitiated. Crescent City legends Dorsey and long-time collaborator Allen Toussaint's "Yes We Can" (1970) remains one of the most remarkable funk/soul albums to emerge from New Orleans, or anywhere, during the 1970s. The most satisfying edition available at present is the recent Japanese 'cardboard sleeve' edition (reproducing the original album cover in miniature), both in terms of sonics - the mastering is warm, detailed, and alive - and content, offering the original 12-song Polydor label classic as well as nine excellent bonus tracks, including a nice pair of rarities cut during Lee's brief (1963) stint with the Smash label. The remaining bonus cuts include four post-"Yes We Can" singles released by Polydor during 1971 - 73, at which point the singer was dropped by the label's roster, as neither "Yes We Can" nor the subsequent singles - which have attained the status of classics themselves - achieved national hit status. Of course many of the Polydor-era songs have gained in stature thanks to subsequent cover versions that prove their enduring quality: the title track was a breakout smash for the Pointer Sisters, "Occapella" was included on Ringo Starr's "Goodnight Vienna". Robert Palmer clearly was impressed, recording "Sneakin' Sally Thru The Alley" and other Dorsey/Toussaint gems, and "On Your Way Down" was recorded by Lowell George and Little Feat (in a version that ranks with the original); "Freedom For The Stallion" has been covered by numerous artits, including Toussaint himself. All of these, along with lesser known cuts like "When The Bill's Paid" and the single "If She Won't" are as eccentric, and brilliantly conceived, as Toussaint and Dorsey's best. The Japanese set also contains three Polydor-era outtakes, each of which captures Lee's heart and warmth, especially a remarkable take on his hero Ray Charles' "Lonely Avenue".
Back in 2000 Sundazed reissued beautifully remastered and expanded editions of Lee's two albums recorded for the Amy label, where he scored many of his biggest hits ('Working In The Coal Mine', 'Holy Cow', 'Ride Your Pony', etc), again with Toussaint during the 1965 - 70 period. The Sundazed packages - "Ride Your Pony" and "The New Lee Dorsey" - together collect 47 mostly great tracks, and are highly recommended, though sadly they have recently gone out of print. Lee's earlier tenure at Fury (1961 - 62) produced two national hits, the surreal 'Ya Ya' and Earl King's 'Do Re Me' (both included on this set) as well as an album's worth of other tracks. As for Dorsey's earliest sides, "Rock" and "Lonely Evenings" (1957) can be found on an Ace (UK) CD along with early sides by Joe Tex and others; the title at this moment eludes me. So what about the compilation ostensibly under discussion? "Funky..." is a fascinating collection, albeit a very mixed bag. I was thrilled to find that half of its tracks were new to me, and I'm definitely a fan. Two rarities from the Polydor era are included, the striking "My Babe" (Little Walter's classic) and the recently unearthed Chuck Willis ballad "What Am I Living For", both in passable sound, obviously not taken from original sources. Three more early '60s tracks - liner note contributor Bill Dahl doesn't specify whether these were recorded for Fury (1961-62), Smash ('63) or Constellation ('63 - 64), but the mixes and overall sound reproduction is disappointing, despite the intrinsic quality of "Nee Na Nay" and Toussaint's "Lonelyology" especially. Finally, the set closes with three live versions of Dorsey classics, evidently recorded at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage festival in 1980. It's certainly nice to have these tracks, revealing as they do Dorsey's utterly unassuming warmth, his bemused, wry sensibility, and his obvious pleasure in performing. Dorsey died of emphysema in 1986; these may be among his last recorded performances. The rest of this set is a smattering of hits from various sources, some available in better sound and with surperior presentation elsewhere. I'm grateful to get the rare stuff - but I hope the long awaited (by me) "deluxe edition" of "Yes We Can" will be released in the States, with all relevent Ploydor (and Smash) tracks in vastly superior sound. Dorsey deserves the 'deluxe' treatment. As for this interesting compilation - completists take note. And caveat emptor.