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Cissy Strut Midil [WORK]

1969's self-titled debut is largely a response to the success of Booker T. & The M.G.'s. The most famous instrumental group at the time, "The Meters" trades Booker T's knack for changes in texture (see: "Chinese Checkers," "Jellybread" and "Hip-Hug-Her") for sophisticated rhythms underpinning more melodic songs. Led by their Ivanhoe opener "Cissy Strut," the second-line sound of New Orleans propels nearly every song including the jump funk of "Live Wire," the chromatic runs of the searing "Ease Back (#20 R&B.)" and the slow grind of the pre-album single "Sophisticated Cissy (#7 R&B in 1968.)" Even the covers they choose are redesigned to fit the style of the Meters and their hometown ("Stormy" and "Sing A Simple Song".) It goes without saying that "Cissy Strut" was a massive hit, selling 200,000 copies in its first two weeks and vaulting into the R&B Top 5. A mere six months later, The Meters fired off their second salvo "Look-A-Py-Py." The serpentine winding of the title cut (#11 R&B) unveiled the blueprint for their future. Unhurried but head-bobbing funk driven by the consistent drums and insistent guitar lines. In the middle of the melange of sound, the bass changes from rhythm (there for most of kick drum hits) to melody with alarming ease. On top of it all, Art Neville's organ squealing like a guitar, often playing the melody line and punctuating it with horn-like flurries. Working in Atlanta, The Meters under the watchful eye of Allen Toussaint and Marshall Sehorn gelled into the mighty Jam/Funk they are viewed as today. "Pungee" is punchy yet laid-back, while "This Is My Last Affair" is a ballad that you can dance to. The driving Sly & The Family Stone-style "Oh! Calcutta" and the Fatback march of "Dry Spell" (#39 R&B) prove how elegant their group compositions are becoming at matching the styles of the day. However, it is the album cut "Yeah, You're Right" that illustrates the band's future direction with its locomotive version of the Blues translated into Funk and winding/unwinding of the main melody with Jazz-like fervor. With so many singles in so little time, 1970 brought the Meters the honor of being named both Billboard and Cashbox magazine's R&B Instrumental Group of the Year. Despite two albums, it was back to work in New Orleans and time for Art Neville to return to singing with the group. "Struttin'" features three vocal cuts including a heartfelt cover of "Wichita Lineman" and a fortified revisit of Lee Dorsey's "Ride Your Pony" (whose 1965 version features the future Meters as the house band at Sansu for its composer Allen Toussaint, writing as Naomi Neville.) "Struttin'" adds to the Meters' palette the galloping "Go For Yourself," the simple-but-striated funk of "Joog," and its most famous export the dormant single "Hand Clapping Song (#26 R&B.)" sampled, covered and used in commercials in the 21st Century. "Struttin'" is mostly the band reaching for that elusive hit. Rearming their innate ability to "Strut," it opens with the classic "Chicken Strut (#11 R&B)" which surprisingly failed to crossover. Moreover, some compositions like "Britches" and "Hey! Last Minute" sound limited and hurried - like a band that needs a change. Contract-bound and beholden to Toussaint, the band was ready to join the blossoming world of Funk in the Seventies. Art was temporarily asked to leave the group as they continued the pursuit of the hit that would bring them success outside of their hometown. Nocentelli's singles ("A Message From The Meters (#21 R&B)" in 1970 and "Stretch Your Rubber Band (#42 R&B) in 1971") were more R&B based but not working. In 1972, the Meters were released from their contract and snapped up by Warner/Reprise. Reunited with Art and using Toussaint solely as their producer, the band calmed down the high-energy ethic of their sound to compete with the plethora of Funk bands charting in the early Seventies. The major-label debut "Cabbage Alley" remains underrated. With larger production budgets, they riff hard ("You've Got To Change (You've Got To Reform)," go full island lilt ("Soul Island") and effortlessly cover Neil Young (Art on the beautiful "Birds.") 1974's "Rejuvenation" further distills the modern Meters and remains #138 on Rolling Stone's Greatest Albums of All Time. "Rejuvenation" even revisits the New Orleans strut "Hey Pocky-A-Way" (which the Grateful Dead will use as a standard in their sets.) That return to New Orleans music and the inclusion of Cyril Neville in the group finally brought the city's magic to the nation on 1975's "Fire On The Bayou" as did their coveted tour spot opening for the Rolling Stones.

Cissy Strut Midil



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