The One: The Life and Music of James Brown

R.J. Smith. Gotham, $27.50 (464p) ISBN 978-1-592-40657-9
Drawing on in-depth interviews with Brown’s many friends and music partners, journalist Smith powerfully chronicles Brown’s rapid rise from his early days in Augusta, Ga., singing gospel through the pinnacle of his fame in the late 1960s and early 1970s to Brown’s sharp fall from grace in the 1990s with headline-grabbing arrests for domestic battery. Brown loved the spectacle of religion that the famous religious itinerant preacher, Daddy Grace, put on at the United House of Prayer in Augusta, and he learned rhythm from the house band there. Later, in his own shows, Brown got so caught up in the spectacle of entertaining that he became a force unto himself whose hungry passion and energy—expressed forcefully and fitfully through his trembling dancing and call-and response singing—transformed his audiences. Brown’s music still sounds so alive and continues to mystify because Brown brought others into a world he created that made his art a total experience. Through the pulsing rhythms of “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag,” the funky, hypnotic beat of “(Get on the) Good Foot,” and the Black Power anthem, “Say It Loud,” Brown, as Smith demonstrates, reshaped rhythm and blues, pumping it full of an energy that moved listeners to ecstasy. Smith’s compelling and detailed portrait of one of our greatest musicians reveals affectionately and honestly the reasons we jump up every time “I Feel Good” comes on the radio. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 11/28/2011
Release date: 03/15/2012
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