The B side of The Impressions‘ 1973 long player Preacher Man starts with Thin Line, an agreeable but passable tune in the conceptual and musical mould of Ball of Confusion, War and Cloud 9. All hell and fury is laid down, but the real sermon comes on the A with What It Is.
Minus Curtis Mayfield and his replacement Leroy Hutson, the now two-man Impressions – Fred Cash and Sam Gooden – went hell for leather on this too-short 2.24 track with a short horn motif reminiscent of those on Freddie’s Dead; a meandering and bleating sax line; and congas and toms given free rein to roam and hold court front of stage. The only voice heard, probably Cash’s, speaks the track’s title, emphatically and with some relish.
This is the savanna sliding from the street; a conscious air for enlightened souls and an affirmation of roots, culturally and musically. It can’t compete on the grounds of polemic with People Get Ready, Future Shock, If There’s A Hell Below and all. Instead, it predates and anticipates the forward-thinking intensity of later artists who more explicitly harked back to Africa, for example: Jungle Wonz aka Marshall Jefferson and the dub of Bird In A Gilded Cage.
I bow to nobody in my appreciation of Curtis and his Imps, but this is greatness of a different kind, an unexpected angle on what is sometimes assumed to be (i.e. written off) as antiquated, benign ‘seventies soul’; a toothless tiger, in other words: crap.
This is a beautiful beast, flexing and readying to jump.
© Pat Mellow 2018