Shuggie Otis, Inspiration Information/Wings of Love
Dusted-off recordings from a shoulda-been soul superstar
It’s one of the high crimes in music industry history that no one would put out Shuggie Otis’s stellar recordings for a staggering 39 years. That shameful scenario ends with the re-release of Otis’s overlooked “final” solo album from 1974, Inspiration Information, housed in a two-fer package with a riveting collection of songs the singer/guitarist cut in anonymity his home studio in L.A. between 1977 and 2000. The set also includes four strong songs left off Otis’s ’74 album.
The artist, 59, enjoyed his widest exposure in 1977 for writing the funky, Top 5 Brothers Johnson hit “Strawberry Letter 23.” Though the indie label Luaka Bop re-released Inspiration Information 12 years ago, Otis couldn’t convince any label to put out the amazing recordings he’d created since. As these dusted-off — and belatedly introduced — recordings prove, Otis’s solo approach to funk utterly rethought the genre. He made it float instead of stomp, abstracting the sound through the kaleidoscope of psychedelia. Otis’s songs employ the firm bass lines and grinding beat of funk, only to re-weigh them with the slippery gait of his guitar work and the impeccable grace of his melodies.
A song like “Aht Uh Mi Hed” has a bass line as mysterious as dub, matched to a melody as elegant as Bacharach. “XL 30″ references ’70s fusion but with keyboard textures that, somehow, sound as modern as the latest from the world of EDM.
Otis’s fluid guitar work creates its own storyline in the songs. It’s as fleet as the filigrees of Wes Montgomery. His later recordings, on the more aggressive Wings of Love album, let his solos linger longer. The title track lasts more than 11 minutes; six others top the five-minute mark. Together, these tracks create a unique legacy, with a sound as grounded as James Brown, as trippy as Pink Floyd and as beautiful as any pop star could hope for.