Rob Price
Gutbrain Records
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2024 February 26 • Monday

Happy birthday!

The great Donald Byrd composed the 819th Soundtrack of the Week: Cornbread, Earl and Me.

The score, performed by The Blackbyrds with Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson conducting orchestral backing, begins with "Cornbread", a great jazzy funk tune with a relaxed and sunny energy to it. The lyrics are all about the character of Cornbread, "a man with a plan".

Next is "The One-Eye Two Step", which starts out with some really funky solo electric bass guitar played high up. I think. When the band comes in the bass drops real low but maybe it was a different instrument. With everything else going on, drums, guitar, keyboard, horns, I can't quite tell if I still hear the same thing it started with. But I think it's electric bass high then low.

"Mother/Son Theme" is a short and tender ballad featuring flute, a love theme but maternal not romantic love.

Trumpet takes the lead for the slow and smoldering "A Heavy Town", a very late-night romantic jazz tune.

Then the record explodes with the intense, high-energy action jazz funk disco whatever of "One-Gun Salute" that's in either 6/8 or 6/4. Take your pick. Wailing sax solo on this one.

We get deeper into dramatic underscore with the suspenseful "The Gym Fight", which has drums, bass and guitar playing spare, linear, unison lines, building tension until the horns come in and the funk beats come crashing down.

Side 1 ends with "Riot", which has most of the work being done by strings and drums, the former bringing intense dissonance and the latter keeping up a consistent and unnerving groove, punctuated by piano notes here and there. Then the strings sprint to the finish with an assist from other members of the orchestra (percussion, winds) At the end there's a surprise appearance by wordless chorus in a Morricone mood.

Side 2 starts with "Soulful Source", an almost unbelievably funky song with a devastating "Superstitious"-ish rhythm and infectious vocals ("baby, baby, what can I do?"). This is the kind of record where you just can't pick a favorite song but this one is way up there.

Then we get sensuous horn and string arrangements that Henry Mancini and Elmer Bernstein would have been proud of for the short but stirring "Mother/Son Talk".

"At the Carnival" is a 3/4 piece that starts with a calliope-esque keyboard intro and then shifts into a laidback and dreamy jazz waltz with some very '70s sounds. Then it segus right into "Candy Store Dilemma", a fast 4/4 jazz number with walking bass.

The suspense is back with the mysterious but totally groovy midtempo deep funk of "Wilford's Gone", with amazing trumpet playing and some very cool string and percussion arrangements.

Then it's a return to the somber but sweet mother/son theme music for "Mother/Son Bedroom Talk", followed by the tense and ominous "Courtroom Emotions", another pwoerful piece for orchestra, especially strings.

But the record ends on a high note with a reprise of the irrepressible "Cornbread", one of the happiest songs ever to come out of the Gutbrain HQ speakers.