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Is It Love or Desire
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  • Whatever the reason that Betty Davis's IS IT LOVE OR DESIRE remained unreleased until 2009 no longer matters. It makes no difference, because hearing this album, a ten-song set that was to be Davis's and Funk House's final recording, is a revelation. Musically, IS IT LOVE OR DESIRE is so forward and so complete, it moves the entire funk genre toward a new margin. It is as groundbreaking in its way as the music Ornette Coleman was making with Prime Time ? la DANCING IN YOUR HEAD or the blunt-edged fractured jazz-funk James Blood Ulmer laid down on his own a couple of years later on TALES OF CAPTAIN BLACK and ARE YOU GLAD TO BE IN AMERICA?. The songwriting is top notch; some of it even transcends the proto-sexual excesses of her earlier records though that's still in this wild mix, too. And the production is so canny, it seems to get at the very essences of singers, songs, and musical arrangements. Then there's the music itself created by Funk House, one of the most amazing funk bands in the history of music. Being Davis's road and studio band had gelled the unit, which also practiced when they weren't working with her in a practice space at home in North Carolina. Check the dark voodoo-groove bassline Larry Johnson plays on "It's So Good," with Carlos Morales guitar filling the spaces with spidery, silvery lines, and the machine-gun snare groove laid down by drummer Semmie Neal, Jr, with breaks and pops that underscore the outrageous distorted keyboards of Fred Mills, the band's music director. Speaking of Mills, his duet vocal on "Whorey Angel,"a spooky, psychedelic soul number that is far better than its title, is scary good. Check out the gris-gris choruses by Davis and her backing chorus with all that bass leading the entire band in its slow, backbone-slipping attack. The sheer sonic attack of "Bottom of the Barrel," may be country in its lyric intro, but the music is diamond-hard funk that makes no secret of its-anti disco sentiment. The ballad on the set, "When Romance Says Goodbye," is a steamy, sultry jazz noir number that gives the listener an entirely new aural portrait of the singer-- Mills' piano work on the tune, with its sparse chords and spacious approach, gives Davis' natural singing voice--rather than her sexual growl--plenty of room to shine. It's easy to say that IS IT LOVE OR DESIRE is the best thing Davis ever cut, especially when a record has existed in mythology for as long as this one has, but that makes it no less true.
Professional Reviews
Rolling Stone (p.86) - "[R]evelatory....As experimental as it is X-rated."
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