REVIEW: Ron Littlejohn & The Funk Embassy – ‘Shining On’

ron littlejohn

Artist: Ron Littlejohn & The Funk Embassy
Album: Shining On
Genre: Funk, Soul

From the opening moments of Shining On, it’s clear that Thierry Matrat, Ron Littlejohn, and their extensive, merry band, The Funk Embassy, have slews of soul and know how to get down. There’s no denying the obvious influences from the likes of Green, Gaye, Mayfield and other greats of their ilk, but these modern marvels of the soul movement give the genre a contemporary twist without diminishing the timeless feel pioneered by those that came before them.

The opener and title track, “Shining On,” sets the effort off to a steady, solid start, but it’s not until five and a half minutes into the album that the funk really kicks in with “Seems Like Yesterday.” With a fitting title that could allude to reminiscing about the early days of serious soul, the song takes a surprising twist as turntables come in over the funky clean guitar and add an element that you wouldn’t expect to work, but with Matrat’s history in hip-hop, it becomes clear that he’s completely in control of his craft. The turntables are very prominent in “Cream #9,” where again, most wouldn’t expect their presence or even think to include them, but something about their appearance in the mix really makes the track what it is. Bringing in unpredicted elements such as this is one of the things that really makes Shining On stand out as a fresh effort in the genre. The groove is undeniable and the creativity in the arrangements only further solidifies the effort in the ranks.

With grammatically incorrect title in tow, “My Magination” serves as one of Shining On‘s weaker moments, however- weaker and tedious moments, I should say. The instrumentation is fine but it feels a little lost behind the vocals and the song begins to feel like it’s dragging at around the 2-minute mark…which is less than half way through the song. I wouldn’t even call “My Magination” a bad song, it’s just boring when pitted against the others on the release. “Soul Devotion” is a slow jam in all aspects but it manages to fit and feel welcome at nearly the same run-time.

Because I’ve had many and always cherish them, “A Day In San Francisco” was immediately appealing to me. With a fantastic flute lead by Guillaume Larouche and references to some of my favorite things about The City, “A Day In San Francisco” is not so much a slow jam as it is a slow-burn, seemingly weaving in and out of itself as it builds into a fantastic five-minute jam that never dwindles in dealing out the freshest funk. It’s a hard act to follow but “Emma Lee” gives it its best effort as the album’s closer. Despite my affinity for the penultimate track honoring a great Californian city, “Emma Lee” does its job, featuring gruff, soul-stuffed vocals, fitting harmonica and further instrumentation to conclude Shining On and leave a lasting impression.

With so many talented musicians featured throughout the album and countless instruments involved, it would be easy to imagine a very cluttered mixture and overwhelming outcome. Fortunately for listeners, this couldn’t be further from the case. There’s such a precise balance in how each player, instrument, and sample is utilized throughout that everything flows almost seamlessly with no moments ever really feeling too littered or out of place. Songs like “Light Me Up” and “Cream #9” are great examples of this, where there are several layers involved but no overpowering feeling.

Despite the aforementioned (minor) affliction in “My Magination,” Shining On is merely 8 tracks long, leaving plenty of time to have not overstayed its welcome. This massive ensemble know exactly what they want to create and it shows throughout their new album that they had a lot of fun coming together to do just that. It’s this blend of control and creativity that make Shining On a solid effort. It’s not flawless by any means, but it definitely gets us excited for future funk and soul from Ron Littlejohn & The Funk Embassy.

SCORE: 8/10
Review written by: Brian Lion — (Follow him on Twitter)

Brian Leak

Editor-In-Chief. King of forgetting drinks in the freezer. Pop culture pack rat. X-Phile. LOST apologist.
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