Tower of Power, Direct Plus

Fred Goodman

By Fred Goodman

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

Since forming in Oakland in the late-'60s, Tower of Power have proven surprisingly resilient: singers come and singers go and most of the rhythm section and the group's signature horns have changed. But the band's driving, soulful funk remains, still steered by original saxophonists Steve Kupka and Emilio Castillo. The Tower of Power horns have proven themselves the ultimate ringers, turning up on records by everyone from Elton John to Public Image, Ltd., from Sammy Hagar to Ray Charles. On their own, the group started with the local hit and Oakland anthem "You're Still a Young Man," through "What Is Hip," "Down to the Nightclub," "Oakland Stroke," "Don't Change Horses in the Middle of the Stream" and "This Time It's Real."

Recorded in 1981 for the audiophile Sheffield Lab label while they were still recording for Warner Brothers, Direct Plus was conceived as a live performance of quasi-hits — including "What is Hip" and the outstanding instrumental "Squib Cakes" — for the then-nascent direct-to-disk stereophile market, and it captures the band in one of its strongest incarnations, with vocalist Michael Jeffries and the original horn section featuring trumpeters Greg Adams and Mic Gillette and saxophonist Lennie Pickett still intact. Originally a six-tune, 30-minute album, this version is expanded with four alternate mixes crafted from the original recordings. The performances are strong and, needless to say, the sound quality is fantastic.