REVIEW BY: Mark Millan
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 02/18/2012
In the last 23 years, Chaka Khan, the Queen Of Funk, has only released four studio albums, and the most recent of those is also the best of that bunch. 2007’s Funk This saw Khan hook up with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis (who produced the album with James Wright) and cook up some brilliantly funky and fresh R&B, just the way it should be.
Khan’s voice is always instantly recognizable because it has barely changed through the years. She is one of those freaky singers who has retained every bit of power she ever had, and boy, does this woman know how to use it. There are some soaring high notes and some guttural killer notes that few singers (male or female) could match, and to soften things up occasionally, some sweet love songs that shows off the sweeter side of Khan’s electrifying voice.
Not all of these songs are original, though. The record is about half new and half covered songs by some of Khan’s favorite artists. In a way it’s a shame that they chose to include the covers because Chaka is a pretty crafty songwriter and this album includes some of her finest self-penned tracks to date. “Angel” is a superb ballad that soars with emotion and “Will You Love Me?” is a wonderful minimalist track that finds Khan working through her lower register with ease.
Opener “Back In The Day” is an epic funk song that hits all the right spots. It’s chunky and tight, building into a thumping funk anthem that is greatly enhanced by Khan’s gritty delivery. The album closes out with two more Khan originals, the sweet and jumpy “Hail To The Wrong” and the Rick James-styled funk-popper “Super Life,” which is a glorious throwback to the golden days of funk. “One For All Time” is another of Khan’s best love songs that wouldn’t be out of place on one of her classic ‘80s albums.
Chaka also refreshed one of her classics here, too by reworking “Pack’d My Bags/You Got The Love” that she wrote with Tony Maiden during their days with Rufus (Maiden lays down some mean guitar here as well). “Disrespectful” sees Khan match wits and styles with Mary J. Blige, and it’s a great moment; the two women sound brilliant together. Chaka was really on a roll here, and although I would have loved a full album of original stuff, the covers are just as rewarding in their own way.
Possibly Khan’s biggest hit in the ‘80s was her version of Prince’s “I Feel For You” which made the Purple One a ton of money and really put Chaka’s solo career in top gear. So here we have Chaka doing Prince again with her version of “Sign ’O’ The Times,” which unfortunately is the only song on this album that just doesn’t reach the heights of the rest of the material on offer here. It’s okay, but I’ve heard better, including the original and a great version by Australian soul singer Renee Geyer.
Joni Mitchell’s “Ladies’ Man” gets a wonderful updating here as Khan gets right into the song and just nails it. Last but not least, we have a Doobie Brothers’ track that comes completely endorsed by the DB’s leading man Michael McDonald as he appears here to get funky with Chaka and it sounds fantastic.
Funk This is the best album that Khan has made since her purple patch in the early ‘80s. It’s full of life and just comes slamming out of the speakers with energy and expression. Easily one of my favorite albums of the last decade without a doubt.