The name Ellington Jordan should be familiar to anyone who's ever scanned the writing credits of Etta James' huge hit "I'd Rather Go Blind." As "Fugi," Jordan also played a role in the career trajectory of legendary Motor City group Black Merda "(see The Merda files," Metro Times, Dec. 1, 2004). Not long ago, Fugi, who now lives in Fresno, Calif., and the Merda crew began talking about working together again, and Almost Home is the fruit of the renewed collaboration. Alternately edgy and serene, it's a showcase for Fugi's honey-dipped, Curtis Mayfield-esque upper register and for the mighty Merda instrumental prowess.
Among the best cuts: club anthems "Shake" and "Dance," which boast hypnotic, dirty-ass funk-disco grooves; the sleekly soulful "Soldier," a patriotic but not jingoistic number paying tribute to the men and women of the military (don't miss the gorgeous, bluesy guitar solo); and "I Am," another "message" song cast as a shuddery, eerie slice of psychedelic gospel. "The more you think you know/ The further you have to go," muses Fugi, in a tone suggesting a man who's reached a crossroads. Though the album drags in few spots due to an overreliance upon ballads, the bulk of it amply displays Fugi's still-estimable gifts as a songwriter.
"Revelations" is a cautionary yarn unspooling like a classic P-Funk thumper and featuring Fugi squaring off at the mic with his rapper nephew A-One. A much earlier version of "Revelations" is the lead-off track for Mary, Don't Take Me On No Bad Trip, an album that Fugi, backed by Merda, recorded for Chess in the late '60s; it languished unreleased in the vaults until Tuff City rescued it and issued it on vinyl in 1996. Other key moments on the album are the title track, a potent slab of stanky psychedelic funk (the Merda influence on that and "Revelations" is unmistakable), and a luminous reprise of "I'd Rather Go Blind," which reverts to its original title, "I'd Rather Be a Blind Man," and taps the original lyrics Fugi wrote before the song found its way to Etta James. This new CD edition of Mary adds one bonus track (an alternate take of "Revelations") plus a booklet containing six pages of liner notes about Fugi's career, penned by James Porter and Dan Nishimoto (the pair also authored the liner notes to last year's Black Merda reissue The Folks From Mother's Mixer). If you're a fan of either Fugi or Merda and the black-rock/funk genre they helped pioneer back in the day, this is essential stuff.
Fred Mills writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.