Monday, 2 May 2016

"The World Is A Ghetto: 40th Anniversary Expanded Edition" by WAR (2012 Universal/Avenue CD Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"...Where Was You At..."

(A review of an iconic American LP from a UK point of view)

It strikes me as extraordinary that "The World Is A Ghetto" didn't make any real mark in the UK – a country that loves its Soul Music with a rabid passion. I say this because it's incredibly rare that a US Soul album crosses over so hugely from the R&B charts to the notoriously hard-to-break into Rock charts.

Yet that's what "...Ghetto..." did in November 1972 – hitting the coveted Number One spot on both counts. Not Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" (1971), Al Green's "Let's Stay Together" (1972) nor Stevie Wonder's "Innervisions" (1973) ever achieved this - legendary titles or no. You have to back Isaac Hayes and his genre-busting "Shaft" Blaxploitation double in 1971 on Stax or Curtis Mayfield's brilliant social-statement "Superfly" in 1972 on Curtom to get simultaneous Numbers 1's on both charts. It would take until February 1973 for the British vinyl LP to arrive – by which time all momentum was gone (it didn't dent any chart in Blighty).

Having said all that - Universal's 'Avenue Records' of the USA seems to think "The World Is A Ghetto" is a masterpiece of the genre and have given it a proper sonic makeover - a '40th Anniversary Expanded Edition' CD reissue that absolutely rocks. Here are the inner city details y'all...

US and UK released December 2012 – "The World Is A Ghetto: 40th Anniversary Expanded Edition" by WAR on Universal/Select/Avenue Records/Far Out B0017703-02 (Barcode 602537194964) is a Remaster and plays out as follows (69:38 minutes):

1. The Cisco Kid (4:35 minutes)
2. Where Was You At (3:25 minutes)
3. City, Country, City  (13:18 minutes)
4. Four Cornered Room (8:30 minutes) [Side 2]
5. The World Is A Ghetto (10:10 minutes)
6. Beetles In The Bog (3:51 minutes)
Tracks 1 to 6 are the album "The World Is A Ghetto" – released November 1972 in the USA on United Artists UAS-5652 (No.1 Pop & R&B charts) and February 1973 in the UK on United Artists UAS 29400 (didn't chart). It was Produced by JERRY GOLDSTEIN with all track were written by WAR.

BONUS TRACKS – GHETTO JAMS (All Previously Unreleased):
7. Freight Train Jam (5:41 minutes)
8. 5 8 Blues (5:29 minutes)
9. War Is Coming (Blues Version) (6:15 minutes)
10. The World Is A Ghetto (Rehearsal Take) (8:06 minutes)

WAR was:
HOWARD SCOTT – Guitars, Percussion and Vocals
LEE OSKAR – Harmonica, Percussion and Vocals
LONNIE JORDAN – Organ, Piano, Timbales, Percussion and Vocals
CHARLES MILLER – Clarinet, Alto, Tenor and Baritone Saxophones, Percussion and Vocals
PAPA DEE ALLEN – Conga, Bongos, Percussion and Vocals
B.B. DICKERSON – Bass, Percussion and Vocals
HAROLD BROWN – Drums, Percussion and Vocals

HARRY WEINGER has produced the '40th Anniversary Expanded Edition' and provided the short but enlightening essay on the LP and its 1972 impact in the 8-page booklet. But the big news is first generation master tapes provided by the original LP producer – JERRY GOLDSTEIN – that have uncovered four lengthy jams – all Previously Unreleased. PETER DOELL of Universal has remastered the CD and it sounds truly fantastic – kicking on every level. When you're in the middle of one the funky workouts – the instruments are pumping – not overdone or over trebled – just there. This is a warm remaster and I love the way it sounds. My only real complaint would be that there are 7" single four-minute edits of "The World Is A Ghetto" and its flipside "Four Cornered Room" (USA United Artists 50975) – a single edit/mix of "The Cisco Kid" and Promo-only 'Mono' mixes of "The Cisco Kid" and "The Whole Is A Ghetto" - that could have been added on as Bonus Material (but alas).

War's music appears to be that strange hybrid – not quite Soul and not quite Rock – but somewhere in-between. And that's ably demonstrated by the album's lead off track "The Cisco Kid". Brilliant stuff and an obvious single - United Artists USA released it January 1973 on UA-XW163-W with "Beetles In The Bog" as its B-side (April 1973 in the UK on UP 35521 with the same flip). It peaked at No. 5 on the US R&B singles charts - but cruised up to No. 2 on the Pop side. Blessed with an irresistible funky keyboard backbeat aligned with street lyrics about 'kids on Sunset' and 'outlaws' (complete with spoken Mexican) – "The Cisco Kid" is typically War – very hip and very cool. A loose piano/harmonica/guitar jam – "Where Was You At" again hits that finger clickin' sweet spot when he sings "...I looked around for someone to help me...where was you at..." (it also has an almost Capt. Beefheart break which is brilliant). "City, Country, City" is the first of those lengthy funky workouts and really makes the Remaster shine – sounding just incredible when that breathy harmonica kicks in (it ends Side 1). As the liner notes state - it's a 'go to track' if you need convincing - and after a few saxophone flourishes fill your speakers in this 13-minute instrumental – you're also in no doubt as to how good Peter Doell's transfer is – brilliant stuff.

"Four Cornered Room" is my crave on this album – the guitar, bass and warbling Oskar harmonica sounding mean and alive. It's a fantastic groove and showcases everything that’s brill about this seven-piece band (it's similar in feel to the Crusaders-sounding instrumental "Vibeka" on the 1971 "War" album). Alongside "Low Rider" - the album's title track "The World Is A Ghetto" is probably their most famous song and I'm taken aback at how good it sounds here – beautifully clear – all those harmony vocals filling your living room - accompanied by that chunky backbeat. The album ends "Beetles in The Bog" where the band sound more like Malo meets Santana than War.

The Four Bonus Tracks are 'funky funky' nirvana – wildly good. "Freight Train Jam" feels like James Brown's JB's having a wig-out on a wah-wah guitar – all brilliant licks underpinned by a slick-as-Mister Cool backbeat (the piano fills from Lonnie Jordan are wicked too – what a winner). "5 8 Blues" is a harmonica driver about a dubious acquaintance. Sounding not unlike Little Walter having fun with a funky bunch of cats – you get saucy gender-bender lyrics like "...Did you see my big legged lady...walking across town...she's got a long blond wig...weighs about 125 pounds..." I can see why it was left off the album – too much like good-time Chess and Cadet R&B of the 60ts (not in keeping with the album) – but that doesn't stop it from being a genuine bonus in more than name. But even better is a 'Blues Version' of "War Is Coming" – six-minutes of grinding Soul-Blues. A version of would eventually show up on the "Platinum Jazz" LP in 1977. The 'Rehearsal Take' of "The World Is A Ghetto" is a couple of minutes shorter than the finally released album cut (runs to 8-plus but still wonderful) – and is presented here with truly gobsmacking audio quality.

Our US compatriots have always dug WAR and their 1972 Number 1 platter - "The World Is A Ghetto". I can’t help thinking that it’s about time their UK buddies got streetwise too. And this fabulous '40th Anniversary Expanded Edition' is the place to do just that. Wonderful stuff...and peace in all ghettos the world over...

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