Court Is Closed
02. Inside Black America
03. Times Are Hard, Friends Are Few
04. Prelude ta Hell
05. Needle n' Spoon
06. Cold Turkey
"Court is Closed" 1973 (Hikeka) [first 'psych' mix; group photo cover]
"Court is Closed" 1973 (Hikeka) [second 'soul' mix; Africa map cover]
Bass – Benny R. Mitchell
Congas – Bob Eure, Joe Bryant, Len Cooper, Wayman Jones
Drums – Jim Milton
Flute – Leslie Burrs
Guitar – Sam Brown, Tim Sanders, Tyrone Fisher
Keyboards – Don Wilson
Timbales – Len Cooper
Words - Del Jones
And such is the case with the Del Jones' Positive Vibes LP Court Is Closed. A true cri de couer from the black ghetto of Philadelphia, this album will set you back a ton of money if you can ever get your hands on an original copy. I'm content to have this reissue that Jones himself put out a few years before his death. Fortunately, the performances on this record don't veer into "kill whitey" territory (at least not overtly) and instead focus more on the injustices and horrors of a system that have prevented many blacks from achieving the American Dream. Side one includes two tracks, "Court Is Closed" and "Times Are Hard, Friends Are Few," that are basically spoken word pieces in which Jones launches into his raps (although not anything like rap of the modern-day variety) about the oppression faced by his people. On "Inside Black America," the author sings lyrics (actually fairly credibly) that try to convey the challenges of being an African American. Regrettably, it sounds like the least inspired performance on this LP. Side two, however, really delivers the goods. Although "Prelude ta Hell," "Needle 'n Spoon," and "Cold Turkey" make up a three-part anti-drug suite, it still doesn't prevent them from collectively being one of the most mind-blowing pieces of black psychedelia committed to wax. Seriously, this is some heavy shit, man. Although Jones' range is somewhat limited, he sings his heart out on these tracks, with the uncredited band providing extremely suitable accompaniment throughout the proceedings. It's a shame that the personnel are unlisted even though there are numerous photos of the musicians on the back of the album jacket. The two guitarists alternately lay down wicked wah-wah rhythms or searing leads on all of the performances, while the rhythm section, flautist, and occasional horn players supply just the right amount of musical support. Overall, I would say that this album is stylistically somewhere between Funkadelic and Gil Scott-Heron, which is a really good place to be in my book.
The first version of this album (sans the overdubbed horns of the second pressing) is a great document of true inner city grit. While the anger is surprisingly subdued, these guys obviously know the down and dirty life of which they sing. Despite all of the lyrics about drugs and being put down by the man, there’s an essentially positive message here. A few of the songs stretch out into long jams that build in intensity and really stand up well to multiple listens. There’s a lack of real “singing” here, with most of the stories being told in a kind of matter-of-fact sing-speak, and the few times real melodies break out make you wish there were more. Nonetheless, this is a killer LP: powerful, memorable, uncompromising and full of life, and it doesn’t sound like any soul/funk album you’ve heard. If "Maggot Brain" is "Superfly", this is "Sweet Sweetback's Badasssss Song".
Extraordinary eyewitness report from the Philly ghettoes surprisingly packaged in a non-aggressive funk/jam rock grooooooove that surpasses pretty much everything else in the genre, especially the opening title track with a westcoast jazzrock feel that just kills. Supported by the best housing project funk band anywhere Del Jones raps about the terrifying state of America '73, while the flipside deals directly with heroin use and how to get out of it. One of the top funkrock LPs ever, blows most of your starry-eyed white-boy psych LPs away.