Rhythm & Views

Shuggie Otis

Aside from having the coolest name of anybody, ever, as well as an even cooler afro than Eugene Edgerson, Shuggie Otis released four albums in the 1970s before disappearing into thin air. Son of bandleader Johnny Otis, Shuggie began playing guitar in his father's band as a teenager, often taking great steps to make himself look old enough to be there. It was his latter two solo albums, though, that caught the ears of a few devout fans; long out of print and sought after by collectors, David Byrne has just released his final album, Inspiration Information (originally released in 1974), in its entirety for the first time on CD, remastered with bonus tracks (natch), on his Luaka Bop imprint as the second installment of his World Psychedelic Classics series (the first being a stunning compilation of Brazilian psychedelia by Os Mutantes).

While the release has garnered comparisons to Sly and the Family Stone, a better point of reference would be the Seventies blue-eyed Philly pop-soul of Hall and Oates and Something/Anything-era Todd Rundgren. Less overtly funky than Sly and his ilk, Shuggie favors smooth, low-key orchestrated grooves; You can dance to Sly, but not Shuggie.

The title track is a subtle and shiny little nugget that wouldn't sound out of place on your favorite oldies station, while "XL-30," one of a handful of instrumentals here--and one of the few that lives up to its "psychedelic" billing--sounds like Martin Denny sitting in with the Silver Apples, if either of them knew how to get their groove on. The undisputed highlight of the disc is Shuggie's original version of "Strawberry Letter 23," a tune that The Brothers Johnson took to Number 5 on the pop charts in 1977 (you'll recognize it when you hear it, if the title doesn't ring a bell). One of the disc's bonus tracks (the tune was originally included on the LP Freedom Flight, which preceded Information) the song is one of the most infectious pop tunes of the period. Occasionally mired in easy-listening shlock, the disc doesn't quite live up to the precedent Byrne set for the series with Os Mutantes, but "Letter" alone is worth the price of admission.

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