Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Tower of Power

  • Bump City [Warner Bros., 1972] C
  • Tower of Power [Warner Bros., 1973] B
  • Back to Oakland [Warner Bros., 1974] C+
  • Urban Renewal [Warner Bros., 1974] B+
  • Live and in Living Color [Warner Bros., 1976] B

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Bump City [Warner Bros., 1972]
San Fran white boys replicate black style, with black singer to assure authentication? Where have we heard this before? I grant that they're really from Oakland, and that the style is a modern if dubious one--brassy Dave Crawford funk. But that doesn't help the songs, or the charts. And it doesn't turn Rick Stevens into Charlie Allen. Or Linda Tillery. Or Sly Stone. Or Freddie Stone. C

Tower of Power [Warner Bros., 1973]
Come off it, guys. You really lucked out with Lenny Williams and you know it--when he swoops up that way he makes it sound as if Aretha herself ought to cover "This Time It's Real," which isn't likely. So get all those horns out of his face. I know there are five of you, but why not just make fancy with the Pointer Sisters and leave Lenny be? You said it yourselves, or rather, Lenny did: "Sometimes hipness is what it ain't." B

Back to Oakland [Warner Bros., 1974]
No matter whose top forty Lenny Williams makes, this isn't a soul, funk, or r&b band--the arrangements are simply too complex. It's more a stripped-down (no trombones except for guest shots) big band in the era of Doc Severinsen. Compare to any Basie edition and you will hear written charts that sound spontaneous, not to mention estimable soloists and Basie himself. And compare to a more mortal aggregation and you'll still hear riffs somebody could write song around--but not these guys. C+

Urban Renewal [Warner Bros., 1974]
What softened me up was the novelty effects on baritone sax, but I've always been a sucker for songs about the energy crisis and "victimless crime" anyway, and they do all right with affairs of the heart for once--even borrow a silly one from Johnny Guitar Watson. Renewed, maybe--urban I assume. B+

Live and in Living Color [Warner Bros., 1976]
I guess they really are hot live if it comes across on the live album--the uptempo numbers have real edge, and Lenny Pickett's long honk on the 23:40-minute "Knock Yourself Out" is such a gas it makes the ensuing organ solo endurable. But Hubert Tubbs just isn't Lenny Williams--he makes the appropriate vocal sounds at the appropriate junctures, but that's all. This ruins the ballads, never a strong point. And Lenny Pickett's tweets don't add much either. B