Bassist Larry Graham – the architect of the slap-and-pluck bass technique that defined the funk sound of the ‘60s and ‘70s and continues to inspire bassists across virtually every genre to this day – may specialize in the low end of the sonic spectrum, but he’s just as ready to take his music to unprecedented heights. He’s been doing it for more than four decades – first as the rock-solid foundation for a string of enduring and iconic hits by Sly and the Family Stone, and later as the head of his own powerhouse unit, Graham Central Station.
Raise Up does just what the title demands, with a series of high-energy bursts that force listeners out of their chairs and into action. The combination of thumping backbeat, no-hold-barred orchestrations and upbeat, optimistic messages is designed to not just make people move, but make them move in a positive direction. Raise Up is a statement of defiance against the many obstacles and challenges that so often slow us down or keep us from realizing our fullest potential.
„We’d been touring for the last couple years before I made my final selection of songs and put this record together,“ says Graham, who recorded the songs with the band at Studio de l’Hacienda in Tarare, France, in the summer of 2011. „So I got a chance to see what works with live audiences. I got a chance to see what they like and what they want and what they react to. So this album is a reflection of that – what the people want when we play our live show.“
Along with Prince and Saadiq, Graham has assembled a high-caliber lineup of musicians for the 21st century edition of Graham Central Station: guitarist William Rabb, keyboardists David Council and Jimmy McKinney, drummer Brian Braziel and vocalist Ashling Cole.
The party starts with „GCS Drumline,“ an all-percussion piece, with cymbals and whistle blasts counterbalancing four snare drums playing in tandem. The track is equal parts opening salvo, pep rally and call to action. The message is clear: high-energy dead ahead. The in-your-face followup, „Throw-N-Down the Funk,“ sets up a fiery counterpoint between meaty brass arrangements – courtesy of the Millfield Horns, hailing from Copenhagen, Denmark – and tasty bass riffs. The steady grooving „It’s Alright“ is the first of three „new master“ versions of previously recorded GCS compositions by Graham. The others are the mischievous sounding „It Ain’t No Fun To Me“ and the churning „Now Do You Wanta Dance.
„Electronically enhanced and edgy, the title track features Prince on drums, keyboards and backing vocals. The song challenges everyone within the sounds is a call to stand up against the often oppressive circumstances that define the post-9/11 world. Prince reappears on two subsequent tracks, serving up melancholy lead guitar licks (along with keyboards, drums and backing vocals) on „Shoulda Coulda Woulda,“ a tale of regret over a love that has died because the lover failed to say the right words and do the right things at the right time; and later with more guitar on „Movin,'“ a thundering challenge to get listeners on their feet before the curtain falls and the band hits the road.
Ashling Cole delivers lead vocals on an high-octane cover of the Stevie Wonder hit, „Higher Ground,“ and is Graham’s nod to an old friend and frequent collaborator over the past four decades. „He’s a great writer, a great musician and a great friend,“ says Graham. „I just like his songs, and I like to play them my way.“
„One Day,“ the inspirational closer, features Graham, his wife Tina and Rafael Saadiq on vocals, all delivering a rousing ballad-turned-anthem that envisions a promising future – one that could be closer than we think.
„The music on this album is like a live performance,“ says Graham. „I wanted to tell a complete story, with a great beginning, a powerful body and a dynamic conclusion. I want that story to be uplifting and encouraging, something to help people rise above whatever challenges they’re facing in life – whether it be personal issues or family issues or work issues. Everybody’s dealing with something. I want this music to help raise people up and enable them to overcome adversity.“