The dance music world was dealt a tragic blow when legendary producer and songwriter Frankie Knuckles passed away in March 2014. An artist of epic proportions, openly gay Frankie Knuckles singlehandedly made Chicago’s house music genre a household word, if you will. Just how significant Knuckles’ contributions were was exemplified by his signing to a major label (Virgin) in the 1990s, bringing a formerly underground kind of music to the fore. Both of his albums for that label, 1991’s Beyond The Mix and 1995’s Welcome To The Real World have been reissued “straight from the crates on heavyweight vinyl” by Virgin/UMe. Beyond The Mix opens with the dated hip-hop/house hybrid “Godfather” which bellows 1991. Things improve on “Rain Falls’ (which could have used a little more thunder) and the airy treat of Eric Kupper’s “The Whistle Song.” Side two is more consistent, with the “Party At My House,” “Right Thing” and “Workout” triple play. Welcome To The Real World, featuring vocalist Adeva on 10 of the 13 tracks (as well as prominently on the cover alongside Knuckles), contains the huge dance hit “Too Many Fish,” as well as the club sensation “Whadda U Want (From Me).” On the whole, though, the album sounds like the corporate idea of what house music ought to sound like for the masses rather than the foundation on which Knuckles built his own house.
If Knuckles had lived, the concept of Amy Grant’s dance remix album In Motion: The Remixes (A&M) probably would have had him clutching his chest. Amy Grant: disco diva, act of desperation, or genius? Nowhere near as offensive as the recent Disney remix disc (that was just dumb-o!), this confusing collection attempts to elevate the CCM slinger to disco singer. The thing is, as often happens with remixes, the final product says less about the artist than it does about the egotistical remixers, including Tony Moran, Hex Hector, Dave Audé and Ralphi Rosario, who think that everything can be made better with more BPM, synths and such. Some of these songs, such as “Every Heartbeat,” are better suited to this kind of treatment. Ultimately, it begs the question WWJD – Where Would Jesus Dance? Paradise Garage?
Don’t listen to Junto (Atlantic Jaxx/PIAS) by groundbreaking Basement Jaxx and expect the Basement Jaxx of their Astralwerks days. Those first three albums, especially Remedy and Rooty, were unique unto themselves and the time. Fifteen or so years later, the groundwork that Basement Jaxx helped to lay has benefited countless deserving (and undeserving) electronic music acts. That said, Junto is an improvement on prior releases and offers an array of delightfully danceable tunes including “Power To The People” (not to be confused with the John Lennon song of the same name), “Never Say Never,” the spacey “We Are Not Alone,” the I-came-to-party-anthem “What’s The News” and the (fish)tail wagging “Mermaid of Salinas.”
With its debut album New Eyes (Atlantic) UK dance music quartet Clean Bandit has made a record as irresistible as Disclosure’s Settle or Goldfish’s Three Second Memory. High-kicking things off with the tasteful “Mozart’s House,” Clean Bandit makes a powerful opening statement. “Extraordinary” comes close to living up to its title, “Rather Be” is rather exciting, “A&E” adds a pleasing island breeze to the disc and “Telephone Banking” cashes in on electronic experimentation.
Sometimes dance music comes from unexpected sources. Take brainy pop band Bishop Allen, for example. In a little over ten years, the band, led by Justin Rice and Christian Rudder, has perfected its distinctive style of sophisticated but accessible pop. On its latest full-length Lights Out (Dead Oceans), Bishop Allen amps up the dance factor on songs such as “Hammer and Nail,” “Bread Crumbs,” “Start Again,” “Good Talk,” and unlock the funk on “Skeleton Key.” Bishop Allen even pay a visit to Vampire Weekend territory on “Crows” and tips it hat to The Ting Tings on “Give It Back.”
By Gregg Shapiro