Larry Graham is back! After a long hiatus, Larry & Graham Central Station have released Raise Up, the band’s first recording in thirteen years.
GCS fans expecting the Larry Graham they’ve grown to admire over the years won’t be disappointed – especially bass players. Raise Up is laden with plenty of slapping and electronics-infused bass playing, as well as an ample supply of Larry’s signature crooning and balladeering. This new release is additionally enhanced with the inclusion of special guests Prince and Raphael Saadiq.
The album opens with “GCS Drumline,” a percussion-only piece, with unison snare drum patterns, whistle blasts and cymbals. It is a military-style call to arms, announcing Larry’s triumphant return. The energy level increases as the music segues to “Throw-N-Down the Funk,” with the addition of the Millfield Horns, a fiery brass section from Copenhagen, Denmark. Larry also supplies a heavy dose of his trademark bass slapping.
GCS fans will recognize three previously recorded tunes reworked for this album: “It’s Alright,” “It Ain’t No Fun To Me” and “Now Do You Wanta Dance.” The party atmosphere on these songs is ever present, accented with high-energy horn arrangements and plenty of bass slapping. “Now Do You Wanta Dance” also makes use of a ‘70s-era Vocoder(!), as well as tastefully inserted double stops on the bass.
Special guest and long-time friend of Larry Graham, Prince, makes his entrance on the title tune. “Raise Up” is a commentary on living in a post-9/11 world, bemoaning the circumstances and inconveniences we all face, including airport security measures and rising oil and gas prices. Prince’s contributions include drums, keyboards and backing vocals.
Prince reappears on the gospel-tinged “Shoulda Coulda Woulda,” where, in addition to drums, keyboards and backing vocals, he supplies bluesy guitar passages over a 12/8 meter rhythm, highlighting the “I’m sorry/I was wrong/Please forgive me” message of the song. Prince is featured yet again, playing more guitar, on the driving “Movin’,” an up-tempo tune with a driving beat, coaxing the audience to get up on their feet. Graham’s bass accentuates the groove, once again bringing out his heavily enhanced arsenal of electronics.
Larry’s from-the-heart vocalizing is prominently featured on the easy “No Way” and love ballad, “Hold You Close.” The heavily emphasized, sometimes exaggerated low vocal inflections are pure Larry.
A definite highlight of Raise Up is Ashling Cole’s powerful rendition of the Stevie Wonder hit, “Higher Ground.” This funkified version, preceded by a “chicka-boom” vocal intro and accented by yet another feel-good, punchy horn arrangement – and yes, more bass slapping! – is a tribute to Larry’s old friend and frequent collaborator. “He’s a great writer, a great musician and a great friend,” says Larry about Stevie. “I just like his songs, and I like to play them my way.”
The album closes with the inspirational “One Day,” featuring Larry’s wife Tina, as well as vocalist Raphael Saadiq. The song delivers a positive, hope-filled message about a future full of love, peace and harmony. As usual, Larry’s stellar bass playing supplies more than its fair share of the groove.
On Raise Up, Larry has surrounded himself with a strong lineup of musicians, laying down the funky grooves, supporting the bassist’s upfront playing. The current generation of GCS includes guitarist William Rabb, keyboardists David Council and Jimmy McKinney, drummer Brian Braziel and the aforementioned Ashling Cole.
“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.” Raise Up comes across as a heartfelt endeavor to embrace the healing powers of music from a man whose career has, so far, spanned the course of over four decades and who has, undoubtedly, seen it all. “Everybody’s dealing with something,” he continues. I want this music to help raise people up and enable them to overcome adversity.” An admirable objective, I say. Welcome back, Larry.
Raise Up was released September 25, 2012, by Razor & Tie
Review by Jon Liebman
Also see our exclusive FBPO interview with Larry!