DENNIS COFFEY: ‘Live Wire: The Westbound Years 1975-1978’ (Label: Westbound)

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DENNIS COFFEY: 'Live Wire: The Westbound Years 1975-1978'

It’s hard to believe that Detroit-born axe maestro Dennis Coffey – a musician whose name is synonymous with gritty ’70s Motor Town funk – was heavily influenced by country music when he first began shaping chords on a guitar as a juvenile. By the late-’60s, Coffey had left country music behind and by dint of his dazzling fretboard talent and penchant for wah-wah and fuzz box effects, had joined the ranks of the Funk Brothers, Motown’s session elite. After appearing on a host of significant Motown records – including The Temptations’ ‘Ball of Confusion’ and Edwin Starr’s ‘War,’ both helmed by Norman Whitfield – the bespectacled, overly hirsute guitar player stepped out of the session shadows and started recording records under his own name for Clarence Avant’s Sussex label in 1971. Between that year and 1974, Coffey issued five albums for Sussex and scored several R&B hits, including the Top 10 smash and funk classic, ‘Scorpio,’ in 1971, which in later years was sampled to death and plundered for break beats by a bunch of hip-hop acts. Following a one-off LP for Carrere in 1975, Coffey joined Armen Boladian’s Detroit-based Westbound label and started fusing his distinctive brand of guitar-led funk with soul and disco elements. The guitarist’s three-year tenure with the label is chronicled on a new and very playable 15-track collection, ‘Live Wire,’ which sources material from the Westbound albums ‘Back Home’ (1976) ‘Finger Lickin’ Good’ (1977) and ‘Sweet Taste Of Sin’ (1978). The material ranges from the high-octane instrumental disco-funk of ‘Some Like It Hot’ – an arresting opening cut packed with Coffey’s trademark layered guitar – to the simmering sweet soul of ‘Someone Special’ (the 45 edit), the upbeat Latin-esque lyricism of ‘Free Spirit’ – which ventures into jazz-fusion territory – and the plangent balladry of ‘Our Love Goes On Forever.’ Undoubtedly, though, Coffey’s metier is lowdown and dirty funk and on this collection it’s best exemplified by the propulsive title cut, ‘Finger Lickin’ Good’ and ‘Gimme That Funk,’ the latter an infectious mirror ball dance floor workout. On the downside, Coffey’s flirtation with disco seriously diluted the potency of some of his music – like the somewhat anaemic uptempo dancer, ‘Calling Planet Earth,’ which sounds cheesy, cheap and lightweight. Overall, though, this is a fine retrospective and worth investigating by serious collectors.
(CW) 4/5