by Rachel Brame –
Normally, I do straight-up reviews of albums, but I can’t commemorate such an icon with a mere recording critique, and I do not feel I can match the breadth and depth of his biography which has already been so eloquently told in his wake. I feel tremendous empathy for Tamron Hall, who lost her best friend and close confidant so suddenly. The affectionate tribute to Prince on Saturday Night Live absolutely took my breath away. Seeing the raw footage of him performing impromptu at SNL’s 40th anniversary after party was a treat I’m truly glad the world had an opportunity to see. It offered only a small sliver of a glimpse into the sheer awesomeness of his live performances, but I understood clearly then why he picked the back-up musicians he did to perform with him over the years; they shred as hard as he can!
Ever since his Warner Brothers controversy in the mid 90’s, I’ve always admired his business sense for achieving total ownership and creative control over the rights to his music. As a kid, I didn’t comprehend his motives behind changing his name, but now I understand. I continue to marvel at the extent of his quiet philanthropy, and I think it’s wonderful how he celebrated life within and amongst his local community in Minnesota. I read somewhere many years ago that Prince’s favorite recording artist was Joni Mitchell. Knowing this, honestly, I love him even more! His completely unpredictable eclectic tastes in music are a mark of a mind open to constant discovery; a virtue I will always admire.
So how did I choose to celebrate the life and music of God’s greatest gift to the guitar and the color purple? I dug deep into my vault past the commercial success of Purple Rain and dusted off one of his more underrated albums of this century. Prince’s 2001 release The Rainbow Children came out to mixed critical reviews at the time, some loved it while some expressed reservations about its musical experimentations. Issued only a few years after he left Warner Brothers it is one of Prince’s most surprising genre-bending records in my humble opinion. Its densely jazzy overtones are given away by the album’s cover composed by Cbabi Bayoc who’s artistic styles lie somewhere in between Jacob Lawrence and Thomas Hart Benton. While it incorporates expected traits of neo soul and funk throughout its tracks, Rainbow Children is unabashedly sprinkled with a heavy dose of jazz all over. It opens with a swinging number which made me wonder how much David Brubeck Prince was listening to at the time. As a whole, it is spiritual, mystical, and evokes sexuality all at the same time. Yes, Prince crushes it on guitar when and wherever he gets the impulse. Rainbow Children’s slightly older cousin (by 27 years) is Funkadelic’s Standing On the Verge of Getting It On which is very similar thematically and stylistically, even down to the deep omnipotent voice beginning each album and heard wrapped in between tracks on both records. I highly recommend listening to both albums back to back; independently they are each uniquely fantastic but after hearing them one after the other, the listening experience is otherworldly.
From all accounts of Prince’s vast trove of unreleased music, I think I can safely say we were all living among the presence of an epic songwriter more prolific than Johann Sebastian Bach. By 7:45 PM on April 21st, mere hours after news spread of Prince’s passing a rainbow had briefly appeared over Paisley Park Studios. Take it as a sign from the heavens or as a manifestation of his spirit, but nature was impeccably in tune that day.
MAAFBOX Track Highlights: Rainbow Children, The Work, Pt. 1, 1+1+1 Is 3, Family Name, Everlasting Now, Last December