Chaka Khan is a funk and soul singer/songwriter from Chicago, Illinois. She debuted in the mid 1970’s with the band Rufus, winning her first Grammy in 1975 for their massive hit, “Tell Me Something Good.” The funk outfit went on to a fairly successful career with their 1977 LP, Ask Rufus going platinum and a few more reaching gold certification. Khan began working on her solo career in 1978 as Rufus was wrapping up. She was extremely prolific with eight releases by the end of the 80’s including her platinum hit, I Feel for You in ’84. Her output slowed a bit in the ’90’s and her final studio record to date, Funk This, released in 2007.
She’s known chiefly for her powerhouse voice which lead her to the top of the heap in terms of soul and funk vocalists of the 70’s. Having worked with the likes of Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles, she’s a certified legend of the genre, boasting more than 20 Grammy nominations and some fairly impressive sales. When she dropped her latest album in 2007, her sound was certainly getting old, and had all but fallen out of the zeitgeist. However, with the success of artists like Chance the Rapper and Kanye West bringing back a newfound passion for the funk and soul that characterized the mid 70’s, she’s found a niche in which to justify her first release in more than a decade, Hello Happiness.
This album’s most noticeable quality comes in the instrumentation. “Like A Lady,” features well played violins and an excellent bass line, while “Isn’t That Enough,” is built on a groovy, almost reggae inspired electric guitar and some fantastic drumming. Throughout the entire album, the bouncing, bass-heavy instrumentation is like a musical time capsule from the days of mid-70’s funk music in the best way possible.
On the other hand, there are several moments of modern, electronic brilliance mixed in for good measure. “Don’t Cha Know,” utilizes this well. While the heart and soul of the track is the heavily distorted guitar riff and excellent organ work, they’re interlaced with shimmering, futuristic atmospherics and looping samples that seems to bring the sound directly into the 21st century. It’s an interesting mix that give the album a unique feel.
The real highlight, however, is Chaka Khan’s show-stopping vocal performances. On tracks like my personal favorite, “Too Hot,” or the closer, “Ladylike,” all production and instrumental elements take a back seat as Khan’s iconic voice commands our ears. Most of the album is filled with very interesting melodies, all of which Khan absolutely knocks out of the park. It’s refreshing to hear such a strong voice still coming from one of the all time greats.
Where the album does fall short, it comes down to two elements. The first of these is production, where much of the tuning on vocals is far too treble heavy and seems to hiss at times. This can generally be ignored, but in a track like the opener and title track, where much of the instrumental features high pitched atmospherics, it becomes a bit grating. The track has a lot going for it, but this small issue makes it one of the weaker cuts on the album.
The only truly weak song on the record is “Like Sugar.” It falls in the latter half of the 30 minute runtime and it suffers most of all from the album’s most permeating shortcoming which is simply a lack of ideas. While each track is well made and performed, many of them seem repetitive and beg for just a bit more thought to be put into the songwriting portion. While other tracks commit this sin, “Like Sugar,” is the only time a song seems just completely devoid of ideas before even the half way point.
Overall, this is a solid outing. With this being Chaka Khan’s 23rd album, it would be all to easy for her to coast by on revisiting old hits and phoning in her performances. Instead, she delivers a tight, well-paced, and well performed collection of interesting new tracks that retain much of the magic of hear early work and even experiment with more modern elements.
Hello Happiness is a legacy album to be proud of and a must listen for fans of funk and soul music’s heyday.