Lenny Kravitz – Mama Said – 21st Anniversary Edition (EMI / Virgin) review
While Lenny Kravitz has covered a lot of ground in his long career, Mama Said is his best album from start to finish – and now it’s received the deluxe edition treatment, complete with an entire disc of bonus material.
When Kravitz arrived in 1989, he was a breath of fresh air. His debut, Let Love Rule, teemed with 60’s and 70’s retro sounds of rock, funk & soul – gleefully out of step with the glossy hair metal that ruled the rock charts. But, although it contained some excellent songs, there were times when Kravitz sounded tentative. Admittedly, some pegged him as a flash in the pan. Kravitz took that initial success into the recording of his second album, Mama Said. What sets this apart from his debut is that everything is richer, more fully-realized – the rock is harder, the funk is phatter, the soul is badder. The disc opens with “Fields of Joy,” all acoustic guitars and flute, sounding like a leftover hippie anthem before giving way to amped up guitars. “Always on the Run” is one of the finest singles he’s ever put out – because it captures perfectly where he’s coming from. A melding of a Deep Purple-esque guitar riff, backed by a 70’s hard funk bassline & horns, and John Bonham-style drums. Throw in Gun N’ Roses axeman Slash for a blistering solo, and you’ve the quintessential Kravitz track. “Stand By My Woman”‘s echoed piano and vocals recalls John Lennon’s work with Phil Spector in this soulful ballad featuring a passionate vocal. Kravitz and wife Lisa Bonet were breaking up at the time, which adds to the emotive quality.
“It Ain’t Over til It’s Over” is a perfect fusion of Motown rhythm and Philly-soul strings with Kravitz doing his best Marvin Gaye falsetto. “What Goes Around Comes Around” gives him a chance to channel his inner Curtis Mayfield over a jazzy groove that recalls “Pusherman,” with an excellent sax solo. There’s still plenty of psychedelia too – “The Difference is Why” features a Robin Trower-esque guitar sound over a slow burn beat.
“Stop Draggin’ Around” is another funky hard rocker, complete with phased out- trippy sound. “Flowers For Zoe” is gentle, featuring a violin, while the “Fields of Joy (reprise)” is the lead off track turned inside out, featuring a Kravitz vocal effect straight out of “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” and the tempo cut in half.
The first half of the bonus disc is made up largely of rather crude home recordings – there’s a charm to these – but they don’t stand up to repeated listens. Although there are several takes of “Riding on the Wings of My Lord,” where Kravitz has yet to finalize the lyrics and sort of just mumbles them – but it’s such a funky beat that it doesn’t matter what he sings. Also good are several tracks that were left off the album and only available as b-sides, which makes them quite hard to find. Of these, “Light-Skinned Girl From London” features a funky piano recalling early Joe Cocker infused with a horn section, while “I’ll Be Around” has an early Seventies feel complete with harmonica.
The second half of the bonus CD contains live tracks which show that Kravitz’s band was smokin’ Especially good is the cut “Stand By My Woman” – where Kravitz says “there’s many losses in life. But there never seems to be the pain you get when you lose a woman.” (sic) – to which an audience member replies “Don’t worry baby. I’ll take her place.”
Mama Said was where Lenny Kravitz came into his own as an artist of incredible depth. It still stands as one of his greatest moments. –Tony Peters