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Pop Music Review

Rick James Relives the Past With No Peek to the Future

September 27, 1997|JOHN ROOS

Funk singer-songwriter Rick James has made more headlines than music throughout the '90s. The troubled musician's problems with drugs and the law culminated in 1994 with a two-year prison sentence for a drug-related assault on a woman he and his girlfriend held captive in his home.

Freed just over a year ago, the 47-year-old James is attempting to resurrect his dormant career. His first album of new material in nine years, the forthcoming "Urban Rhapsody" on Private I/Mercury Records is due Oct. 14 and he kicked off a 23-city U.S. tour at the Galaxy Concert Theatre in Santa Ana on Thursday night.

James has said he wants to put his past behind him. Yet ironically, instead of providing a peak at where he's musically heading-- which is the item of most interest--his nostalgia-heavy concert Thursday offered merely a look behind.

Not that a celebration of past glories is a completely bad idea. A gracious James was in good spirits ("I'm happy to be alive . . . thanks for all your support") and he filled the room with a celebratory vibe. The funkmaster and his 12-member Stone City band did lay down some mighty fine, slinky grooves, particularly during such staples as "Dance Wit' Me," "Bustin' Out" and the sexually charged "Give It to Me Baby."

Plus, ex-Mary Jane Girls vocalist JoJo McDuffie-Funderburg--one of three back-up singers--added spice and energized the audience while stepping into the lead role on two sultry numbers, "All Night Long" and "In My House."

But strangely, James previewed none of his new material, failing to even mention that a new album is on its way. It was a shame, too, because judging from an advance copy, the 14-track collection serves up a winning mix of soul, R&B and funk. Its most telling selection, titled "Somebody's Watching," presents an honest, introspective look at his incarceration and its aftermath.

*

* Rick James plays Monday at the House of Blues, 8430 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, 9 p.m. $25. (213) 650-1451.

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