Dennis Coffey | Dennis Coffey

Dennis Coffey | Dennis Coffey
by A. Scott Galloway

Guitarist Dennis Coffey was the ace on the case when Norman Whitfield slipped some psychedelic into Motown’s soul bag on game-changing sides by The Temptations starting with “Cloud Nine” on up through “I Can’t Get Next to You,” “Ball of Confusion” and just about all of, naturally, the Psychedelic Shack Lp. He made a giant platform-shoed step from the shadows of Motown with the instrumental smash “Scorpio,” credited to  Dennis Coffey and the Detroit Guitar Band, eternally linked to the mid-way portion of `70s “Soul Train” episodes and featuring a ferocious bass breakdown by Bob Babbitt. Dennis then recorded eight wah-wah-fied soul-rock albums as well as the score to Kung Fu fightin’ Jim Kelly’s first starring vehicle “Black Belt Jones.” Now following a pair of sleepy smooth jazz affairs in the `80s, Mr. Coffey returns with his first disc in 22 years doing a funky flashback sure to be met with approving head nods from crate diggers with his self-titled Dennis Coffey (available as a CD and double-vinyl Lp). Retro on every level, even the cover is a throwback to his 1973 Sussex Lp, Electric Coffey.

Unlike his `70s projects, the 11-song Dennis Coffey features five vocal tracks of varying levels of success – the concept being to revisit songs he graced as a sideman for others as well as to showcase up and coming vocalists from his beloved home of Detroit and his second home of Los Angeles. The best of these is a sexy-raspy take on “The Wicked” Wilson Pickett’s “Don’t Knock My Love” from the female point of view of Fanny Franklin (of the band Orgone) and a Heavy Metal Funk take on Rodriguez’s “Only Good For Conversation” rocked with Paolo Nutini upfront. Versions of The Parliaments’ “All Your Goodies Are Gone” and Funkadelic’s “I Bet You” are lacking vocally though Coffey serves up a searing solo on the latter, but Lisa Kakaula of The BellRays is on-the-one for the 100 Proof (Aged in Soul) cover “Somebody’s Been Sleeping.”

The REAL goodies are Coffey’s instrumentals, the best coming straight outta the gate with “7th Galaxy.” A telegraphing guitar riff gives ways to a grindhouse soundtrack of horn lines, crisp soloing from Coffey and, of course, a killer bass, drums and congas breakdown. Though not “Scorpio,” it bumps with Afro-centric brio. Also tight are the trippy “Plutonius” (Coffey’s Hendrixian Steve Miller vibe a la “Fly Like An Eagle” that is WAY too short), the driving, talking guitar groove “Knockabout” and the dubby delight “Space Traveller.” With the cheesy chorus vocals, these could easily be leftovers from a flick that traverses between The Hood and Outer Space (plus an instrumental reprise of “Don’t Knock My Love”), but it’s all good for car cruisin’ and doin’ the loose booty – NONSENSE! Welcome back to where you’ve always belonged, Mr. Coffey.

A. Scott Galloway
May 12, 2011
The Urban Music Scene

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