In 1971 James Brown recorded a concert at the Olympia in Paris. He planned to release a triple album of the event, and he got as far as a test pressing before the project was shelved. In 1992 a single CD of the show omitted some cuts and scrambled the track order. Mastered for the first time from the original mixdown reels, the new vinyl release of Love Power Peace duplicates the album James Brown envisioned down to the mid-song side breaks that make the listening experience unusually choppy as well as his studio version of “Who Am I” that’s slipped in as if it were part of the live performance. Odd choices initially, but I applaud the decision to follow the original script, as finally a lost album has come fully to life.
And considering the remarkable chemistry of this band, that’s no small thing. Here the list of veteran James Brown sidemen includes drummers John “Jabo” Starks and Clyde Stubblefield, trombonist Fred Wesley, and long-standing right-hand man Bobby Byrd (who, like Vicki Anderson, sings lead on a couple cuts). Three essential new members were from Cincinnati, home of King Records, where Brown went from an unknown to an icon. Although he was only 19, William “Bootsy” Collins was already an innovator on the bass; both he and his older brother, guitarist Phelps “Catfish” Collins, were pivotal in shaping the new sound of the group. A brilliant and innovative arranger, David Matthews was an ideal collaborator as James Brown’s music became more intricate, complex, and mind-blowing.
An amazing lineup—but it was also short-lived and under-recorded. James Brown must have thought something special was brewing if he decided to release what would have been his firstever triple LP, and I’d be hard-pressed to disagree. By the end of the first side the band is already crackling with an intensity that other groups would struggle to match during their encore. When Brown shouts encouragement during “Ain’t It Funky Now,” you sense the soloists being driven to new heights and feel the electricity of a band that’s completely in synch. Although the sound isn’t great, overall it has the impact you would want from a live album. The horns and strings seem submerged while the vocals are sometimes too forward. On the other hand, in spite of distant staging for the instruments in general the drums and the deep, dark, ominous bass lines come through clearly, revealing the energy and intricacy of a remarkable rhythm section.
On the high-energy material priority is given to new songs, the older hits receiving quick run-throughs or getting bundled into medleys. For this superbly paced set, however, James Brown is given all the time he needs to deliver dramatic performances of ballads that evoke early deep soul records on King, Federal, and dozens of other great labels. These renditions of “Georgia on My Mind,” “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World,” “Try Me,” “Bewildered,” and “Who Am I”—all songs where James Brown pours emotion into every line—make Love Power Peace even more memorable. On the last side of the record “Super Bad,” “Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved,” and “Soul Power” return the energy level to its previous heights.