This album is both old and new, beautiful and tragic... or at least the story behind it is.
Despite sharing the bill with luminaries such as Marvin Gaye, James Brown and The Whispers and tenaciously touring throughout the 60s & 70s, We Can't Take Life For Granted is Eugene Blacknell's debut album. Sadly, the man, himself, passed away before its fruition, over a decade and a half ago.
Blacknell was a funk guitarist, band leader and singer from the Bay Area. He was so much more than that though... the worlds of Black music and civil rights owe him an honorable mention, if not a debt of gratitude as he was also an activist on the music scene. In the 60s and before, Black musicians were automatically paid less than their White counterparts (Some will tell you that this is still happening). Blacknell and his group successfully fought for change. The album's liner notes give an in-depth look at his political activities and together with his music, it'll may well, like me, have you saying 'right on brother' and wishing for a well deserved biopic of this man's life.
Blacknell and his bands, The Savonics and New Breed (which included Eugene's son, Gino), released a slew of singles, most of which are coveted by collectors and others have become producers' essentials, including “We Know We Have To Live Together” which was sampled by Beck on “Black Tambourine.” However, his family feels that he was too preoccupied with connecting with his audience on a ‘live’ level to really bother pursuing an album deal.
Stand out tracks have to be the cool California groove of “Gettin' Down,” the collectors' piece “The Trip,” the self-explanatory “Wah Wah Funk,” “For The Sake Of Love” and of course, the title track “We Can't Take Life For Granted” which is one of eleven instrumentals on the album. Aside from the brief introduction song “Welcome Dudes And Dollies,” the album starts off with five of those instrumentals. The first of those songs, "Jump Back" is entirely evocative and full of energy, even after all these years. It’s an excellent beginning to an album whose contents span three decades of material. I defy you not to imagine, either a heaving, sweaty 60s R&B joint or a fight scene from the Batman TV series, 'Pows', 'Splats' and 'Kapows' and all, while listening to it.
With its 25 tracks, We Can't Take Life For Granted is a lengthy listen, but who could really blame his widow Lillie and son Gino for being a bit indulgent when they've waited so long, especially, when apparently, Eugene recorded enough material for several albums. This is Rare Groove at its rarest. It's also the sort of collection that you can't help feeling sentimental listening to, perhaps, wondering and hoping whether there's an after-life where the departed are capable of consciousness and pride. This is a legacy to be proud of Mr. Blacknell. Funk in peace.
- Vie Marshall
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