Marvin Gaye uses spoken word on “Checking Out (Double Clutch)” as an expository statement for the otherwise-wordless Funky Nation: The Detroit Instrumentals.
While the “Cats from Detroit” – drummer Hamilton Bohannan; guitarists Ray Parker Jr., Melvin “Wah Wah Watson” Ragin and Leroy Emmanuel; and bassist Michael Henderson – lay it down, Gaye lays it out, promising funk and the “Double Clutch” to follow.
Recorded in late 1971 in the wake of What’s Going On and never receiving the stand-alone release it richly deserved, Funky Nation is finally getting its due.
Though many of the 14 tracks are essentially riffs extended to song length, the band – with Gaye on keys and percussion – makes them work. Underpinned always with funk, the tunes explore reggae (“Help the People”); Kink-y rock ‘n’ roll (“Daybreak”); kinky, as in soft-porn, soul (“Chained”); psychedelia (“‘T’ Stands for Time”); and Eastern influences on the tabla-soaked title track.
Remarkably, Funky Nation: The Detroit Instrumentalsdoes not sound like the jam session it obviously was. Instead, the music comes through the speakers like a fully realized collection of numbers or at least final backing tracks that were good enough to stand on their own.
And they were, even if it took Gaye’s estate 50 years to recognize it.