Music Reviews


Guitarist Shuggie Otis is back. The height of his recording career hit 40 years ago with an album called "Inspiration Information" that won critical praise and some rabid fans. He was just a teenager. And while he has continued to work and play with other musicians since then, a follow-up album of his own never materialized.

Now, Sony Records has re-released "Inspiration Information," along with 25 years' worth of unreleased material. Reviewer Oliver Wang has been soaking it in.


OLIVER WANG, BYLINE: This isn't the first time Shuggie Otis' masterpiece, "Inspiration Information," has been reissued, but that's OK. It's an album that absolutely deserves to be rediscovered every decade or so.


SHUGGIE OTIS: (Singing) We had a rainy day. I'm in a snake back situation. Here's a pencil pad. I'm going to spread some information.

WANG: The album stands out because of how seamlessly it blends different musical styles. Otis lays his light tenor vocals over sunshiney pop production, but also growling funk grooves and most notably, many songs carry the soft punch of early analog drum machines.


OTIS: (Singing) Aht uh mi hed, it's growing. Aht uh mi hed, it's glowing. Aht uh mi hed, 'cause I heard something said in a word from your voice did I hear only choice dear. Ah uh mi hed...

WANG: "Inspiration Information" was a coming-of-age album for Shuggie, the first LP he produced without the oversight of his father, legendary R&B impresario Johnny Otis. The new reissue gives us a sneak peek into four unreleased songs from a few years earlier, where you can hear an 18-year-old Shuggie tinker with what would become the album's musical blueprint. At the very least, young Otis was a big fan of Sly & the Family Stone's pop-funk innovations.


OTIS: (Singing) Girl, you want to play some magic in my brain. You want to blow it up till it turns red, then sprinkle down see the time. Let it mystify your mind. Sunshine shower, singing flowers, making love on turquoise towers. Hey, hey, hey, you know that's cool. Taking out the dream out for a walk. You just might want to take it for a block. Swoop back in a minute or a two just in time to hear the guitar move.

WANG: We also get a glimpse into Shuggie Otis' unheard future. Between the mid-'70s through 2000, Otis barely released anything, but the reissue comes with the companion compilation of 14 songs rescued from the vaults. Many of them sound unfinished and all over the place but if nothing else, we discover that Otis could have had a successful early '80s career recording yacht-rock tunes.


WANG: Shuggie Otis has been touring to promote the reissue, and there are always rumors that he'll jump back into the studio and produce that follow-up that fans have been waiting on. Even if that never happens, you can be sure of one thing: somewhere down the road, "Inspiration Information" will rise again to beguile yet another generation of listeners.


CORNISH: Our reviewer, Oliver Wang, is an associate professor of sociology at Cal State Long Beach and writes the audio blog, Soul Sides.


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