(I just had a dream and you were there.)
by Allene Lewis
(reprinted with permission)
In reverence to the notion that any truly worthwhile objective must be possible (a common Libertalian theme), Funkvieille is named after the Fontvieille district of Monaco, itself once considered an impossible dream before Prince Rainier III dumped enough rocks into the Mediterranean Sea to, literally, lay the foundation for this incredible expansion of the world’s most beloved principality.
But a single that is almost 16 minutes long? Iron Butterfly’s infamous In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida was only 17 minutes long; fortunately, Funkvieille is infinitely more interesting… even without the drum solo.
Our journey begins with Joni Margaux saying, “I just had a dream and you were there.” After which, the first instrument we hear is a synthesizer working a lick that might have been used as the sound track for a satellite communication sequence in a fifties science fiction flick. The drums follow with a fairly standard dance beat (quarter notes on the kick drum, snare on two and four) at just two beats per minute slower than the standard marching tempo of 120 bpm, this designed to give the dancers just slightly more room to syncopate and/or exaggerate their movements.
Then comes that distinctive thumb-slapping, string-popping Libertalia bass line, complete with its own outrageously aggressive signature hook. Followed, within a measure, by electric guitar power chords used initially as just a bit part on the chorus but which later provide both the harmonic and rhythm undercarriage of the verse.
The first vocals to enter the production are several tracks of Joni Margaux harmonizing with herself in three and four parts (“Don’t tell me about your Noo-Noo-Nah-Nah; I can be real”) answered by… Joni Margaux harmonizing with herself in three and four parts (“I can be real”).
The verses are covered by Randell Young, on this track using his “David Bowie voice”, one of three distinct personalities that Young channels on his vocal tracks, the other two being his blues/reggae voice (which might be loosely described as a cross between Bob Marley and Eric Clapton) and his more pop-like voice which falls in somewhere between Boz Scaggs and George Benson.
Lyrically, Young makes direct reference to Jane Roberts’ concept of “now” as one’s “point of power” which is certainly ironic given that, after a series of clever almost Dylan-like word games, the basic message of this section is more or less: “Hey, Babe, I would really like to turn you upside down.”
The most distinctive element of the first movement might be the rhythm guitar track (a not so subtle ode to Nile Rogers) that follows the synthesizer-dominated interlude leading back into the chorus… or it may be Joni Margaux’s four-part answer to the chorus (complete with her Joni Mitchell-like vibrato) hanging in mid-air over the kick drum as Funkvieille transitions into its second movement.
This second section is at once both a modern and classic (aka “timeless”) rhythm and blues which makes excellent use of Joni’s soul-drenched vibrato and a horn section that takes The Blues Brothers (and a lot of others) to school. The guitar solo pretty much follows the melody (save for a bluesy string-bending lick at the conclusion) and is extremely effective particularly since it more or less replaces what would usually be the third vocal verse of a pop-like tune structure.
Lyrically, this section repeats the “I Can Be Real” meme, this time in the context of a conversation with a lover that keeps sending out mixed messages, the point of which seems to be more about Joni’s defiantly confident tone than the negotiation of any actual terms of endearment. The transition into the third movement is particularly interesting as it utilizes Joni’s big, bad, Court and Spark-like chorus as cover to change-up the drum pattern and introduce a whole new (and even funkier) rhythm scheme.
The most prominent element of this section is the guitar solo which rides over two descending string lines separated by an octave and a third. This is the shortest and the most syncopated part of the composition but, paradoxically, the drum pattern remains the same into the next “song” even though the feel of the fourth movement is at once more rock-like as well as more Latin.
The transition into this movement incorporates a wild bass and drum line that is more indicative of something you might expect from Chick Corea and Return to Forever than an act that describes itself as “modern American dance music”. After the hairy intro/transition, the fourth section is the most traditional in terms of song structure: verse, chorus, verse, chorus, solo break, instrumental chorus, verse, chorus, chorus, chorus, tag, tag, tag. The intro includes a melodic theme played on synthesizer which repeats after each verse as well as the guitar break, which falls in between rhythmic punches and is otherwise completely unaccompanied.
Lyrically, the fourth section picks up the lyric, “I just had a dream and you were there.” It’s also the most thought-provoking in that you instantly want to know whose presence it is that Joni is feeling. And while it is clearly not decipherable from the tune itself, the liner notes at Libertalia’s SoundCloud page reveal that although the song as a whole is intended to refer to any iconic figure by which one is inspired, verse one was, in fact, inspired by Bob Marley, verse two by Her Serene Highness Princess Grace of Monaco (Grace Kelly) and verse three by Humphrey Bogart.
And how about Joni; when she sang on the recording, did she have anyone specific in mind? Actually, yes, she was thinking about (and trying to channel) Judy Garland. Finally the piece works its way back to the original chorus – that we heard something like 15 minutes ago – but not before the interlude containing the Nile Rogers-like rhythm guitar vamp is repeated, introduced by the same Bach-like phrase this time orchestrated with power chords.
And how would you end an opus like this? Well, with Joni’s voice in four parts hanging out a cappella over the end of the track of course.
Amazingly, Funkvieille takes so many perfectly-timed twists and turns which incorporate so many interesting musical ideas that not only do those nearly 16 minutes go by like a three-minute pop tune but on first and even later hearings, the only reaction possible is: “Wow, can we hear that again?” Of course, it’s only a matter of time before someone comes out with a workout video synced to the 15 plus minutes of Funkvieille.
Libertalia describes itself as “modern American dance music with significant elements of Jazz, Rock, Reggae and World Beat.” Based on previous tracks, this writer has described Libertalia as “high art that operates successfully on multiple levels”.
Funkvieille propels Libertalia into a unique echelon: creators of infectious dance music which incorporates so many intelligent compositional elements that even sophisticated Jazz listeners join in with the mindless funk junkies who just can’t get enough… of this funky stuff. No other artist today is even thinking about treading into this musical territory. And all this in service of a cause:
“In this crazy, mixed-up world where the alleged Land of the Free has the highest incarceration rate of any country, the inhabitants of Prison Planet cry out for some small corner of the earth where health, wealth and happiness might be pursued unburdened by the Dictates of Oligarchs or the Tyranny of the Masses.
“That land, that dream, that nation, we call… Libertalia!”