Cameo, the amazing funk band that strung together an irresistible run of albums and songs from the late 1970s to the late 1980s but hasn’t released any new music in more than 20 years? Me too. They of one of the most uniquely identifiable sounds and uncommon facility whether banging out hardcore jams, reeling off infectious melodies or pulling heartstrings with soul-caressing ballads. C-Funk faithful, I come bearing wonderful news … Cameo lives! In sonics and spirit that is if not exactly in name. Tomi Jenkins, one of the band’s original architects whose vital and versatile singing voice is synonymous with “getting down with the Cameo sound,” has returned with the seven-track collection A Life to Remember.
Like the best works of his origin band, the new album demonstrates Jenkins’ keen ability to summon your “funk face” with the sizzling opener “Barbarians,” set your body swaying with the slinky “Real Life Superman,” incite your feet to moving with the aptly titled “Stepper Delight” and carry you away with the dreamy ballad “One of a Kind.” The title track, “Life 2 Remember,” is a down-tempo, reflective piece produced by Leon Sylvers III and Leon IV that marries a heavy beat and hip hop flavor to Jenkins’ shimmering crooning. “Masterpiece,” a paean to the object of his affections, is another slower tune with a jazzy feel, while the closing “Automatic” is a tuneful and frisky funk romp.
Although Jenkins has released some material before under his own name, that output was sporadic and lacked the consistency and cohesiveness he demonstrates here. A Life to Remember really addresses the question: What if Cameo made a mature, introspective and culturally relevant record that didn’t forget how to truly bring the funk, the slow grooves and everything in between? Answer: It would be an unmitigated treat. Jenkins is also involved in composing and production with this one, and helping the cause significantly is Cameo cohort Charlie Singleton, who lends his gutsy guitar playing to three of the tracks.
My biggest beef with this record is its running time at around 28 minutes, making this truly more like an EP than LP. That is well less than half a CD’s running time and with music this good it is hard not to want more. However, if Jenkins’ thinking was better all thriller and no filler then he has built a solid case as he mostly achieves that goal. The funk workouts that open and close the album, including the incendiary “Barbarians” that in both bone-rattling rhythm and political slant harken back to Cameo’s blistering “Talking Out the Side of Your Neck,” particularly scream for extended club-style versions too.
Jenkins certainly has had a life to remember with more than four decades creating powerful, poignant and pleasurable funk and soul music of the highest order (Check out his recent interview on FUNKNSTUFF.NET’s TRUTH IN RHYTHM Show). Jenkins also continues to perform with Cameo, and although his may not be a household name millions have bounced, bobbed and made babies to his accompaniment. A Life to Remember is a joyous, memorable affair that reminds us how much Jenkins remains in command of his gifts, and how much we missed that distinctive sound.