Inspiration Information + Wings of Love
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Released to an apathetic audience and minimal sales in 1974, Inspiration Information has since gained cachet as a lost soul classic. It ultimately was Shuggie Otis’– son of legendary rock and roll band leader Johnny– final album of a sadly short three disc span. Despite a high profile 2001 reissue that quickly went out of print, little has been heard from him since.
This deluxe double disc combines the original nine track album with four previously unavailable rarities and a second platter called Wings of Love of finished odds and ends—most quite good– intended for its follow-up, primarily recorded from 1976-’80. Otis was only 21 when he released Inspiration and he played all the instruments which only adds to its lofty reputation. But listening to this half vocal/half instrumental set now doesn’t make a case as the great lost soul gem it’s touted to be, especially coming from an era that yielded similar and much better work from Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, Isaac Hayes and particularly Stevie Wonder.
The schlocky drum machine backing that snakes through many of the tracks is a relic of its time best forgotten and even the finest tunes simply aren’t in a league with Wonder’s work. The instrumentals seem made for the soundtrack of a Shaft-like blaxpoitation flick so common in the early-mid 70s and Otis’ voice isn’t especially commanding or distinctive. Wings of Love is more of the same with a funkier approach, closer to the Brothers Johnson whose hit version of “Strawberry Letter 23” was originally penned and performed by Otis. A few highlights such as the soaring, dramatic title track are spread over an expansive 70 minute playing time. But there isn’t much you’ll revel in as timeless art criminally neglected to the dustbins of R&B obscurity.
That’s not to say this isn’t welcome, especially now that Otis is in his 60s and touring America for the first time in many years. It shows how talented musicians get crushed in the cogs of the music industry machine, something that hasn’t changed in the nearly 40 years since Inspiration Information’s initial appearance. Kudos to Sony for giving this a high profile release and including a terrific if somewhat effusively praising, 28 page booklet of essays and photos in the classy double package. Perhaps this will shine much needed light on Otis, inspiring him to produce new music and make up for lost time.