Record Label: RCA
Uptown Special, the fourth album by producer-songwriter-musician Mark Ronson, is a tale of several cities, a wide range of collaborators, and a road trip deep into the American South. However the story of Ronson’s latest project really starts back when he was New York’s hottest DJ. In the late 1990s into the early 2000s the New York club scene was percolating with booming hip-hop and glitzy R&B. In those days before he emerged as a multi-talented musical force Ronson manned the turntables of many great parties.
“It was a fun time to be playing music,” Ronson says. “At clubs like Cheetah you didn’t have to play a hip hop record until 1a.m. You could play early ‘80s classics by Chaka Khan, Boz Scaggs and Michael Jackson and rock the crowd. I’d play Steely Dan’s ‘Black Cow’ at 11:30 and it world work. Then, at 1am you’d play ‘Hypnotize’ by Biggie and the crowd would go wild. I come back to those memories.” This mix of vintage R&B and pop with contemporary hip-hop is what made Ronson a star DJ. “I never get tired of hearing records like Earth, Wind & Fire’s ‘Can’t Hide Love’ next to 'Rock the Boat' by Aaliyah,” he adds. “I wanted this record to feel like hearing that kind of musical mix on great New York club night.”
Uptown Special has all of the flavor of a night with Mark rocking the ones and twos with funk, soul, and psychedelic pop in a style that echoes classic productions by Quincy Jones and Steely Dan, and funneled through its creators sophisticated understanding of arrangement and melody. Of his three previous albums Mark feels like Uptown Special is closest in spirit to his 2003 debut, Here Comes the Fuzz, which came directly out of his DJ experience. “The difference,” Mark says “is I was reaching for things musically I wasn’t quite ready to execute. With all the experience I’ve gained over the years I had the maturity and knowledge to really pull this together.”
Though Ronson is now based out of London, most of Uptown Special was recorded in the United States with stops in Los Angeles, Memphis and Mississippi. Most of the music was recorded with live musicians with Mark anchoring the sessions on guitar, while surrounded by a complimentary mix of gifted young players and R&B vets. Several musicians, who worked with Mark on his historic production of Amy Winehouse’s multi-platinum Back To Black and his own breakthrough album, 2007’s Version, rejoined him for this album, including drummer Homer Steinweiss, bassist Nick Movshan and guitarist Tommy Brenneck. Also making guest appearances on Uptown Special are bassist Willie Weeks (who played on Stevie Wonder’s classic Innervisions) guitarist Carlos Alomar (who created the familiar guitar riff on David Bowie’s “Fame”) and drummer Steve Jordan (member of the John Mayer Trio).
Mark Ronson’s Uptown Special is a unique blend. It’s an album with a serious literary pedigree matched to down home greasy funk. It features a progressive pop vocalist from Australia and one reared in Mississippi, the spiritual root of American music. Hot young contemporary players dominate while some tracks are spiced with legendary musicians. It’s a mix that reflects the musical taste and life experience of its creator.
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Joseph Abajian (DJ Jab) founded Fat Beats in 1994 with nothing more than a shoestring budget and an earnest obsession with the music, the culture, and the brotherhood of New York’s burgeoning rap scene. What began as a simple vinyl shop in Manhattan’s Lower East Side quickly became an integral hub for artists, both aspiring and established, to convene and collaborate on new projects. Joseph’s timing couldn’t have been more impeccable. When the 90’s cultural zeitgeist – and, in turn, the music industry establishment – chose hip-hop as its new arbiter of cool.
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