Roger – ‘3 Classic Albums’ reviewed

❉ The late Zapp frontman’s tasty funk trilogy repackaged.

Praised by George Clinton as the most talented musician he’d ever seen in his life, guitarist and vocalist Roger Troutman’s saga ended with his still-unexplained April 1999 fratricide by his brother and musical partner Larry.

Much like Marvin Gaye’s tragic death by the hand of his own father, this tragedy doesn’t overshadow the joy provided by Roger’s work with Zapp and his four contemporaneous solo albums, of which this new budget-priced release collects the first three, The Many Facets of Roger (1981), The Saga Continues (1984), and Unlimited (1987).

With his brothers Larry, Lester, Tony and Terry, Roger’s work in Zapp straddled the R&B charts for the entirety of the ’80s, with five albums featuring massive hits like More Bounce to the Ounce and Computer Love. But this wasn’t enough for Roger’s prodigious musical talent. As befitting the work ethic exemplified by his mentor George Clinton’s P-Funk collective, to which Zapp was tangentially connected, Roger’s solo albums featured many of the same players and continued the same in the same funky vein as the Zapp albums, with bouncy, rubbery beats and Roger’s trademark electronic talkbox vocals on many of the cuts, with a few more R&B ballads where Roger could stretch out as not just a dancer, but a romancer too. Blues and jazz come winking in at times as well, with Roger showing off incredibly tasty guitar solos.

The three albums here cover the period from 1981 through 1987, a heavily transitional time in R&B when many artists who saw their start in the 1970s shifted more towards an adult contemporary sound, and the organic funk of the ’70s faded and for a period became nothing more than sampling fodder for the up-and-coming Hip Hop genre. But like his contemporaries Cameo, Roger’s heavily electronic sound moved forward with the times well enough to still net several #1 and Top 10 R&B singles, including the drastic 1981 reworking of I Heard It Through the Grapevine, included here. From 1987, a cover of James Brown’s Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag borrows the chiming guitar riff from Prince’s Kiss which had been released only the year before. And Maxx Axe pays lyrical and musical tribute to the P-Funk gang.

Roger’s final solo album, Bridging The Gap (1991) is not included here, but it was the final installment in his recorded career, as popular tastes had moved away from Roger and Zapp’s brand of on-the-one funk. Within just a few years, though, sampling of his music by Hip Hop artists again rekindled enough interest for the collection Zapp & Roger: All The Greatest Hits (1993) to go platinum within three years of its release.

This makes it all the more tragic that for whatever unknown reason in 1999, Larry Troutman shot and killed Roger, then committed suicide himself. Musical layoffs of several years are the norm for many artists now – who knows what else Roger Troutman might have brought us if he’d lived and gone back into the studio at the turn of the millennium? A fine release like this serves as both comfort and a stinging reminder of what was lost. Highly recommended for R&B/Funk fans.

❉ Roger – The Many Facets Of Roger / The Saga Continues / Unlimited is out now from Robinsongs distributed via Cherry Red, RRP £10.95. 

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