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Mark Ronson's 'Uptown Special' review: '70s funk for today's generation

Mark Ronson's

Mark Ronson's "Uptown Special" on RCA. Credit: RCA

Mark Ronson has always had a good ear and exceedingly good taste.

As a producer, he knew exactly the style of retro-soul that would help turn Amy Winehouse into a superstar with "Back to Black." As a DJ, he knew how to rock a party on his own distinctive terms without stepping on anyone's fun.

But Ronson didn't quite show the same skill with his own music -- until now. His fourth album "Uptown Special" (RCA) thrillingly reworks late '70s/early '80s funk into something that sounds wholly faithful to its influence while also moving dramatically away from anything else in pop music today.

"Uptown Funk," his chart-topping collaboration with Bruno Mars, is the best example of what Ronson has accomplished. You can almost hear the echoes of James Brown, The Time and The Gap Band in the music and in Mars' swaggering delivery, but the lyrics are so well-crafted that it can hold its own against the source material.

Ronson manages that trick several more times. "Feel Right," with Mystikal at the helm, feels like it could have dropped straight from Brown's Apollo days, while "I Can't Lose," featuring Keyone Starr, will have you searching out Evelyn "Champagne" King and Teena Marie. On "Daffodils," with Tame Impala's Kevin Parker handling the vocals, he builds a sleek funk marvel somewhere between the Mary Jane Girls' "In My House" and Parliament/Funkadelic made even more impressive by the economical lyrics co-authored by Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Michael Chabon, of "Wonder Boys" and "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay" fame. (Chabon's work in "Crack in the Pearl" is even better. "In the backroom of the El Mago Casino, under a portrait of Doris Day, you and I and a pair of C-notes" opens the epic ballad.)

"Uptown Special" can't quite keep up the feverish funk pace it sets at the beginning, but it is more than enough to re-establish Ronson as a musical force in pop music. Don't believe me? Just watch.


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