I have heard countless times, “America is the greatest country on earth.” Always on top. Our COVID-19 case counts are almost a quarter of the world’s totals. Deaths! This analogy is used often, really capturing the grim reality. If three planes, holding approximately 350 people each, crashed every day that would be the equivalent of what we are experiencing in our nation. In late May, after Memorial Day, we realized 100,000 deaths. It’s been just over a month and now we are nearing 130,000. It’s so terrible the European Union is considering restricting us from traveling abroad. (They depend on our tourism revenue but are rightfully putting their citizens’ safety above the economy.) In my state of California things aren’t getting better either. In fact, they are getting a whole lot worse. There is nothing great about any of this. The US is an absolute disaster. This is dystopia at its finest. While idiot’s naïvely bounce back to their routines, I’m sitting tight. It’s really not that bad, especially spending the weekend listening to Maceo Parker’s first studio album in eight years. “Soul Food – Cooking with Maceo” was released June 26th. Parker is a renowned soul, funk and jazz saxophonist best known for his work with James Brown as well as Parliament-Funkadelic.
The album starts with Maceo and the Macks 1975 classic, "Cross The Track.” The groovy tune takes you back. Although coping with the complexities of the Watergate convictions, Fall of Saigon, peaking unemployment and a second assassination attempt on President Ford, America was still on top. I am hopeful we can regain that era’s energy captured exquisitely by Parker’s soulful sax and his band’s flowing horns. I am thankful Parker demonstrates optimism with his rendition of “Yes We Can Can.” I am revitalized with the persuasive and joyful refrains while, the peppy, bright timbre of the saxophone reassure me. “We got to make this land a better land. Then the world in which we live. And we got help each man be a better man. With the kindness that we give. I know we can make it. I know darn well; we can work it out. Oh, yes, we can, I know we can, can. Yes, we can, can, why can’t we? If we wanna, yes, we can, can. I know we can make it make it work. I know we can make it if we try. Oh, yes, we can, I know we can, can. Yes, we can. Great Gosh Almighty. If we wanna, yes we can, can.” It’s still “Hard Times.” That is well noted above. Yet, Parker’s version of the piece teases the listener with inviting, easy tones that still remain deep. The trumpet is vibrant, somewhat victorious. “Hard Times” delivers a spirited and delightful edge which is a perplexing dichotomy considering its title. Overall, the album’s redefined covers from The Meters, Allen Toussaint, David ‘Fathead’ Newman, Aretha Franklin, Dr. John as well as Prince mixed with Parker’s originals make for pure genius.
Enjoying the record, with a hearty bowl of homemade, banana, unsweetened cocoa ice cream, it hits me. You know where America shines? What really makes us “the greatest country on earth?” We excel in creativity and ingenuity, especially in the arts. (People, I made healthy, freakin’, chocolate, banana ice cream.) In all seriousness, just listen to Parker’s record. It is a gift. America has the capacity for true greatness. Parker showcases this. Right now, however, we are just lazily “Grazing in the Grass.” Unfortunately, we do not have the luxury depicted by Parker in this primarily tranquil, smooth tune with only glimpses of sprightly horns and animated drums. Nevertheless, I’m reminded with Parker’s reinvention of Dr. John’s voodoo, funk, R&B anthem, America remains the “Right Place Wrong Time.” He is throaty and real. Its soulfulness is raucous and brazen. Don’t get disillusioned. Evoke, “Right Place Wrong Time.” Borrowing Parker’s distinct song touches, “Ha,” “Good Golly” and most importantly, “You know what,” he illustrates it is all quite simple. We have the virtuosity and drive to get back on top. At just seventy-seven, Parker’s innovative, vivacious, friskiness tells me America can pull through.