Recording information: Cherry Beach Studios, Toronto; Chicago Recording Company, Chicago, IL; Daptone Studios, Brooklyn, NY; Dunham Studios, Brooklyn, NY; Enormous Studios, Venice, CA; Levcon Studios, Los Angeles, CA; Royal Studios, Memphis, TN; The Armory, Vancouver; The Premises, London, UK; Zelig Studios, London, UK.
Photographer: LeAnn Muller.
What do you do when you're a connected and funded musician/producer who, like many others pushing 40 or greater, is disappointed with commercial music made by and for people born after your favorite era of music? If you're Mark Ronson, you dial a Pulitzer-winning novelist, snare a sympathetic group of stars, session giants, and unknowns, including a singer discovered during a talent quest through churches from New Orleans to Chicago, and record another tribute to your childhood soundtrack. Indeed, apart from the involvement of Michael Chabon, whose lyrics color nine of the 11 songs, Uptown Special is business as usual for Ronson and co-pilot Jeff Bhasker. The two songs that don't involve Chabon made the earliest and deepest impressions. Bruno Mars showcase "Uptown Funk," despite aiming for early Time and landing closer to a second-tier trifle -- One Way's "Let's Talk," for instance -- topped pop charts in a number of territories and went platinum in Ronson's native U.K. "Feel Right," led by Mystikal at his vulgar and ebullient best, splits the difference between Bobby Byrd and Son of Bazerk. Everything else was co-written with Chabon, whose somewhat surreal scenes are matched with predominantly hazier and freewheeling sounds. These songs, including two highlights that boast the dynamite rhythm section of Willie Weeks and Steve Jordan, as well as lazing vocals from relative youngsters Andrew Wyatt and Kevin Parker, tend to evoke summery soft rock/smooth soul hybrids of the mid- to late '70s, or certain songs by later practitioners like Phoenix and Daft Punk. "I Can't Lose" is the lone Chabon song that breaks a sweat -- thick, twisted synth funk that borrows from Soho's "Hot Music" and (cleanly) lifts from Snoop Dogg's "Ain't No Fun," featuring newcomer Keyone Starr in the role of Evelyn King (or maybe Mary Jane Girls' JoJo McDuffie). Neatly tied together by opening and closing cuts that include Stevie Wonder on harmonica, because Ronson could swing it, Uptown Special is another nostalgic fantasy that provides light entertainment and provokes backtracking. ~ Andy Kellman
Rolling Stone - 3.5 stars out of 5 -- "Bruno Mars animates a Minneapolis groove with EDM builds on 'Uptown Funk.' It could even teach Prince a trick or two."
Spin - "The songs are effective and even somewhat infectious -- the producer's ear for rubbery, narcissistic art-rock is as adept as it is for floor-filling soul..."
Entertainment Weekly - "'Uptown Funk' breaks a serious sweat, but the centerpiece of Ronson's fourth album is the volcanic 'Feel Right'..." -- Grade: B+
NME (Magazine) - "Ronson's fourth record consistently finds chemistry in the unlikeliest of places, not least between Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Michael Chabon (who wrote most of the lyrics), and Parker, whose distinctively woozy vocals prove the perfect vessel for the trippy wordplay on narco-funk workout `Daffodils'."
Paste (magazine) - "Ronson's UPTOWN SPECIAL is his best work yet and one of the best funk albums you'll come across in recent memory."