Once you’ve been touched by the hand of (the funk) god, you’re pretty much fast-tracked along the path to some kind of greatness. This is exactly what happened to a teenage Tony Cook in 1973, after James Brown saw him playing at block party in his hometown of Augusta, Georgia. The stern bandmaster and Godfather Of Soul quietly picked him as a winner and kept the whippersnapper tucked away in the back of his mind. Three years later, he still hadn’t forgotten Cook and made the young drummer a member of the J.B.s—a position he held until Brown’s death in 2006. In addition to acting as the backbone of Brown’s funky rhythms for 30 years, Cook blossomed into a solid artist on his own, which Back To Reality proves in the thickness of its grooves and the playful clarity of its vision.
While Cook’s release is thoroughly cohesive in sound, the collection of 10 songs is actually an anthology of the recordings he created between 1982 and 1986. It’s been pieced together thanks to Stones Throw founder Peanut Butter Wolf from songs that Cook wrote as side projects while working for Brooklyn-based Halfmoon Productions, the label that originally released his beat-heavy house rap number “On The Floor” (that also appears as the last track on this album) in 1984. This was a time when the popularity of disco was slowing, yet still had an obvious influence on the music being created. Back To Reality then naturally represents this post-disco era, bringing together the tight rhythms of funk that Cook slightly uncoils for his own purposes, with the melodic exuberance of disco.
The extended breakdowns that permeate through what became house music are muted by a smoldering cool, and Cook keeps things relatively short and unlaced. It’s the boogie sentiment however that seems to be Back To Reality’s strongest and most overwhelming feature, creating an almost violently joyful body of work. Additionally, the sing-song vocal style of early rap that appears on tracks like the self-explanatory-titled “The Rap” reminds listeners that these songs are OG ’80s cuts. While artists such as Dâm-Funk (who actually sings on “What’s On Your Mind”), Onra and Krystal Klear resurrect this sound some 20 odd years later, Back To Reality establishes that Tony Cook was, and still is, the real thing.