April 30, 1993 at 04:00 AM EDT

James Brown: Jail equals profit

Career tip from Soul Brother No. 1: Go to prison, get a revitalized career. James Brown’s concert fee has leapt from $12,500 to $50,000 a night since he was released from prison in 1991 after serving two years for aggravated assault. The JB record bins are suddenly bulging, too, thanks to a recent burst of old and new releases like these:

Universal James (Scotti Brothers) Brown’s second record since he was released from the big house is marginal stuff, but it’s not as bad as its JB-in-outer- space cover (or the junky single ”Can’t Get Any Harder,” produced by the C+C guys) would indicate. Soul II Soul’s Jazzie B supplies his suave, uptown grooves, which help take the self-parodying edge off of JB’s Grinch-like voice. Ironically, the best moment is its simplest — ”Georgia- Lina,” a true soul-to-soul ballad about being torn between two homes. B-

The Payback (Polydor) A long-out-of-print two-record set from 1974 reissued on one CD, this may be the closest Brown came to creating an R&B symphony: 73 minutes of JB musing over mellow, trippy, and long grooves from his band, the JB’s. (No one yells ”Gimme some flute!” like Brown.) A fascinating, complex record — ust don’t expect to dance. B

Soul Pride: The Instrumentals 1960-1969 (Mercury) There’s no question that Brown had a knack for picking agile musicians, but only collectors will want to wade through two discs of various Brown backing bands playing roadhouse shuffles and honking novelties. C+

Love Power Peace — Live at the Olympia, Paris, 1971 (Polydor) If you really want to hear the JB’s, here’s the place — a previously unreleased live tape of Brown and band peeling the paint off the walls of a French arena. Listen to the way the band jumps from the stomping ”It’s a New Day” directly into the steamy ballad ”Bewildered” — and then heats right back up again on Brown’s cue. You’ll need to take a breather after this one. A

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