Music Reviews

Good God! Born Again Funk [coll] – [Numero Group]

Cousin Mary   4/14/2010   12-inch, Soul

Numero Group has collected a winning group of LPs and 45s, mostly from Chicago, to put together this compilation. These gospel tunes, with a strong funk instrumental and vocal style, are top notch despite some variability in recording quality. Powerful and soulful, it might make a believer out of you..

Texas Funk Black Gold From The Lone Star State [coll] – [Jazzman]

Cousin Mary   3/2/2010   CD, Soul

Whether it was because it was at the end of the “Chittlin’ Circuit” or not, this compilation proves that Texas produced a treasure chest of funk from 1968 to 1975. Latino, black, and white musicians were playing very energetic tunes with remarkably good instrumentals. Liner notes have great maps, notes, photos and images of the 45rpm labels that let us get a glimpse of this scene.

Light On The South Side: Pepper’s Jukebox [coll] – [Numero Group]

Cousin Mary   1/12/2010   12-inch, Soul

Release Number 33 from Numero Group is this 2-LP collection of funky soul blues from the clubs of Chicago???s South Side. In addition to having music that is a cut above Numero Group???s great ???Eccentric Soul??? collections, it includes a book of photography shot in these clubs from 1975-1977 by Michael Abramson. These pictures are so immediate, they put you right there in the scene. Perhaps our listeners who do not have the book handy will enjoy a glimpse at http://www.numerogroup.com/lotss.php.

McDaniels, Eugene – “Headless Heroes of The Apocalype & Outlaw” – [Atlantic]

Cousin Mary   12/15/2009   CD, Soul

This CD reissues two releases from 1970-71 that were withdrawn after an irate Spiro Agnew (VP under Nixon) complained to Atlantic Records. These protest songs seem tame and a little dated now, but the social and political problems vocalist/composer Eugene McDaniels raises are still true today. They feature 2 fine groups of instrumentalists and McDaniels is in great voice.

Eugene McDaniels is probably best known for having written the great Eddie Harris standard ???Compared to what???? and Roberta Flack???s hit ???Feel like makin??? love???.

Broun Fellinis – “Dotabata” – [Self Released]

Cousin Mary   10/28/2009   CD, Soul

Recorded live in San Francisco by this Bay Area group that shows influences of hip-hop, electronic, soul with a solid jazz foundation. Cool bass and drum rhythm section, sweet sax and attention-grabbing electronic squeals and buzzy beats. Hypnotic, energetic!

No language except first track title??

Soul Side of The Street, The [coll] – [Bacchus Archives]

Max Level   7/7/2009   12-inch, Soul

Too much fun! Rare soul tracks from 1964-72, put together by Phoenix-area DJ/producer/songwriter Hadley Murrell back in the day. When a record starts off with “Funky to the Bone” and then hits you with “Soul Side of the Street”, you know you”re in for a good time. All tracks have great energy and classic rough edges. A1 has some cool chunky guitar. A4 is Motown-style and I can imagine a Four Tops version of it. B3 could be an early pleading James Brown cut. B4 is a sped-up version of the classic R&B tune “Night Train”, renamed “Soul Train” here. and B6 is a party-rocker reminiscent of “Tequila” with “sock it to me baby!” lyrics. The annoyingly repetitive background vocals on “Funky Freeze” are pretty much the only thing I don’t like on here.

Lavette, Bettye – “Do Your Duty” – [Sundazed Records]

Cousin Mary   4/29/2009   CD, Soul

Bettye Lavette grew up in Detroit and began singing on the R&B circuit in her teens. Now in her 60???s, she is enjoying a surge of new interest and will appear (May 2009) locally with Booker T???s Potato Hole.

The cuts on this album were recorded in 1969-70 and show off Lavette???s great voice on hits such as ???He Made a Woman Out of Me??? and covers of ???Piece of My Heart??? (Janis Joplin) and ???Games People Play??? (Joe South).

Brown, James – “Original Disco Man, The” – [Polydor]

humana   4/23/2009   12-inch, Soul

As with everything he did, James Brown made his mark on disco with this enjoyable album. Just play the title track for a history of how James Brown is the ???Original Disco Man???. Even if you hate disco, the Godfather of Soul manages to inject enough funk and soul into the songs to make them palatable. Even in its slickest disco moments, Brown grounds us again with his trademark screams and themes from earlier times (see Side 1, #2, which borrows sections from ???I Feel Good???). His female backup singers are delightful, as are his spoken interludes (almost like a sermon on Side 1, #3). Hints of the Village People (yes, there???s a cowbell!) on Side 2, #1. My favorites are the bluesy-beginning Side 1, #2, and the funky Side 1, #3, but each song on here is notable in its own way.
PGM: Side 2, #3 has chorus of ???You funk them all??? (at least that???s what I think they???re saying).

Eccentric Soul: Smart’s Palace [coll] – [Numero Group]

Cousin Mary   4/20/2009   CD, Soul

This is a collection of little known soul artists (including the club owner) from performances at Smart???s Palace in Wichita, Kansas between 1963-1975. Lots of heart warming enthusiasm and plenty of talent. Still, like many of these Eccentric Soul releases, the lyrics are just a little off ??? a prime example would be ???The Dance Got Old???. Tracks 5 and 12 are instrumental; all others have vocals.

This will make you smile as well as dance.

James Brown – “James Brown Plays New Breed (The Boo-Ga-Loo)” – [Smash Records]

darkhelmet   3/29/2009   12-inch, Soul

This record is mostly instrumentals, relaxed and often heavy on the horns. Brown mans the keys (never the microphone) in this album, which was released in 1966 on Smash Records. “Vonshelia” (A3) is a pensive and slower jazz number, quite different than the other tracks. “Lost in the Mood of Changes” (B2) has a female chorus which remains in the background, acting more like an extra instrument than a focal point. For me, the standout number is “Jabo” (B1), which features some drum work and and has a wonderful finale.
-Dark Helmet

James Brown’s Funky Summer [coll] – [Mojo Magazine]

Cousin Mary   2/9/2009   CD, Soul

This CD was given away free with the August 2006 edition of Mojo, Great Britain???s excellent music magazine. An offer of a recording from James Brown was the beginning of this fine funk and soul compilation. Each track is either written by or somehow related to James Brown.

My favorites are JB???s ???Gut Bucket??? (track 1), Tammi Terrell???s ???Oh what a good man??? (track 10), Albert King???s instrumental ???Cold Sweat??? (track 12) and Braille???s hip-hop track 15. Look forward to finding your own favorites. You will be DANCING!!!!

Pieces of Peace – “Pieces of Peace” – [Cali-Tex Records]

Hunter Gatherer   1/21/2009   CD, Soul

Crate digger extraordinaire Josh Davis (DJ Shadow) outdid himself this time, finding this completed but abandoned album from 1972.

The recording is the only LP recorded by Pieces of Peace, a popular Chicago soul-funk seven-piece club band. They also recorded a single ???Pass It On (Parts 1 and 2)??? (which we have on a collection released by Numero Group) and backed Syl Johnson on his Is It Because I???m Black album (which we have in Soul 12???).

This album puts you directly in the early-70s Chicago soul funk scene. Some songs are tight funk jams like ???Pollution??? and ???Flunky For Your Love.??? Others are smooth and reminiscent of the Chi-Lites like ???I Still Care??? and the throwaway, gong-happy instrumental ???Cease Fire.??? Jazz influences surface on ???Peace and Blessings.???

Fellow members of Chicago scene The Pharoahs, including Derf Relklaw, appear on the album to help out. Some members of Pieces of Peace went on to join Earth Wind & Fire.

Check out the liner notes for the Spinal Tap-esque tour of Southeast Asia that eventually killed the band.

–Hunter Gatherer

Warning: Excessive gongs on track 1

Stay On The Groove [coll] – [Freestyle Records]

Cousin Mary   1/13/2009   CD, Soul

Excellent high quality funk soul collection. Harkens back to the sound of James Brown and Archie Bell. A couple of covers, but most are new to me. Great to hear soul protest songs like ???What if we all stopped paying taxes????.

If you can listen to this and not dance, call yourself an ambulance.

Tracks 5, 7, 8, 9, 11, 16, 18, and 20 are all instrumental. No language; track 3 some gentle double entendre with ???funk???.

Springfield, Dusty – “Dusty In Memphis ” – [Rhino Entertainment Co.]

ArtCrimes   9/30/2008   CD, Soul

Atlantic Records signed Dusty after a long (and successful) spell of heavily-produced hits done in the UK, which merit as excellent examples of 60s girl-singer pop. But under the spell of the Southern studio team that had been cranking out soul hits with Aretha and others, the intent here was to remake Dusty as a soul singer. Legendary for her perfectionism and insecurities, Dusty freaked out at the casual recording sessions down South and didn’t actually sing a note in Memphis, but the backing band nailed the basic tracks, with Dusty’s vocals added later New York sessions. The results range from string-laden, adult pop tracks like Randy Newman’s “Just One Smile”, to medium tempo soul grooves like the hits “Son of a Preacher Man” and “Breakfast and Bed”. Rhino more than doubles the length of the original LP with the addition of outtakes done at Memphis, as well as sessions for 2 other followup albums, including Gamble & Huff produced tracks intended for her later “Brand New Me” (those aren’t Southern soul at all, but have their own uptown charms).

Boscoe – “Boscoe ” – [Numero Group]

ArtCrimes   3/5/2008   CD, Soul

Boscoe (self-titled)

A reissue of a super-obscure limited pressing by the Chicago-based group Boscoe, originally released on the group’s own Kingdom of Chad label. Japanese crate diggers built up the allure of this forgotten release, and Numero Group once again outhipped the hippest by finally getting this out on a wider basis than when it first hit the streets in 1973. Boscoe combined the social commentary of the Last Poets and Gil Scott Heron with some dashes of O’Jays-style funk, innovative horn arrangements, and a few slow jams for good measure. The playing is a bit harder than the mainstream soul of those days, and the great singing and ensemble work here paints a picture of a hard-working group with lots of interest in moving beyond cookie-cutter soul. So throw your fist in the air and fight the power with Boscoe.

Jones, Sharon and The Dap Kings – “100 Days 100 Nights ” – [Daptone Records]

Hunter Gatherer   9/11/2007   CD, Soul

The Jesuits have a saying: Show me the boy at 7 and I will show you the man. But Sharon Jones only needs 100 days and 100 nights to know a man???s heart.

In between the over 260 shows they???ve played since releasing 2005???s Naturally (CD-Soul), Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings somehow found time to record a third full-length record, 100 Days, 100 Nights.

The Dap-Tones are road-tight as ever, and all ten tracks are catchy, hooky, and funky as anything. Their sound seems to be drifting from a funky, southern, Augusta, GA sound to something more northern, soulful, and R&B-infused. Tell Me (3) and Nobody???s Baby (2) has the sunny feel of the best Philly or Memphis soul.

Also, the song craft and arrangements are more sophisticated. Ms. Jones completely stops the title track (1) and restarts it again in half time. And be sure to listen to Something???s Changed (7), with a complex chord structure and string(!) arrangement that hint at a turning point in this band???s sound.

–Hunter Gatherer

Soul Sides Volume Two: The Covers [coll] – [Zealous Records]

Hunter Gatherer   8/16/2007   12-inch, Soul

How can one go wrong with 12 soul covers? One can’t! Most of these songs were big enough hits that they should be familiar with listeners. But the covers are sufficiently obscure that they should be new discoveries with the possible exception of Al Green‘s I Want To Hold Your Hand. Personally I like covers because singers tend to cut loose to put their stamp on the song, and this album doesn’t disappoint.

My favorite track is Home Is Where The Hatred Is by Esther Phillips (originally by the great Gil Scott-Heron), informed by Ms. Phillips own struggles with heroin. “Did you ever try/to turn your sick soul inside out/so that the world/can watch you die?” After that I love O.V. Wright‘s cover of Latimore‘s classic Let’s Straighten It Out, which contains excellent relationship advice like “Instead of lying there crying your eyes out honey/you and me ought to be getting it on.” And be sure to check out the reggae-inflected covers of Express Yourself and Be Thankful For What You Got.

While these tracks are a little more produced than I usually like on my soul 45s, I love every track on this album. Drop the needle anywhere and give the Bay Area a badly needed dose of soul.

–Hunter Gatherer

Notes: #1 has a key change; #9 is an instrumental

Crash of Thunder [coll] – [Vampi Soul]

ArtCrimes   5/22/2007   CD, Soul

[collection] Crash of Thunder ???Boss Soul, Funk and R&B sides from the vaults of the King, Federal and DeLuxe labels???
Sid Nathan???s King label, based in Cleveland, was James Brown???s original home, but the output from King and its affiliates covered a wide range of artists, including R&B, Doo Wop, Soul and Blues. This collection covers deep soul, funk and dance tracks from fairly obscure vocalists and combos, most of which feature some very hip horn charts. These tracks for the most part are closer to the laid-back Southern soul sound than Motown, and other than Mickey Murray, none are much like James Brown. The instrumental tracks are pretty hot, and some have charmingly out-of-tune guitars, like The Presidents??? ???Which Way??? (an instrumental knock-off of Eddie Floyd???s ???Big Bird???). And some great shoutin??? here.

Black Merda – “Folks From Mother’s Mixer, The ” – [Funky Delicacies]

Thurston Hunger   5/3/2007   CD, Soul

When is the “psychedelic soul” revival coming? Call it what you will but
this is a genre that really needs to be more pronounced. Black Merda had
two releases in 1970 and 1972, combined here. Mississippi mud steeped in the shadows of Motown with a healthy dose of homage a Hendrix, this is a
killer. Great liner notes are worth a read, and evidently the surviving
members are still gutting it out to this day. Part of me wants to review
this double dip in more important civil rights tones, but really this is
just a righteous rock album with fantastic funk flavor at times. Anytime
you get that exhorting kind of manly vocal often teamed in chorus with
a party vibe, that feels so good. Toss in a bassline that has more than
enough “uhhhh” and then let the brothers work it out on guitar (and I
mean biological brothers as well), Anthony and Charles Hawkins are
super tasteful here, from the fuzz to the weep to the blitz to the
more subdued acoustic jangle. Hell if I know why these guys weren’t
huge, I hear a track like “Long Burn the Fire” or the almost asiatic
blues over crunch on “The Folks from Mother’s Mixer”, mighty mighty!
Loop the first few bars of “Prophet” and sell that as a wonderdrug.
A lot of diversity on here as well, I just happen to dig the numbers
that bring the hammer.

-Thurston Hunger

Robinson, Wanda – “Black Ivory ” – [Breathless Records]

Thurston Hunger   2/8/2007   CD, Soul

Every month is Black HerStory month at KFJC when it comes to Wanda
Robinson…but honestly this album strikes me as more about the
nakedness of people rather than the color of their skin when they
achieve such nakedness. In particular, Wanda likes that moment of
epiphany when a mirror is held up or when a reflection of one’s self is
captured in the pupils of another; illusions stripped away, pooled at
your feet like castoff vestments and vexments. She’ll start one poem
with “suddenly, i saw me” and another she’ll devote to the collapse of
a fated relationship as in “The Final Hour.” An unflinching frankness
fills in the spaces between her lines, and that includes her 1971
take on sex, which can be brutal or arousing, but ultimately just another
one of the things that seems to get in the way of people trying to
connect. “Parting Is Such” is a pretty take on the lack of give-and-take
of love, underscored by some killer swinging stings. The music on here
covers a lot of turf, blues on the corner, subway sax, funk in the alley,
a blacker shade of pale on “Tragedy No. 456” but its Wanda’s voice that
rises up over it all like the moon. Loose, lucid and guileless, she
possess a different kind of power than one might want to ascribe to her.
Check out her liner autobio for a flavor of that, and multiply it by
her gentle but never weak voice. Thirty six years later she goes by Laini
Mataka, but here’s to you and yesteryear, Ms. Robinson.

-Thurston Hunger

Check out this article on Wanda/Laini from last year…