KFJC 89.7FM

Music Reviews

Hitsville West: San Francisco’s Uptown Soul [coll] – [Kent Records]

humana   7/2/2010   CD, Soul

The liner notes describe the history of the Villa label, on which many of these songs were recorded. These are soul gems from the 60s with that familiar upbeat sound that has a San Francisco twist to it. Many of the performers on this CD had their beginnings at assemblies and talent shows held at San Francisco???s Washington High School and Booker T. Washington Community Centre. Each of these is guaranteed to transport you to the 60s and lift your heart with its soul magic.

Watts Prophets, The – “Rappin’ Black In a White World” – [ALA Records]

Thurston Hunger   6/2/2010   12-inch, Soul

Might have been nice to have this in KFJC’s library a few
decades ago, but all too often prophets wind up far ahead
of their time. Tag team think tank poetry, does it help to
call them a tea party, or throw a very original G smack dab
into the so-called “Watts riots.” The Prophets serve up 1971
griots taken from the tough streets but tougher minds of L.A.
Anthony Hamilton, Richard Dedeaux and Otis Smith O’Solomon are
the prophets proper, but Dee Dee McNeil is their secret weapon.
Her words and piano ofteh help to stitch tracks together,
especially the song suite that closes out side 1, “What Is A
Man.” At other times, she helps gather her brothers into a
sort of Greek chorus to support the lead prophet, gathering
emotion and momentum like a runaway train. Better look out.
Malcolm X marks the spot for Hamilton on “The Master”,
Dedeaux gives a name to his pain, and his luck, in “Fucked.”
Otis Smith holds up a mirror at times, years before Chris
Rock. The voices here capture such strident pride mixed
with deep wounds, and the words unflinching take it even
higher. Has consciousness been raised or razed since this
release? Maybe the Prophets will kick out a new record,
“Rappin’ Black in a White House” trying to stir up today’s
tea leaves from Obama to incarceration rates and see what
truths lie ahead in the future?

-Thurston Hunger

Servicemen, The – “Meet… The Servicemen” – [Wind Hit]

Max Level   4/25/2010   CD, Soul

This soulful vocal group got together at an Arizona Air Force base (hence the group’s name) and laid down these sides with producer Hadley Murrell in the late 1960’s. The tracks with instrumental backing are solid, with sweet vocals and great Motown-style energy and flair. As a bonus we get to hear a cappella “demo” versions of some of the songs, and those are a real treat. Much of this material shows how directly the creatively arranged soul-group vocals of the period were influenced by classic 1950’s doo-wop groups. I had never heard that connection quite so clearly before. This is a very enjoyable introduction to a group that never received more than local (Phoenix-area) notoriety when they were around. Murrell, by the way, also brought us the excellent recent compilation “Soul Side of the Street.”

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

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