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Music Reviews

Funk Soul Sisters [coll] – [None]

Thurston Hunger   5/29/2006   12-inch, Soul

Ebony chiffon grace and grit, voices of vitality
and vulnerability. Etta James spells out what it
is to be W-O-M-A-N, the buttery entreat of Nina
Simone coos to be rescued, while Dione Warwick
eschews the saintly high road, with enough
pride to hide the pain inside. Music like this
is so strong, simple and true…I don’t mind
writing or hearing cliches. A haircut is a simple
thing, but if you spend all day in the beauty
parlor, look OUT. Similarly these ladies can
gussy up phrases like “Hang On in There” and
“Shake Your Booty.” I dug the brisk guitar flicks
behind Little Denice, the strangely Fripplike
soundscaping with Lynn Christopher. On the funk
to funny phase, Susan struts down Sesame Street
and Patrizia plucks soul from the mouths of babes.
Are you my mother? -Hunger Hears a Hoo Yeah

Wright, Betty – “Clean Up Woman and Many More Golden Classics ” – [Collectables Records]

Thurston Hunger   4/27/2006   12-inch, Soul

Oh man, this just nails the battle of the sexes in all its
anguish and glory. Betty takes turns being the other woman
on this record at times, but ultimately she is The Woman.
Her voice has supreme sassiness, a little smokiness around
the edges, she sings notes all the way and when she needs
to scream, like at the end of “Lovemaker” it’ll knock the
stripes off that little zebra-stripe number she’s wearing on
the cover of this hits collection. Included among them, two
penned by Blowfly, the title track and “Girls Can’t Do What
The Guys Do.” How that set with the other “Echoes of Joy”
(Betty’s original family/gospel group), one can only imagine.
But the fact is Betty’s voice and groove, are rock solid
and thus unshakeable. Check out, “The Wrong Girl” a soul
spellbinder if ever there was, with Greek tragedy twisting
through. How about the “Baby Sitter,” a cautionary tale to
dead-beat moms complete with “Rock a Bye Baby” quoted in.
Solid soul pop from the sixties and seventies… -Thurston Hunger

Darondo – “Let Me People Go ” – [Ubiquity Records]

Thurston Hunger   3/30/2006   CD, Soul

Maybe Daron’s going to get that Dough after all? One love nugget
of a soul strike delivered here, and nicely rough around the
edges. This is physical therapy that applies some deep tissue
work to your hips. Darondo’s a man who knows the sexual/sacred
strength of the falsetto. “Legs” has got a flirty kick, and
his voice screeches with a *need* to pleased. And those bass
boop backups give it a nice Sly fly feel. For a relative
unknown, it’s great how easily this album slides in with
James Brown, Al Green and such. His voices oozes confidence,
and clearly he’s having fun slipping and sliding with it.
This album feels a lot sexier than it is lyrically, Darondo
seems more focused on the hearts and minds with his words,
but for me his voice takes the short cut past all that, and
stirs things up. I wish there more sections where they’d just
drop the music down to a drum, a minimal bass line and let
the voice work things out. The backing music comes and goes,
well on “How I Got Over” it attains a solid Al Green gospel
groove. And again noodly gritty bits generally here make this
thing feel more real typically…like its happening out on
the back porch of some mom and pop diner from the late 70’s.
The only thing that didn’t click with me wa “I Want Your Love
So Bad” which has a sort of Sproul Plaza sunshine lazy jam,
but the rest of this could raise a People’s Party in Berkeley
any time, any decade. Sweetback snack! -Thurston Hunger

Rogers, Lee – Sock Some Love Power To Me – [Soul-Tay-Shus Recordings] – (33 rpm)

Hunter Gatherer   12/27/2005   12-inch, Soul

Lee Rogers (1939-1990) is a soul singer from Detroit who never strayed far from his gospel roots. (Don’t confuse him with KSFO morning man Lee Rodgers.) Soul-Tay-Shus Records (part of Tuff City Records) has re-released 14 of his tracks that were originally released on 45s.

The majority of his career is covered in this compilation. The earliest tracks ’64-’66 were released on D-Town records. Later releases (’66-’69) came out on Wheelsville and Premium Stuff. On the back of this release I indicated the labels, date, and which side the track was on as best I could find out.

Proud of his roots as a gospel singer, Mr. Rogers said in an interview that the only difference between the singing he did in church and the singing he does on his records is that he wears a more expensive suit when he sings on his records.

These songs have a much rougher production than the tracks of a certain other Detroit-based label, and the sound is much more authentic as a result. On some of the D-Town singles, the instrumentals were recorded ahead of time and when Mr. Rogers would come in from touring he would record the vocal tracks separately. The instrumental track would be played over the loud speakers (no headphones in Detroit?), which would bleed through the mic as he sang. It gives these tracks a muddy sound, particularly noticeable at the end of You’re the Cream of the Crop (A4). These tracks clearly weren’t recorded with posterity in mind.

The highest charting single here is I Want You To Have Everything, which hit #16 in Jan ’65 on the R&B chart. This is the slickest track on the album. I prefer the more raw sounding Love For A Love (A3) and How Are You Fixed For Love (B1) and in particular the horns on ‘I’m A Practical Guy (A1). All tracks are short; the longest one is 3:02.

–Hunter Gatherer

Breakestra?Hit The Floor – [Ubiquity]

Hunter Gatherer   10/31/2005   CD, Soul

The world has waited four years for this release from L.A.’s live soul ensemble Breakestra. (2001’s The Live Mix, Part 2 is in Hip Hop/CD.) They appear to have moved from Stones Throw to Ubiquity.

Breakestra mastermind Miles Tackett and his inhumanly talented musician friends give us just over an hour’s worth of original funk/soul/hip hop/soul jazz compositions. They ask (and answer) the music question: Why go to all the trouble of sampling break beats and digging around in musty record stores when you have the DNA to soul music embedded in your head, heart, and butt?

The music is 2/3rds looking backward and paying homage to 70’s soul and funk masters like The Meters, The J.B.s, and countless others while the other third is looking forward to the unlimited possibilities that lie between genres.

Instrumentation: guitar, bass, drums, sax, trumpet, trombone, fender Rhodes, flute, bari sax, organ, upright [sic] cello. Vocals are provided by Mix Master Wolf and Music Man Miles with guest vocals by Darryl Jackson (14) and Chali 2na (of J5), Soup, DoubleK, & Darryl ‘Munyungo? Jackson (11).

This CD sounds good on every sound system in my house. How do they mix it to do that?

Instros: 4, 6, 10, 12
Language: 14: ‘Kiss my ass?
–Hunter Gatherer

Turner, Ike – The Bad Man – [Night Train International]

Hunter Gatherer   10/4/2005   CD, Soul

This CD contains 20 ultra-rare tracks produced by guitarist/producer/polymath Izear Luster Turner, better known as Ike Turner, from a period of his life between starting his own labels after moving to L.A. in 1962 and signing to the Kent and Modern labels in 1964/65.

With a carefully assembled band from his stints in Memphis and St. Louis, Mr. Turner started five labels (Innis, Teena, Sonja, Prann, and Sony) to record them in various configurations and under various names. This is a project that would only be undertaken by someone with boundless energy and serious control issues. Check out the CD insert for the full story.

The music is R&B with a southern feel, and it’s interesting to hear Mr. Turner trying out different arrangements sounds from song to song. A DJ in his teenage years, he was known to play everything from country and western to jump blues.
The two brightest voices on the CD are Anna Mae Bullock, better known as Tina Turner, (3-5, 8, 9) and the great Fontella Bass (10, 16)(check her out on Cinematic Orchestra‘s All That You Give on A/CD).

Mr. Turner‘s instincts were not always true. For example on (4) Tina is supposed to be crying but it sounds like she’s laughing her head off. It’s a bizarre effect. One major complaint about the album is that there isn’t enough of Ike on guitar. I’ve always been a fan of his guitar playing.
This is the sound of one pimp slapping.
–Hunter Gatherer

Eccentric Soul [coll] – [Numero Group]

Hunter Gatherer   10/4/2005   CD, Soul

This is an amazing compilation of soul singles from an obscure label called Capsoul from Columbus, Ohio. Recorded between 1970 and 1974, it’s a miracle that enough 45s were extant to make this compilation after the master tapes were destroyed in a flood and the label founder Bill Moss recycled all the 45s he could find in a fit of pique. Check out the CD insert for the full story.

The music is straight ahead soul music with a lot more heart than technique. For the most part it is excellent, but a few of the tracks sound like the ‘let’s put on a show and save the farm? climax of an after school special. I like the slow tracks the best. I swear I recognize some of these records from growing up in Toledo.

There are seven artists represented on nineteen tracks. Johnson, Hawkins, Tatum & Durr sounds like like a law firm, but check out tracks 1 and 11. Marion Black is great growling away on track 2. Elijah & The Ebonites do a semi-tasteless song called Hot Grits!!! (12), a tribute to Al Green‘s being scalded by an ex who then committed suicide. They redeem themselves with Pure Soul (18) with fake audience noises in fine, hallowed tradition. The aforementioned Bill Moss scolds the player haters with two versions of Sock It To ‘Em Soul Brother (4, 19-instro).

–Hunter Gatherer

Lord Loves A Working Man “Lord Loves A Working Man” [self]

Hunter Gatherer   9/5/2005   CD, Soul

Lord Loves A Working Man — or Lord Loves for short — is a 9-piece band (with 4 alternates) based in San Francisco’s Mission district. This self-titled, self-released CD is a studio recording from 1/2005.

This isn’t a Rush cover band, like I hoped when I saw the cover. Even better, it is horn-driven soul and vintage R&B, music that they clearly love and respect. 8 of the 10 songs are their own compositions. The two covers are Clay Hammond‘s I’ll Make It Up To You and Curtis Mayfield‘s Hard Times.
Ben Flax‘s vocals are earnest but always on the right side of over the top. The horn section, rhythm section, and rest of the band are in tune and on time.

My only complaint about this CD is the songs they picked to record are too slow and ballad-y. The band simmers but never boils. I want to know that the drummer is working his ass off, and I want to hear this horn section unleashed and playing something more interesting than block chords.

3, 5, 7, and 9 are instrumentals
–Hunter Gatherer

[coll] Cold Heat: Heavy Funk Rarities 1968 – 1974, Volume 1 [Now-Again Records] (33 rpm)

Hunter Gatherer   7/24/2005   12-inch, Soul

All hail Egon (nee Eothen Alapatt) for compiling this collection of rare funk music from the late 60’s and early 70’s and putting it out through his offshoot of Stones Throw called Now-Again. This is the official follow up to The Funky 16 Corners collection (which we have in Soul/12″). He also put together the compilation Third Unheard – Connecticut Hip Hop ’79-’83 (which we have in Hip Hop/CD).

Sadly this double LP didn’t come with the 28-page booklet of liner notes promised on the web site. (I’ll steal one from Amoeba the next time I go there, since that’s where I got this copy.) For brief bios of the bands, you’ll have to go to http://www.stonesthrow.com/nowagain/artists.htm

The sound quality is excellent, which sets it apart from most other funk compilations. But more importantly, the tunes are all smokin’ and funky as you might expect. Check out in particular the mellow middle section of Free Your Mind by Amnesty (A2) and the cover of War‘s Slipping Into Darkness by the Dayton Sidewinders (B3), and the alternate extended jam take of Mr. Chicken by The Soul Seven (D1). Most of the tracks were recorded in that hotbed of Funk known as the Midwest (OH, IN, MI, NE, KY) and a few were recorded in AZ and TX. It’s always interesting to hear the different local sounds.

Judging from the rarity of these tracks, maybe we should send Egon to Iraq in search of WMDs.
–Hunter Gatherer

Spike’s Choice [coll] – [Desco]

Rococo   7/5/2005   CD, Soul

DESCO. Need I say more? In little over a year, Desco have established themselves as a hallmark of quality when it comes to funk and soul music. Now, here comes the first Desco compilation, and it’s a MONSTER, collecting all the limited- edition 7″ singles they’ve released to date. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear this was a collection of classic 70’s tracks…IT’S THAT GOOD! All your favorite Desco artists are here, plus a few you might not have heard before. (Be sure to check out the sitar-funk of Ravi Harris and the new tracks from Lee Fields’ upcoming album.) 100% heavy, heavy funk!

Get It!, the [coll] – [None]

Rococo   7/5/2005   12-inch, Soul

Good God! This be the real thang: funky funky funky soul from 1967-69, by some of the most obscure groups you’ve never heard of, like Willie Tell & the Overtures, or Jimbo Johnson & the Violators. They’re singing and shouting about dances like the Popcorn, The Get It, and the Yak-a-Poo. Lo-fi as hell, with loud, snotty horns, and wailin’ guitars, and unrelenting FUNK! All killer, no filler! And remember: “If ya can’t do the Get It, ya got ta quit it!”

Funky Music Machine [coll] – [Soul Patrol]

Rococo   7/5/2005   12-inch, Soul

The 45 RPM record labels featured on the cover of this LP represent just a few of the “holy grails” in the world of the fanatical funk and soul collector. Fortunately, for those of us too poor or perhaps just less knowledgeable about the genre, Soul Patrol has assembled yet another fine collection of these super-rare 45 gems on one extremely affordable LP. Twelve straight shots of lo-fi, hi-energy funk and soul from the 60’s and 70’s: all killer, no filler. Be sure to check out Hebrew Rogers’ “Can’t Buy Soul” and Al Reed’s “99 & 44/100 Pure Love” for starters.

Downtown Soulville! [coll] – [Soulville Records]

Rococo   7/5/2005   12-inch, Soul

There’s a helluva party goin’ on in downtown Soulville! The DJ’s are rockin’ the house with obscure 60’s soul, from labels like Punch, Blackjack, and Cross-Tone…records that would probably cost you a fortune if you could even find them to begin with…records by Carl Holmes and the Commanders, Billy Wade and the 3rd Degrees, and Little Daddy Walton, just to name a few. And the guests are learning how to dance the Tight Rope, the Soul Strut, the Skate, the African Twist, and more. So don’t be left out…git yourself on downtown and check out the sounds. You’ll be glad you did.

Afrojazzfunk [coll] – [Superclasse]

Rococo   7/5/2005   CD, Soul

DJ Zaz hand-picked these nine quintessentially-70’s grooves that are definitely more “jazz funk” than “afro.” In fact, some of them border perilously close to disco! Check out the highlights, though: some fine electric piano from Mal Waldron on the Lafayette Afro-Rock Band’s “Red Match Box;” the short-but-sweet funk of “Pat’s Jam” by Seven Seas; a GREAT guitar solo on “Sweet Lovely Girl” by The 13th Floor; and the AWB-ish funk of “Funky Bafoussam” by Jean-Michel Tim et Foty. If you can appreciate these tracks, then gorge yourself on the full 70’s retro-feast.

Sons and Daughters of Lite, Th – “Let the Sun Shine in ” – [Luv N’ Haight]

Rococo   7/5/2005   12-inch, Soul

Self-described as a mixture of African rhythms, Latin flavors, and Far Eastern textures, this long-lost collector’s item from the 70’s is a major rediscovery. The Sons and Daughters of Lite were formed in Oakland in the early 70’s, a time when black consciousness was expanding exponentially. This album perfectly captures that vibe with soulful vocals, funky grooves, and jazzy improvisation. The band quickly splintered into a myriad other projects, but many of the members continue to record today: band leader Basuki Bala is currently a member of the Afro-Caribbean Allstars, and percussionist Babatunde is currently recording a new album for Ubiquity.

Diplomatics/Amnesty [coll] – [Now-Again]

Rococo   7/5/2005   12-inch, Soul

Master crate digger Egon of Stones Throw (and offshoot label Now-Again) dusts off two more rare-as-hens-teeth funk 45s and gives them a new life on this split 12″ for the more budget-minded funk lover. Combining the original 2-part tracks into one seamless groove on each side, this release showcases the output of Herb Miller’s Indianapolis-based Lamp Records, circa 1969-1972. The Diplomatics’ “Hum-Bug” kicks things off on the A side with a mid-tempo, Hammond-fueled instrumental featuring a chorus of funky horns and an extra long drum break. Then on the flip we get Amnesty’s “Everybody Who Wants to Be Free,” a prime slice of uplifting, Afro-centric soul from this eight-member vocal group. Thanks, Egon!

Cymande – “Cymande ” – [Janus Records]

Rococo   7/5/2005   12-inch, Soul

Cymande (pronounced Sah-mahn-day) was formed in 1970’s London by a group of Caribbean emigres. They refer to their style as “nyah-rock,” or rock music combined with nyabinghi rhythms. I don’t hear the rock influence as much as I hear the influences of soul, jazz, and reggae music from the same time period. But the African nyabinghi drum style is quite evident, making this one of the most unique musical fusions I’ve heard in a while. The album, Cymande’s first of three, features both instrumental and vocal tracks, including their biggest hit, “The Message” (no relation to Grandmaster Flash’s). There’s also some pretty cool Rastaman vibrations on the first and last tracks. A superb album.

Counts, the – “What’s Up Front that Counts ” – [Westbound Records]

Rococo   7/5/2005   12-inch, Soul

This six-piece funk band from Michigan started life as The Fabulous Counts before shortening their name and recording this amazing album in the early 70’s. Even with a running time of less than 30 minutes, WHAT’S UP FRONT is chock-full of breakbeats and samples that would make any modern hip hop DJ drool. Gloriously lo-fi and funky, The Counts offer up vocal and instrumental tracks featuring some slinky Hammond B-3 grooves and wild Funkadelic guitars. The Counts broke up in the mid-70’s, and two of their members went on to back disco star Hamilton Bohannon.

Byrd, Bobby – “I Need Help ” – [Polydor]

Rococo   7/5/2005   12-inch, Soul

Bobby Byrd earned himself a place in history as one of the original Famous Flames, alongside James Brown. I NEED HELP is his debut solo album, recorded in the early 70’s and produced by the Godfather himself. It’s a strange one, billed as a live album but with a radio fade on every song, topped off by canned applause that sounds as fake as a 60’s sitcom laugh track! Factor this in with the album title (I NEED HELP), plus the fact that Bobby’s face is intentionally obscured on both sides of the album jacket, and you’ve got to wonder: was James trying to make sure this album didn’t succeed? Musically, the album falls more on the soul side (a la “Please Please Please”), though there are a few of the James Brown- patented funk workouts. If you could strip out the audience noise on this record, you might have a damn fine debut album.

Bettye LaVette “Some Of Her Best Songs: 1962 – 2003” [Anti-]

Hunter Gatherer   6/29/2005   CD, Soul

Michigan native Bettye LaVette is another female soul singer with a shockingly low fame-to-talent ratio. This CD, released by Anti-, is a compilation of 25 soulful songs that showcase her amazing voice.

The songs follow her career for over forty years as she moved from label to label, releasing singles and staying mainly in the soul and R&B genre with touches of country here and there. Ms. LaVette has an unnerving way of getting inside the lyrics and making them her own. You believe her whether she is shouting for joy, singing about her love, or moaning in pain. Listening to the whole CD in one sitting is an overwhelming experience.

A few words about the more notable covers:
He Made A Woman Out Of Me (Bobbie Gentry) — a paean to either young love or statutory rape, depending on the age of consent where the song is being played.
Take Another Piece Of My Heart (I always heard the Janis Joplin version) — Ms. LaVette sings it beautifully and is still alive to boot
It Ain’t Easy (Ron Davies) — the most famous version is by David Bowie
Your Turn To Cry (Joe Simon) — fantastic, though this single’s failure to sell as much as expected led Atlantic to not release an album’s worth of material. It was later released in 2000 as “Souvenirs”
Behind Closed Doors (Charlie Rich) — interesting
Souvenirs (John Prine) — the best song on the CD

Ms. LaVette is still going strong, touring and putting out albums, and winning music awards.
–Hunter Gatherer

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