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Music Reviews

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

[coll] Sitar Beat Vol. 2: Indian Style Heavy Funk [Guerilla Reissues] (33 rpm)

Hunter Gatherer   5/22/2005   12-inch, Soul

This limited-release EP is the 2nd volume (there are three so far as of 5/05) of remixed psychedelic funk tracks featuring the sitar and the sounds of Bollywood and Pakistan. Each side has two funky tracks and a third track consisting of bonus beats for your mixing pleasure. Bend It Like Beckham meets Barney Miller. Enjoy!

One word review: Brownsploitation
–Hunter Gatherer

J.C. Davis — ?A New Day!? — [Cali-Tex] — (33 rpm)

Hunter Gatherer   4/9/2005   12-inch, Soul

36 years ago, tenor sax player J.C. Davis and his band went into the Mus-I-Col Studio to record a few tracks. The results of this session have been re-mastered by Josh Davis (aka DJ Shadow, no relation) and released on his Cali-Tex Records.

J.C. Davis would be completely obscure except for the fact that he led James Brown’s Famous Flames for a few years. Four of the tracks on this album were released as 45s, which are highly sought after and can be had for a few hundred dollars. Only 1,500 of these were pressed, so this album will become a rarity as well ‘I’m sure.

The music is not as funky or outrageous as one might expect from someone who led James Brown‘s band. There’s plenty of funk and ‘I’m sure we’ll be hearing the breakbeats from these tracks on future recordings that we add. The band sounds relaxed and disciplined at the same time. (Maybe they are relieved that they aren’t going to get fined for coming in late or missing a note, like JB used to do.) Shelly, notable for its unselfconscious singing, and A New Day (is Here at Last) are the slowest tracks.

The recording quality is amazing. I wouldn’t have known that this was recorded 36 years ago unless it said it on the back of the album. The drums sound fat and Mr. Davis‘s sax in particular sounds full.

–Hunter Gatherer

Willie Hightower — ?Willie Hightower? — [Honest Jons]

Hunter Gatherer   3/20/2005   CD, Soul

Willie Hightower is a largely forgotten southern soul singer who had a too few hits and who is too obscure for the magnitude of his talent. This collection of his work by Honest Jons Records should renew interest in this singer who is still performing today.

This is the third in a series: Check out Candi Staton and Bettye Swann in Soul/CD for more great soul music.

Mr. Hightower has an expressive voice that growls, moans, shouts, croons, and overpowers all arrangements. His voice is like that root beer that says ‘stands up to ice cubes? on the can. The most obvious influence is Sam Cooke. A quote in the liner notes describes his voice as ‘Sam Cooke after a night on the tiles.’ To my ears he sounds somewhere between Otis Redding and Sam and Dave.

The tracks with Fame of Muscle Shoals (1, 2, 5, 6, 9, 10) are particularly tasty. Time Has Brought About A Change is an answer song to Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Going To Come. With lyrics like ‘But now I’ve got my pride deep down inside/And no one will ever take it again,? it’s obviously about the civil rights movement. This song, along with Poor Man and If I Had A Hammer, gives a sense of his ability to personalize and express what was going on around him at the time.

–Hunter Gatherer

[coll] ?The Sound Of Philadelphia? — [Soul Jazz Records] — (33 rpm)

Hunter Gatherer   3/20/2005   12-inch, Soul

Soul Jazz Records has put together an awesome 20-track set of songs from the mid-60s to the mid-70s when funk and soul recordings made in Philadelphia dominated the charts and airwaves. (This is actually part two of a series started with their Philadelphia Roots compilation, which we have in the Soul collections on CD.)

This Philly compilation differs from most in that it reaches beyond the obvious Gamble and Huff hits (though they are certainly present here) and includes more obscure tracks, especially ones featuring the session musicians that made the Philly Sound possible. They are listed in the liner notes, but since they only got union fees for their playing I will list them here as well: Ronnie Baker (bass), Norman Harris (guitar), Earl Young (drums), Karl and Roland Chambers (drums, guitar), Vince Montana (vibes), Bobby Eli (guitar).

Though one or more of these musicians are on almost every track, in particular check out A3, B3 (The Family is actually MSFB), and B4.

The music is varied and not laid out in a neat stylistic order, so you will have to bounce around to find a track that works for you. There is straight ahead soul by uber-foxes The Three Degrees and Frankie Beverly. There are proto-disco tracks like 100 South Of Broadway and Hot Pants. There’s some party R&B by Ruby & the Party Gang. There’s soul with fuzz guitar by Yellow Sunshine. All tracks are worthwhile, just bounce around and you’ll find something you like.

There is a little bit of confusion around two of the tracks by The Three Degrees: D5 is the instrumental version of B2. They both appeared together on a 7″ on Neptune Records. The A side (with vocals, B2 on this collection) is called What I See and the B side (instro, D5 on this collection) is called Reflections Of Yesterday. A minor point sure, but one that must be cleared up.

Instrumentals: A5, B3, B4, C1, D2, D3, D5

–Hunter Gatherer

[coll] The Music People [Soul Patrol]

Hunter Gatherer   3/13/2005   12-inch, Soul

This album is a collection of 12 deep funk tracks from the late 60’s and early 70’s. Released by the ‘Soul Patrol Corporation? in May 1998, these tracks are as infectious as they are rare. The original 45s for all these songs are regularly auctioned on rare record sites for more than $100.

Of course rarity is not a guarantee of quality, but I love every single track on this album. The obscure labels represented here are from a variety of areas like Indianapolis (A5), Milwaukee (A6), Texas (A4 and B4), and L.A. (B5), so it’s a great way to sample local funk sounds from around the country.

I wrote the track times and original labels for the 45s on the back. (Hey, I have to do something to earn the two hours.) Some corrections/additional information to the track listing on the back:

B1: Features Ural Thomas

B3: I also saw the artist listed as Eddie Bo with James K Nine

B5: The correct name of the song is I Who Have Nothing (Am Somebody)

B6: The artist is listed as Bob French’s Storyville Jazz Band on the original 45.

Instrumentals: A1, A3, A4, A5 (with spoken intro and outro), B3, B4 (with spoken intro),

Misogyny alert: A2 (If you don’t get in that kitchen/’I’m going to break your jaw/’cause ‘I’m hungry)
–Hunter Gatherer

Simon, Joe – “The Power of Joe Simon” – [Spring Records]

Hunter Gatherer   3/13/2005   12-inch, Soul

Country soul baritone Joe Simon is a powerful man with a powerful voice. The Power Of Joe Simon, released in 1973, is a collection of 10 of the singles that he recorded with Spring Records.

Working with a variety of producers and wearing his special purple pants and multicolored vest, Mr. Simon sings tales of love lost and found. This is deep soul, but country influences are also always present, though stronger on some tracks than others (esp on the last two tracks).

Many of these songs will be familiar, the biggest hit on here is Gamble and Huff‘s Drowning In the Sea Of Love (R&B #3), which pops up on most Philly Soul compilations. Step by Step was a hit in the UK.

Read the text on the back of the cover for an example of some crazy slang and some ideas for back announcing.
–Hunter Gatherer

The Other Side “Don’t Look Back” [Desco]

jack soil   3/6/2005   12-inch, Soul

Enormous slabs-o-funky super soul-icious sounds. Absolutely amazing work from T
he Other Side. I’m almost speechless, but here goes – James Brown inspired phat
phat as hell funky sounds. All instrumentals, heavy heavy funky boogaloo, heavy
heavy duty wax. This shit is broke. Don’t bother repairin’ it. Just go with it.
Sounds like this should have been recorded twenty-plus years ago. This is
chunky, sticky and thick as fresh tar on a hot summer afternoon. The back of
the album maybe sez it best, “DESCO is seeking bands and musicians interested in
recording HEAVY HEAVY Funk or Boogaloo. If your influences include Parliament,
Stevie Wonder, or be-bop, you need not apply. When it comes to getting’ down,
James Brown is the ground.” Grooves and grooves and grooves.

Purple Image – ?Purple Image? – [Radioactive Records]

Hunter Gatherer   1/30/2005   CD, Soul

Originally released on Map City Records in 1970, this is a 2004 re-release from Radioactive Records, an interesting label that specializes in reissuing innovative but rare music from the 60s and 70s.

Purple Image is from Cleveland, Ohio, and this album containing five tracks is the only one that they released. That’s a damn shame, too.

It kicks off with Livin’ In The Ghetto, a blistering amalgam of rock, soul, and funk that sets the tone for most of the rest of the album. There is also some slower, more R&B-style music in the middle with vocal harmonies reminiscent of The Persuasions. It ends with a 15 minute extended rock funk jam featuring flanged drums, space guitar, wah-wah guitar, face-melting guitar, and even a harmonica. Bass is mixed high throughout, which pleases me.

The lyrics are upbeat and positive as you might expect in songs with titles like We Got To Pull Together. Female and male vocals with the male vocals sometimes trading off a la The Temptations. Influences: Sly & The Family Stone, Jimi Hendrix, Parliament, and the bands mentioned above.
–Hunter Gatherer

Bettye Swann – “Bettye Swann” – [Honest Jons]

Hunter Gatherer   11/10/2004   CD, Soul

This collection by Honest Jons covers semi-obscure soul singer Bettye Swann’s career with Capitol from 1968 and 1970. (Her work with Money Records was recently released on Kent Records.)

This is country-inflected soul music that will have you singing into a hairbrush or crying into a beer, depending upon your disposition.

–Hunter Gatherer

Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings – “What If We All Stopped Paying Taxes?” – [Daptone Records] — 45 rpm

Hunter Gatherer   10/20/2004   7-inch, Soul

Ms. Jones is not happy with the foreign and domestic policies of the current administration. So she rounded up the Dap Kings, house band for the Daptone label, and put her feelings into what she describes as an “anthem of discontent.”

The first song asks the musical question “What If We All Stopped Paying Taxes?” It’s the sort of blistering retro-soul that we’ve come to expect from Ms. Jones & co. Sharon’s pissed, and as the song goes on you can feel the band absorbing her anger and reflecting it back to us as heat. Bush and Iraq aren’t mentioned explicitly, so this song will work just as well for the next country we invade.

The B side is a slow but impossibly funky version of the public domain song “This Land Is Your Land.” Woodie Guthrie is dancing in his grave somewhere. The song is great from the horn section’s sour Yankee Doodle opening to the fade out, but the highlight for me is the way the trumpet solo enters.

If you can listen to either song without shaking your ass you are probably Ralph Nader.

–Hunter Gatherer

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