ODYSSEY + ROTARY CONNECTION: BATTENED SHIPS OF BLACK GOLD


Odyssey: Battened Ships
Our Lives Are Shaped By What We Love
From Odyssey (Mowest, 1972)

Mowest was Motown’s West Coast label and I think it’d be fair to describe it as a general failure. It only lasted 2-3 years and few of the albums ever became commercial successes with the possible exception of Syreeta’s self-titled LP. Of the 10 or so LPs that actually came out on Mowest, Odyssey’s self-titled album has been a consistent “want” for soul collectors; I first heard it at a small DJ gig I did with Vinnie Esparza and I was a little surprised that a ’70s Motown-related release could regularly garner more than $100 on the market.

Then again, once you listen to its best songs, it makes more sense. Overall, Odyssey seemed like a uniquely, uber-California album for its era – a mix of everything from Topanga Valley psych folk rock to clunky funky rock but it’s hard to argue with the quality of the two songs above.

“Battened Ships” is a lively, Latin-infused mid-tempo cooker that would work beautifully to bridge a DJ set into some proto-disco. I’m not in love with Billy Pierce’s lead vocals but add in the background vocals and it all comes together nicely.

And then there’s “Our Lives Are Shaped By What We Love,” a beautiful composition all around…real “lightning in a bottle” in terms of all the elements that could have just as easily gone south and don’t. Great, great hook too. By the way, doesn’t this song really remind of this song?

Rotary Connection: I Am the Black Gold of the Sun
From Hey Love (Cadet, 1971)

Don’t know how I didn’t manage to post this tune up before; it’s a personal favorite and one of the most surprisingly sublime songs that Rotary Connection ever put out. It’s from the late phase of their career and though the album says “the New Rotary Connection” I’m not clear if there actually was a big personnel change and Charles Stepney still seemed to have produced them. In any case, “Black Gold” is such a soaring, epic composition – I love how it builds and swells and moves. It’s actually not that long of a song (a bit under 6 minutes) but it feels like you go on this marvelous journey in that time. It’s no wonder it became a dancefloor favorite for years and was given new life by the Nuyorican Soul project.

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7 comments to ODYSSEY + ROTARY CONNECTION: BATTENED SHIPS OF BLACK GOLD

  • J.Root

    Great tracks.  Any truth to the rumor that the songwriter on the Odyssey record is the son of the Marxist scholar C.L.R. James?

  • tomme

    the odyssey-track is insane, like it very much!
    thanx a lot!

  • Pierre C

    I love that Syreeta record on Mowest. The warmth on that lp is just…wow.

    The RC’s Hey Love lp brings back fond memories for me; it was one of my earliest crate-diggin’ finds. Charles Stepney’s productions have a majestic quality that somehow, to my ears, somehow manage to remain intimate at the same time.

  • Holly

    Love the Odyssety track – thank you!

  • Chunk

    I’ve been after this album for a while now but have always been put off by the price. Although I know I’ll give in one day as the “our lives are shaped” tune is so very, very cool, especially as it has David T Walker on guitar too. Great post O!

  • Peter McGover

    CLR James Jr (The Martxist Scholar) married my cousin Constance Pearlstein and Bob James (jr) was their son. I used to hang out with him (jr) when I was a kid in the 50s and 60s. I was at the recording session for many of Odysseys songs. I’m not sure what ever happened to Bob James. He was a Scientologist for a while.

  • Danny Evans

    Very late but would just like to thank Peter McGover for the information above, I had long wondered about the CLR James authorship of these tracks. I do hope that Bob James knows how well loved those songs of his are, and that he got out of Scientology OK.

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