2016 REWIND: REDISCOVERIES

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The horns dropping into “Full Salsa” constitute one of my favorite musical moments of the year. The motif returns several times over the course of this long salsa dura jam but it’s all about this opening moment where the arrangement is more sparse, thus setting up the horns to provide an unexpected blast of heat.1

My discovery of Les Vikings stems back to 2015, when I visited Paris’s Superfly Records and became aware of the French Antilles imprint Aux Ondes/Disques Celini. The quality of the Latin music on the label is exceptional, with “Guaganco In Jazz” being one of the most puro Afro-Cuban examples you can find on them.2

I go weak at the knees for practically anything with electric piano, least of all in the service of a good Latin groove. This entire Drum Solos volume is just that: a Latin percussion instructional album that makes heavy use of what I assume to be a Rhodes.3 Nothing here is that complicated, rhythm-wise, but that’s the point: it’s meant to be easy for the amateur percussionist start improvising over which means we get nothing but killer riffs. Same applies to “Medium Cool,” off a library album that’s simply entitled Pianofender Blues (the moment I saw the title and cover, I just figured “yep, I’ll take this.” It didn’t disappoint.

The Pedro Plascencia is an example of another weaknesses: cover songs. I love the sheer ferocity of Plascencia’s playing on here. The arrangement isn’t very different from the original Barbara Acklin/Young Hot Unlimited version but his solo-ing adds that precious bonus element.

  • Gnonnas Pedro and His Dadjes Band International: Dadje Von Von Von (From The Band of Africa Vol 3. African Sounds Ltd., 1977)
  • Cymande: One More (From Cymande. Janus, 1972)

I ordered the Gnonnas Pedro LP on the strength of its Latin elements but the most striking cut on it is closer to the group’s West African roots. “Dadje Von Von Von” has an infectiously funky momentum to it and the guitar does marvelous work on here.

With Cymande, I had the opportunity to interview their founding members on the occasion of their surprise reunion. That gave me an excuse to revisit their catalog beyond the big hits like “Bra” or “The Message,” and the one track I kept coming back to was the mellow, hypnotic “One More.” It’s funny how a song that’s so seemingly simple on the front end can be completely captivating even if it’s initially little more than a slow guitar line played over some lightly chattering percussion.

I ended 2015 on a NOLA-note with Zilla Mayes and 2016 also had its own Crescent City moments. The Rhine Oaks – essentially The Meters trying to sneak from under their Josie contract – create a Euro library record vibe with the mesmerizing “Tampin'” while Willie Harper’s “I Don’t Need You Anymore” is one of the most devastating deep soul sides I’ve heard in ages (more about it here).

I wrote about the Karriem as one of the first posts of 2016 and it’s only fitting to include it on my year-end wrap-up since it’s still one of the best things I heard all year. By sheer coincidence (or is it?) it was reissued for the first time ever this year too.

The Cole 7″ came from the now defunct Soulific Records store in Long Beach (RIP!). I wouldn’t have guessed this was a Jamaican single; it sounds like a crossover track that could have easily come out of Chicago or Detroit but that was deliberate as Cole was a pen name created by Winston Francis when he opted to cut a series of songs that differed from the roots reggae sound he was becoming known for. What’s especially great is the flipside, which is an instrumental that replaces Cole/Francis’s vocals with guitar instead.

These three can all be filed under “reissues I only discovered now.” The Banks, in particular, has been in my crates since it first came out in ’09 but I hadn’t bothered to really listen to it. It’s fantastic, basically a Brothers of Soul song in all but name only (but once I realized that, it was clear why I found the sound so familiar). If I’m not mistaken, the song was never on 7″, not LP, which explains why Ever-Soul (Daptone subsidiary) went through the trouble to reissue it as a B-side.

The Mind & Matter was something I was peeping out at the Groove Merchant and both myself and Cool Chris loved the switch-up that starts around 4:45. A young Jimmy “Jam” Harris was a beast!

Staying on the Numero tip, I think that same trip to the Groove Merchant is what brought me the Master Plan Inc. 7″, which missed my radar back in ’13. This song is so perfect across the board: the funky wah-wah guitars that kick things off, the open break that follows, the falsetto lead, the way the horns accent the track, gorgeous, all of it. I’m pretty sure this was unreleased but had it come out back in the day, you could easily have convinced me this would have become a $1000 single.

These days – until perhaps the end of days – what I’m drawn to is the sweet soul, end-of-night closing cuts. The Pagan I (re)discovered retroactively because of how Kali Uchis sampled it and it was yet another reminder of how Pagan was the greatest of the Latin soul crooners (no offense to my man Joe Bataan, who comes in at a close second).

The Pretenders song is yet another fantastic sweet soul offering on the Carnival label (also see: the Manhattans and Lee Williams & the Cymbals). I’m almost certain that’s Patricia Tandy on lead vocals and dare I say, I think she does a better job singing this one than on the Manhattans original.

I picked up the Larks single because I thought they were the same Larks from Los Angeles that Don Julian lead but I’m now thinking they were an entirely different group (albeit from the same era and with a similar sound) from Cleveland instead. Doesn’t matter – still a great doo-wop influenced tune.

Freedom Suite was one of several Chicano bands out of East Los Angeles that competed in a talent contest, with the top placing groups being included on the Chicanos Explode In Concert compilation. This might just be my favorite LP purchase for the year…I mean, amateur high school bands from East L.A. recording sweet soul tunes? I am all in. (It was hard picking my favorite song off the LP but hearing Freedom Suite cover Robert & Johnny’s 1958 classic was simply irresistible, esp. when they go all polyvocal.

The Sam Cooke was one of those songs I’ve always heard in the background somewhere but it wasn’t until this year that I truly sat with it and added it to my short list of all-time favorite Cooke songs. Also, I love that Journey basically bit it to make “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’.

And lastly, we come to a song that I listened to more times than I could have counted in 2016. I’ve already written about why I sat with so much Mayfield/Impressions this past year and “I’ve Been Trying” was the one song I kept returning to, just to hear that three-voice falsetto stack that comes at the song’s end. Maybe I toss around the word “sublime” too much but this is one case where it’s 100% apt.

  1. I should point out that this song has an earlier section which sounds completely different and I edited it to get to this part of the song sooner.
  2. The great thing about this era of Les Vikings is that it’s not just classic Afro-Cuban tracks but a whole plethora of different styles they played with.
  3. I’m basing this on the bell-like tone. Could be a Wurlitzer though.

2016 REWIND: NEW DISCOVERIES

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Ordinarily, I might chalk up to having these many new artists coming from the same city as coincidence but it feels like Chicago’s music scene is the midst of some kind of glorious moment right now. Musically, the Jamila Woods, NoName and Chance projects share much in common but it’s also about collaboration since every artist above has worked with at least 1-2 other people.

Woods’s “HEAVN” is suitably sublime, given its name, and there’s so many layers of meaning at play here. It’s about love rising within and against violence, history, tragedy, resistance and liberation. All that and an amazing polyvocal hook plus a Cure shout-out for all the ‘80s kids.

The NoName album sounds like it was made with a roomful of children’s musical toys and I mean that as a compliment in the best possible way.

I didn’t love Chance’s Coloring Book as much as others but it had these moments of transcendent magic, especially the on “How Great” when the track shifts from the gospel choir to the sample crafted from their singing. Plus, it made sense to throw it into the mix here, paired with “Ultralight Beam.” I feel like I’ve said this elsewhere but I don’t think The Life of Pablo will improve with time (not to least of which is because of Kanye’s antics) but “Ultralight Beam” stays stunning.

I think we can all agree that 2016 could have used more Kendrick yet even between two tracks, he still managed to leave quite the impression. “Untitled 06” owes as much to Cee-lo as it does KL but together, they create a groove so good that it’s hard to believe this was left on a cutting room floor originally. Meanwhile, Kendrick’s verse on the “THat Part” remix mandolins your mind so thoroughly that you may need a guide to follow every rhyme he layers in there.

I don’t have much more to add that I haven’t already said except to repeat that the very existence of this album feels like a miracle and a gift. This track, in particular, will have me bouncing well into the new year and beyond.

Technically, “Might Be” should be listed as a “discovery” since it’s two years old but as much as I thought Malibu was a solid effort, no Paak song got more rotation from me this year than “Might Be,” after I heard it on Wynter Mitchell’s “Summer of Wynter” playlist earlier this year.

But in terms of current R&B jams, Frank Ocean’s “Pink + White” had me zoning out like practically no other song this year. Even if I agree that Blond felt form-less at times, sometimes, vibe > songs.

Lizzo’s “Good As Hell” goes in a completely opposite direction: a big big sound that wants to raise the roof, burn it down and then get everyone to pitch in to rebuild it. How this wasn’t a smash hit of the summer, I’ll never understand.

But let’s just be real: Beyonce managed to find some next level of dominance that I would never have guessed was possible unlike “Formation” blew in and up. I very much want to see how artists like her and Kendrick perform (literally and figuratively) over the next few years.

 It feels somehow wrong to laud 2016 as a great year for retro-soul considering we lost both Sharon Jones and the Frightnrs’ Dan Klein but the sheer quality of output from stalwart labels like Daptone, Big Crown and Timmion was undeniable.1
I’m sneaking the Jack Moves into the 2016 column even though the album came out in ’15 simply because I didn’t come upon it until this year. “Being With You” sounds like some kind of lost track from the Sylvers II album and in general, I loved the group’s take on a particular style of NY/NJ ’70s R&B.
Charles Bradley continues to emote anguish better than almost any other but “Things We Do For Love,” my favorite song off of Changes, was lighter in the tone. He almost sounds…happy here. 😉
The Frankie Reyes is an example of how the simplest of ideas can yield amazing results. Even in an age of digital patches for everything, there’s something to be said about the unique qualities of vintage synths.
Even if The Frightnrs’ album is haunted by the loss of Klein, the world needs more rocksteady grooves and I hope the group continues to deliver in that vein.
Who knew there was a Bolivian-Finnish tradition in music-making? Bobby Oroza is second-generation in that and I suspect we’ll be hearing more from him for the future. (BTW, am I the only one who thinks Oroza and Reyes should collabo?)
Hands-down, this new Lee Fields album is the best thing he’s released with The Expressions since their first collaboration on My World (maybe better) and “Never Be Another You,” is just one of a slew of incredible tracks off of there.
Had to end this with a nod to the late Sharon Jones with the sole new song off of the soundtrack for Miss Sharon Jones! I suppose the title feels bittersweet now but the spirit behind it is what matters and until the very end, Jones’s willpower and vibrancy stayed shining.
  1. I should also acknowledge that some of these imprints are branching into non-soul releases like The Shacks on Big Crown or The Mystery Lights on Daptone. Makes sense and I hope they continue to do so even if my first and forever love will be for their soul output.

THE YEAR IN MUSIC

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I’m prepping my list of songs from the past year but I’m curious to know what some of your favorite discoveries were (new or old) from 2016? 

OVER AT BEATTIPS…

Forgot to mention to folks that I’m now doing a test run on columns for BeatTips.com as part of their “Marquee Names” series, looking at key artists and recordings. The first one I wrote was about Curtis Mayfield and I have a shorter piece, up today, about the incredible Rhetta Hughes song, “You’re Doing With Her.” 

MY FAVORITE ALBUMS OF 2016

It’s been a while since I voted in the Village Voice’s annual Pazz and Jop poll but for whatever reason, I decided to do so this year even though I didn’t have a literal top 10 (just top 8). The way Pazz and Jop works is that your picks are weighted so this is what I turned in:

    Beyonce: Lemonade (20 points)
    Frank Ocean: Blond/e (20)
    A Tribe Called Quest: We Got It From Here (15)
    Noname: Telefone (15)
    Lee Fields: Special Night (10)
    Jamila Woods: HEAVN (10)
    Frankie Reyes: Boleros Valses y Mas (5)
    Kendrick Lamar: Untitled. Unmastered. (5)

These were, to be sure, kind of spur of the moment for me and if I had more time, I might have rejiggered some of the point values or what have you but overall, these were the albums that gave me the most pleasure in 2016 and/or the ones I felt that were important to be recognized.

A REVISIT TO MANU’S VOODOO (AND CRATE DIGGING POST-INTERNET)

A few weeks back, I was interview by The Ringer’s Justin Sayles for an article he just published about the last 20 years of crate-digging and sample-based production since the release of DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing. It is a sprawling long-form essay that covers a great deal of territory and I suspect it’d be of great interest to many of the readers of this site.

At the essay’s end, Sayles includes this section based around our convo:

Wang says that the internet has been both an “asset and a liability” for the world of crate digging. Yes, it’s had an effect of diluting hyperspecialized knowledge, making years’ worth of collecting accessible to anyone who can get online, but it has also brought together like-minded music aficionados to share knowledge, and has connected people with, for example, a rare LP a collector in the United Arab Emirates is selling.

That last line is specifically referring to an album I last wrote about in 2008: Manu Dibango’s African Voodoo (I re-upped the sound files for it today). I did, indeed, buy the album from a seller in the UAB that I was connected to via the old GEMM.com. For a long time, it was the closest I came to having anything approaching a “come up” story even though, in the grand scheme of things, “finding a record for cheap on the internet isn’t exactly the stuff of legend.1 In any case, what I had forgotten about was what I wrote in that 2008 post:

Why not post this earlier? I actually had planned to at one point but then noticed it had shown up, in full album form, on other blogs. That took the proverbial wind out of the sails, not just because I’ve been beaten from the punch (which I could care less about) but rather, once a $400 record becomes just another download, part of its unique magic dissipates. Under those circumstances, I’d rather post up something more meaningful to me, personally, than “check out this rare record I have” (especially when it’s not so rare once it becomes more mass available). Ah, but such is the reality of music going online.

Again, I wrote that in ’08 and I suspect many folks would have already begun feeling the same way back in ’98. My point here isn’t to rehash the debate but rather to point out that we’re still having it.

Sayles’s article doesn’t arrive at any clear conclusions and that seems exactly right: the internet is still transforming how we accumulate and disseminate both knowledge about music and the music itself. My own site embraces part of the irreconcilability of it all; it’s a digital space inspired by old analog ephemera and the existence of that site might be helping contribute to both/either the scarcity of that ephemera (as collector’s items) or its greater distribution (via comps, reissues, digital releases, etc.) The only thing I can say is that I should have posted African Voodoo earlier than 2008; I was too self-conscious back then and it is a great album and worthy of notice regards of how many other blogs posted about it back then.

  1. With that said, the greatest come up I ever had did, indeed, involve finding a record for cheap on the internet.

OUR NEW FACEBOOK *GROUP*

In the interests of expanding interaction, I’ve shifted from using a Facebook Page to a Facebook Group. I’ll leave both up for a while but eventually, I’ll only post to the Group as to avoid double-posting in your timelines. Thanks!

PUSHING FORWARD

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Swan Silvertones: If You Believe Your God Is Dead
From 7″ (HOB, 197?).

I received this email, from out of the blue, the other day:

Oliver, the world needs you more than ever now.

Your Soul selections (and general selection) is such an important part of global culture especially Soul & Black culture worldwide.

To DJ’s and Soul collectors you are a hero, and the one thing I know we all need in this world is more Love marinaded with your incredible selection skills.

SoulSides wasn’t just a blog, it was access to catalogues of music that never reached parts of our globe like Africa as an example, obviously because of political issues, but mainly because of limited budget releases of those incredible labels and artists.

It’s hard to describe how much it meant to receive it and not just because it’s highly complementary.

When I started Soul Sides in 2004, I was subconsciously using it to replace my old college radio show. The latter had gotten to be a slog so I was happy to reclaim those 3+ hours a week but I missed having a way of sharing and talking about music so voila!: audioblogging filled that space.

And in the heady days where people still, you know, blogged, it was kind of like doing radio but even better because people would comment and there’d be small convos that’d breakout on account of it. That kind of feedback is vitally important; it lets me know that people are out there listening.

And then Facebook and Twitter arose and I was just as guilty as anyone in shifting my attention and energies – as a reader – over to those platforms. I understand why people stopped commenting here but over time, I just couldn’t tell who was reading/listening anymore. Was I writing these posts to a non-audience? And if so, what was the point of doing that? And so, over time, my posting has slowed to a trickle.

I’m not saying this to guilt anyone out there. I’m totally fine with people hopping on, DLing a few songs, and jumping out. I do/did the same. But what this email reminded me was “oh, people are reading/listening” and it helps me to want to create more for you (the abstract “you”, not just the author of the email).

I’m thinking about this a lot lately because I’ve been in a dark place because of what’s happening in my society and I keep coming back to something my friend Jeff Chang wrote: “don’t despair, create.” I’m really trying to take that to heart because action is a great counter to depression and so I’m more committed, than ever, to want to create things in the world, whatever forms that may take. And so you may see an increase in posting here but here’s my ask: let me know what you think. Again, feedback to a writer/DJ is part of our lifeblood. It helps to know who’s reading/listening out there. I’m not asking for paragraphs – just a sentence will do. And again, my point here isn’t to guilt people. And maybe what I need to do is create  Facebook group or something along those lines (since there’s not a ton of interaction on the FB page). But in any case, it helps to hear from you all, it truly does.

It also seems apropos that in a time where it feels dark, I gravitate towards songs that seem to burst with light and I can’t think of one much better than this Swan Silvertones’ single. I’m not religious so gospel to me is about feeling rather than faith but heck, the insistence they have in saying, “if you believe your god is dead, try mine, he’s still alive” is so powerful, it makes me want to believe. And theology aside, the basic message is: do not despair, hope survives.

 

THE CHAYNS: FORGED IN SAN ANTONIO

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The Chayns: You
From 7″ (Chayn-Reaction, 1968

Another one I picked up during the Numero Group’s Rapp Cats sale: a gem of a garage/psych rock track that originally hails from San Antonio’s “Teen Canteen” scene of mid-60s. The song would be memorable enough if it only kept to the opening, two-note bass line but the way it switches up for the chorus seals the deal.

SIDNEY PINCHBACK: SET STUNNERS TO PHASE

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Sidney Pinchback & The Sisters: This Is The Woman
From 7″ (Nickel, 1969)

Picked this one up from Rob Sevier during the recent Numero sale in L.A. Immediately fell in love with the phased effect that hits you from jump (listen to this on headphones for maximum impact). It’s the instrumental flipside of Lucky Cordell’s “This Is The Woman I Love” which features Cordell…just talking over the instrumental. Believe me when I say, B-side wins this one (again).

Notably, this wasn’t the only time Pinchback went with a phase effect; “Soul Strokes” was the first time I had heard of his name (I thought it was fake!). I only later learned that he was a semi-prolific songwriter in the Chicago R&B scene of the 1960s, including as a co-writer on Billy Stewart’s “Cross My Heart.”