RIP BILL WITHERS

Bill Withers has passed away at age 81. I’ve written a fair amount about Withers on this site (see here and here) but the closest I feel like I’ve ever come to articulating what made him such a memorable singer and songwriter came with this 2012 review I wrote of his Complete Sussex and Columbia Masters anthology.

At risk of being solipsistic, this is what I wrote for my intro and it still stands true to me today.

“It may sound contradictory to describe Bill Withers’ voice as “uniquely plainspoken,” but this singer and songwriter from West Virginia coal country began his career at the crossroads between folk, R&B and rock. He was neither a showy shouter nor a sweet crooner. Instead, Withers always conveyed his emotions with a simple, forthright earnestness — the everyman singer with a poet’s soul.”

As a bonus, never forget this awesome 1972 live performance; check out my fly guy James Gadson on drums with his sparkling smile.

SOUL SIDES/HEAT ROCKS MAILBAG EP 1

Part of how I’ve wanted to spend these weeks of social distancing time is by creating more things for people to listen to and one of the things I put out via the Heat Rocks podcast Facebook group was asking for topics you’d like myself and/or Morgan to talk about and of course, Soul Sides’ readers are always welcome to throw out your own topics (leave it in the comments section below).

Here’s episode #1, where I answer two questions: 1) what kind of music was I really into in college? 2) What’s an example of artist/album from a genre that Heat Rocks typically does not get into?

Listen here or subscribe via iTunes.

SHADES OF SOUL X ARTFORM RADIO MAR 2020

For your listening pleasure, here’s my latest set for Artform Radio on Worldwide FM. Tracklisting:

  • Junior Mance: Cubano Chant
  • BC & S: Sunshine
  • The Montereys: Get Down
  • Ronny Lapine: Side by Side
  • Weldon Irvine: I Love You
  • Sly and the Family Stone: Time For Livin’ (Alt Mix)
  • Seven Seas: Pat’s Jam
  • Los Grimm: Para Lograr Que Me Quieras (I’m Gonna Make You Love Me)
  • Robb Jarmain: I’m All Alone
  • Julius Brockington & The Magic Force: This Feeling
  • Jean Wells: What Have I Got To Lose?
  • 79.5: Terrorize My Heart (Disco Dub)
  • Joby and the Angels: Bang Bang
  • Fela Kuti: Lover
  • The Skatalites Meet King Tubby: Heaven’s Gate
  • The Sinseers: It Was Only a Dream 
  • Banda Macho: Party Down
  • San Francisco TKOs: Make Up Your Mind
  • The Village Callers: When You’re Gone
  • Cal Tjader and Eddie Palmieri: Samba Do Suenho 

THE SIDEBAR, EP. 37: SLY AND THE FAMILY STONE MIX IT UP (W/ MICHAEL BARNES)

Part of how I’m dealing with the Great Disruption is by creating more things for folks to listen to so I blew the dust off my old personal podcast, The Sidebar, and invited an old friend/colleague, Michael Barnes of The Melting Pot to join me and talk about a unique version of Sly and the Family Stone’s 1974 album, Small Talk, that he came upon over 10 years ago.

Listen direct here or subscribe to The Sidebar in Apple podcasts.

SOUL SIDES VOL 1 ON SPOTIFY

I didn’t realize this until a friend pointed it out but my longtime out of print compilation, Soul Sides Vol. 1, is on Spotify:

All things considered, I’m still very proud of the comp and more to the point: I think it holds up in terms of the selections. I realize that’s self-serving for me to say but in contrast, I don’t feel like Vol. 2 aged nearly as well. If I had a do-over for that volume, I’d probably change most of the songs or perhaps abandon the covers angle altogether. Vol. 1 though still feels like both a snapshot of my tastes at the time I put it together but most of the selections also feel timeless to me. Anyways, if this is your first or 30th time listening, hope you enjoy!

SHADES OF SOUL X ARTFORM RADIO FEB 2020

Here’s my most recent outing on Artform Radio/WorldWide FM. You’ll have to excuse the few seconds of silence preceding song #2 (Jamila Woods). Warped records = ugh.

Tracklisting:

  • Les Mogol: Sunset in Golden Horn
  • Jamila Woods: Betty
  • Truthettes: So Good to be Alive (Teddy Pendergrass)
  • Ciel Miner: Stardust (Philadelphia)
  • King Nando: Where Is My Future?
  • Jimmy Heath: Smilin Billy
  • Delfonics: He Don’t Really Love You
  • La Zara and the Dominants: Didn’t I
  • Irma Thomas: Hitting On Nothing
  • Breakers Two: I’m Gonna Get Down
  • Flame and the Sons of Darkness: Something
  • Gal Costa: Baby
  • Andrew Oldham Orchestra: The Last Time
  • Ray Alexander Technique: My Special One
  • Exsaveyons: I Don’t Love You No More
  • The New Expression: Don’t Have Time to Lose (s/o Michael Barnes)
  • The Night Walkers: Can I Change My Mind
  • Bola Sete: Bettina

SHADES OF SOUL: BACK ON ARTFORM RADIO

I was recently part of the crew that helped launch the weekly Artform Radio series that’s being broadcast on WorldWide FM. Here’s the episode of the my first show:

Tracklisting:

  • R.D. Burman: Dance Music
  • Crowns of Glory: Lord Hold Me In Your Arms
  • Edith Jones: I Don’t Care No More
  • The Delfonics: He Don’t Really Love You
  • Herman Davis: Gotta Be Loved
  • Fully Guaranteed: We Can’t Make It Together
  • Ahmad Jamal: the World is a Ghetto
  • Los Moskas: Amor Sin Suerte
  • Joby Valente: Tu N’Es Pas Riche, Tu N’Es Pas Beau
  • The Night Walkers: Stormy
  • Nina Simone: Cosi Ti Amo
  • Swan Silvertones: You Pray On
  • IA&P Co: Check Yourself
  • Sir Wales Wallace: What Ever You Want
  • Adrian Younge: Fly Wallenda 
  • Enchanted Five: Have You Ever
  • Willie Brown: Love That Stranger
  • The Ambassadords: Ain’t Got the Love
  • James Taylor: This Girl
  • Deen Dodge: Perfect Love
  • OIympia Brass Band: Tuba Fats

SINGLE SERVINGS 003: CAROLYN SULLIVAN’S “DEAD”

In this episode of Single Servings, we look at “Dead,” a single originally arranged/co-written by Moses Dillard and recorded by Carolyn Sullivan in two versions, one for the local Dallas-Fort Worth label, Soft, then picked up for national distribution by Philips. It’s one of the most morose soul songs out there, with its local version including graphic details of suicide. Even the more sanitized version is still plenty dark but what makes it memorable is also the fact that Major Bill Smith, who ran Soft alongside several other labels, ended up pressing up well over a dozen different versions, vocal and instrumental alike, on a variety of imprints. See Mark Allbones’s continual cataloging of the “Dead” permutations over at Soul Source.

For this episode, I was joined by David Haffner of Friends of Sound, the San Antonio record store that was started by Haffner in Austin.

This episode featured snippets of the following songs:

  • Carolyn Sullivan: Dead (Philips)
  • Carolyn Sullivan: Dead (Soft)
  • Edith Jones: I Don’t Care No More (Le Cam)
  • Phyllis Brown: Dead (Soft)
  • Cutty Sark: Dusty (Zuma)
  • Moses Dillard and the Tex-Town Display: Got To Find a Way Pt. 2

Listen here or subscribe the Soul Sides’ Sidebar podcast series (which includes Single Servings episodes).

MY FAVORITE THINGS – 2019

2019 was a good balance between new music I discovered/enjoyed vs. old tunes I’m continually finding via records. I find that raising a teenager helps with the former and while I would never try to pass myself off – these days – as having a finger of the musical zeitgeist, I think it’s valuable to stay engaged with new music coming out. Anyways…I’m going to flip this from the round-ups of the last few years and start with the old tracks I gave heavy run to last year. (Not in ranked order)

1. The Rascals: My World (1968)

So…yeah, I slept. I think the only reason I even came across it last year was because of the 3 Ft. High and Rising anniversary mixtape. Anyways, this is an example of a perfect ’60s pop song in terms of all its core elements: the vocal interplay is key, the instrument and arrangement decisions are lush without being overbaked, and the hook is a legit ear worm.

2. Karen Dalton: Are You Leaving For the Country? (1971)

Credit for this goes to Jason Woodbury who brought in the Dalton LP for our Heat Rocks episode. I find the song haunting and melancholy and even this city boy isn’t immune to its sentiment.

3. Basabasa Experience: Homowo (1979)

Earlier this summer, I was crashing for a couple of nights with my friend Hua and in his office, he has a small stack of records and this was near the top. I was intrigued by the title and asked about it and he just put it on and I was instantly smitten. It’s easily the best African disco LP I’ve ever heard and “Homowo” is a standout thanks to those opening synths and the lyrics.

4. Italian Asphalt and Pavement Company: Check Yourself (1970)

No shade on The Intruders, who originally recorded this Gamble/Huff tune, but this cover by the IAP Co. is straight crossover fire.

5. Ohio Penitentiary 511 Jazz Ensemble: Psych City (1971)

The best prison spiritual jazz LP ever recorded. Ok, maybe the only but seriously, this whole album is a gem. Read more here.

6. Kalle & L’African Team De Paris : Africa Boogaloo (1971)

I’ve long been a fan of New York boogaloo influences returning to its African roots and this single, written/produced by Manu Dibango, is a stellar example of the genre.

7. Nina Simone: Cosi Ti Amo (1970)

The High Priestess taking it higher for an Italian jukebox-only cover of her “To Love Somebody,” sung in Italian. I have Y La Bamba’s Luz Mendoza to thank for this since I came across it when she chose Simone’s LP for her Heat Rocks episode.

8. R.D. Burman: Dance Music (1976)

Listening to Freddie Gibbs/Madlib’s “Education” (see below) compelled me to track its sample source back to this R.D. Burman-produced Bollywood marvel that packs in four movements in so many minutes. I find the whole song to be magical but the portion that kicks off a little after two minutes in is the best.

9. Herman Davis: Gotta Be Loved (1971)

A white whale that took me a few years to hunt down, I think of this as a repentant playboy’s anthem. Love the whole groove of this one-off single from St. Louis MO’s Davis, especially the plinkling piano after “I hear the raindrops” opening line.

10. The Delfonics: He Don’t Really Love You (1968)

Talk about coming out the gate: this is the Delfonics’ first single and it’s a masterful deep/sweet soul tune. The hook is massive and shout out to whoever is working the kettle drum on this.

11. Sweet Daddy Reed: I Believe To My Soul (1969)

Came across this via my dude Pablo: Sweet Daddy Reed takes Ray Charles’s original and strips it down to its bluesy bones. So deep, so good.

12. Breakers Two: I’m Gonna Get Down (1965)

When I came upon this in Amsterdam’s awesome Wax Well Records, I assumed it was an early electro single given the artist name and song title but nope: it’s a gorgeous island soul single from Guyana.

13. Joby Valente: Tu N’es Pas Riche, Tu N’es Pas Beau (1970)

Same trip to Amsterdam also brought me to Paris and I scooped this (plus the “Africa Boogaloo” single from earlier) at the ace Superfly Records. Originally from Martinique, Valente recorded several sides for the French/Guadalupe label Aux Ondes and this B-side is a killer blend of her voice with some soul boulder goodness on the track.

14. Members of the Staff: Stop the Bells (1972)

Bought this one off of the aforementioned Hua: a Leon Haywood-produced, Gene Page-arranged, local L.A. tear-jerker that’s definitely NOT what you want to play at a wedding.

15. Fully Guaranteed: We Can’t Make It Together (1972)

One of the last things I picked up in 2019, I love how this is an answer/rebuke track to the 1970 soft rock hit, “Make It Together.” Take that, Bread!

Ok, onto the new joints….

1. Jamila Woods: Betty

I mean…Jamila made a song about Betty Davis. That’s already frickin’ awesome but it’s also my favorite tune off her Legacy! Legacy!” Those opening piano chords lure you in and I was hooked all the way through the stinger. I just wish it was longer but hey, I don’t want to be greedy.

2. Valerie June: Cosmic Dancer

Would I have guessed that Valerie would absolutely smash a T-Rex cover? Actually, yes, yes I would. The melancholic beauty of her rendition is just sublime.

3. Bazzi: I.F.L.Y.

This might be the most “Spotify sound” track on my list but if I’m a victim of the algorithm, I’m ok with that. Give me all the mellifluous guitar R&B beats.

4. Normani: Motivation

This feels like retro-Destiny’s Child and I mean that in all the best ways.

5. Los Retros: Someone to Spend Time With

I’m fine with Tapia’s general sound but it’s the pairing of his voice with Firelordmelisa’s that makes this work as well as it does.

My only knock: why is there no 45 for this yet?!?!?!

6. UMI: Sukidakara

UMI is one of my favorite new artist discoveries and I love that she gets to bust out her Japanese skills on this one. My 14 y.o. was already into her sound but discovering that UMI is half-Japanese (like her) endeared her even more.

7. Samm Henshaw: Church

London’s Henshaw is also one of my favorite new artist discoveries. I thought his 2018 single, “Broke” was stellar and this new gospel-infused single is similarly awesome. Glory glory hallelujah.

8. Kota the Friend: Chicago Diner

The lyrics here are…just ok but the vibe? Cookies in the oven on a Sunday, indeed.

9. Lady Wray: Come On In

As the late Matthew Africa would have called this: it’s a soul boulder.

So. Damn. Heavy.

10. Brainstory: Beautyful Beauti

Straight outta the Inland Empire, Brainstory’s Buck was one of my favorite albums of 2019 and this single, in particular, embodies everything great about their sound/style.

11. G Yamazawa: Good Writtens Vol. 5

I’m digging G’s entire “Good Written” series so this really was a toss up between equals. Regardless, I’m hyped for whenever he puts out some new studio material in 2020.

12. Amber Mark: Love is Stronger Than Pride

Technically from 2018 but no song got more early 2019 play than Mark’s luscious riff on Sade’s classic.

13. Solange: Stay Flo

I’m not sure how a song can sound sparse and lush at the same time but here we are.

14. Freddie Gibbs, Madlib, Yasiin Bey, Black Thought: Education

I suppose this is lab-engineered to appeal to ’90s heads like myself but I don’t care. Having these three cats flow over that R.D. Burman loop (see above) is lo-fi gold.

15. Lizzo: Truth Hurts

Artist of the year and it’s not particularly close. We’re all in Lizzo’s world now.

HARD LUCK SOUL (JAZZ)

Prison rock, blues and soul songs/albums are a genre unto themselves but prison jazz albums aren’t nearly as common. This early ’70s album is one of the rare exceptions. Recorded by inmates at the Ohio State Penitentiary in Columbus, OH, Hard Luck Soul, despite its name, is a modal/spiritual jazz album, comprising of just four songs, all between ~5-10 minutes in length.

The background behind this album was chronicled when it was reissued by UK’s Jazzman Records in 2012; I’ll just quote a bit from what I assume were the reissue’s liner notes: 

“Band leader Reynard Birtha was originally from North Carolina, where he played in a band called The Outer Limits… [He] ended up in Cincinnati, and through a mutual passion for music, he met fellow musician Logan Rollins, nephew of jazz legend Sonny Rollins. They became friends and jammed at local clubs before both ended up in the State penitentiary, for reasons not entirely clear. At the time it was customary for musicians to visit the prison and give concerts…these visits were not only a source of entertainment for the prisoners, but they were also a source of inspiration for musicians like Reynard. He and Logan formed the 511 Jazz Ensemble, incorporating the remnants of the prison Pit Band. Reynard recalls that “the number 511 was the P.O. box address of the prison, and we would perform in the yard during every holiday, while the prisoners marched around and got their food.”

I was very fortunate to luck into an original copy of the album,  signed by all the inmates/players but what was mostly notable was that it also came with a mimeographed two-sheet that was a memo sent by a trio of inmates to the prison warden to propose the creation of “‘511’ Jazz Society,” which was a different entity from the 511 Jazz Ensemble. To summarize:

The ‘511’ Jazz Society was originally proposed in November of 1970 by a trio of inmates (Cartier, Cook and Chappell). They were fans of the “Jazz Roundtable” radio show, put together by the Columbus Jazz Society, for air on WOSU (which I assume was the college radio station at Ohio State Univ.). The three inmates wrote:

“Music-wise, Columbus is predominantly “Country-Western” oriented; consequently, we devotee’s [sic] of jazz, America’s only original “ART FORM” suffer from lack of exposure to our preferred medium of musical entertainment.”

(Is there a racial subtext here? Oh my yes.)

Therefore, Cartier, Cook and Chappell proposed the formation of a jazz appreciation group in the prison, aka the ‘511’ Jazz Society, that would regularly meet to “hear the latest innovations in this particular field of the ‘Musical Arts.'” They suggested that they would hold “panel discussions between the members…concerning the artist, his style of playing, improvisational and expressionistic ability; the general progress of Jazz, harmonically and culturally, since it’s inception early in this century.” 

They had already gotten permission from Rabbi Zelizer to hold society meetings inside the prison chapel (“either Monday’s or Friday’s… From our point of view, Monday’s would be the most suitable.”) 

On the second page is a list of rules for the Society, established after the warden had given his permission. One of the rules stated “25 members should be the quota. As a member leaves the institution or drops out, another man can fill the vacancy.” The inaugural group of 25 members, listed by inmate number and surname, are included.

Best as I can tell, almost none of the players in the 511 Jazz Ensemble were part of the inaugural Jazz Society (the only exception could be George Williams, lead guitar, as there was a “Williams” listed as a Society member). However, it’s entirely possible that the Jazz Ensemble players joined the Society later; the liner notes for the reissue don’t mention the Jazz Society at all which is curious but it’s possible that Ensemble leader Reynard Birtha simply didn’t recall the Society some 40 years after the album had been recorded. In any case, this kind of random ephemera that sometimes comes with vintage records is one of the great things about collecting said vintage records.

And in any case, even without it, this was still a wonderful find. The music by the Ensemble makes for a sublime end-to-end listen. There’s a lot of atmosphere in the sound that I assume is a product of the acoustics of the chapel they recorded it in and that enhances my experience of listening to it, especially since, overall, the engineering is pretty solid for an album that wasn’t taped inside a proper studio. I dig all four tracks but the ~10 minute songs that begin each side – “Psych City” and “Counterry Bosa Davan” – are my favorites given how they unfurl over time. Enjoy!