LEARNING FROM FRANKIE

I will forever be a student of music, learning from the greats. RIP, Frankie Knuckles.

GRAB BAG: MARCH 2014

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Quick opening note: not to sound like a broken record (pun intended) but the vinyl game is always humbling. No matter how many records you have, there’s always more/better ones to still learn about and yearn for. I’m reminded of this all the time, especially when DJing with my betters such as the Southern Soulspinners who always come with crazy heat at every gig. I try not to trains-spot on their sets too much but it’s hard to resist knowing what the hell it is they’re blowing my mind with. Their willingness to gladly share that knowledge is equally humbling and it’s a reminder of the importance of spreading that knowledge in turn.

Pigmeat Markham: Here Comes the Judge
From 7″ (Chess, 1968)

J-Zone’s recent column on his favorite drum recordings reminded me of how novel (nyuk nyuk) this single is. Basically a comedy song but set to the rugged-est of drums…as well as a great example of “rapping before there was rap music.”

Viva Brasil: Turn To Yourself + Skindo-le-le
From S/T (Sugarloaf, 1980)

The best Bay Area modern-soul-meets-Brazilian LP I know (as well as the only one). No, but really, I dig the grooves on here even if “Turn To Yourself” sounds almost like a parody of bad lyric writing. To me, the standout on here is “Skindo-le-le” which feels like the platonic ideal of what “samba soul” should sound like.

Sole Inspiration: Life
From 7″ (Soulsville, U.S.A., 197?)

This single (both sides) is at the crossroads between psych and soul, especially the moody, heavy and super-stoned out “Life.” It’s out of San Antonio if the inter webs has it right. (Flipside has a serviceable, hella garage-y cover of “Hold On, I’m Comin’.”)

Betty Wright: Pure Love
From 7″ (Alston, 1970)

When I first heard this, I just assumed it came out after the live version of “Tonight’s the Night” but now I realize I had it backwards. It’s interesting hearing “Pure Love” for the first time since it’s slower than “Tonight’s the Night” and that creates this moment of cognitive dissonance where the lick is familiar yet feels “off.” (Flipside is a good, funky Northern track: “If You Ain’t Got It”).

The Manhattans: I Call It Love
From 7″ (Carnival, 1967)

I’m slowly discovering the beauty of early Manhattans’s songs. This isn’t quite as sublime as “Follow Your Heart” but it’s still pretty damn good. They had a great ear for pairing their doo-wop harmonizing over strong, soulful arrangements. (Flipside is a solid, snappy Northern cut: “Manhattan Stomp“).

Amral’s Trinidad Cavaliers Steel Orchestra: The World Is a Ghetto + 90% of Me Is You
From Heat (Calypan, 1975)

On paper, the entire track listing makes you think this could be the greatest steel drum album ever. Cover galore, most of them R&B and funk. I mean, holy crap, they’re covering Gwen McCrae’s “90% of Me Is You,” which wasn’t exactly obscure but it’s not “Yellow Bird” either. I’ve been trying to figure out why this falls short of, say, the Dutch Rhythm Steel and Show Band (both groups cover Kool and the Gang’s “Funky Stuff’) and obviously, the Cavaliers have the sparser band…sounds like steel drums plus a drum kit and that’s it. I also feel like the conventional drummer is mixed rather low, thus blunting his/her presence. That said, their cover of “The World Is a Ghetto” works better, partially because so much of what carries the mood of the composition is in the melody rather than requiring a stronger rhythm section.

Muscle Shoals Horns: Addicted To Your Love
From Doin’ It To the Bone (Ariola, 1977)

A Soul Boulders classic. ‘Nuff said.

Tutti Hill: He’s a Lover
From 7″ (Arock, 1964)

Cool Chris talked me into this one, telling me it was one of his favorites. I was initially skeptical only because the notable absence of any real low end made this sound like a demo but the more times I listened to it at the store, the more that quality of the recording appealed to me. (That said, I feel like someone could remix this and throw in a stronger baseline and some drums).

Billy Woods: No One To Blame
From 7″ (Verve, 1966)

I often forget that Verve recorded other genres besides jazz; this great little sweet soul side came sandwiched in their catalog between everyone from Irene Reid to Willie Bobo to the Righteous Brothers.

Souls of Mischief: Never No More (76 Seville Mix)
From 12″ (Jive, 1994)

It’s funny but this remix has been in the back of my head for months but I was too lazy to digitize it from vinyl and lo and behold: that new 93 Til Infinity box set has all the remixes connected to that album and that included this. Great remix and paired (on the original 12″) with the equally good 12″-only “Good Feeling.”

Overhott, Tate and Phillips: Peg
From Direct-to-Disc (Kiras, 1977)

Another one from Cool Chris (since he knows my weakness for covers). Most of this direct-to-disc are fairly loyal disco-era covers but somehow, hearing “Peg” sung with a female trio gives this particular track a spark. (They also perform a decent version of Player’s “Baby Come Back.”)

CATCHING UP WITH TRUTH AND SOUL

The spring is shaping up to be a good one for Truth and Soul with the next Lee Fields & the Expressions album on its way but their winter was solid too (and apologies for not getting this out sooner). Their reissue dept. has been busy with a trio of fantastic releases, starting with…

Qunestine Strong: One Hundred Years From Now
From 7″ (Truth and Soul, 2013)

Apart from having one of the more unique names I’ve ever seen, this is one of the few soul singles I can think of out of Phoenix, recorded (I think?) back in 1973. According to the website’s liners, producer Lawrence Carroll had to figure out how to record 16 instruments on a basic 8-track. What you get is this balance between a slightly lo-fi recording and an impressively dense arrangement, all of which creates the sound bed that the aptly named Strong comes in over on and crushes with her vocals. Speaking of lo-fi though:

Beau Williams: I’ll Be Home Soon
From 7″ (Truth and Soul, 2013)

This is fantastic 7″…two unreleased demo tracks recovered from the vaults of Whit Records in 2011. It certainly still sounds like a demo but to me, that’s part of the charm: it’s so damn raw. It also doesn’t hurt that even the demo mix puts the drums up front and center. Both sides are aces. But as good as these two releases are, the release gem is…

Shirely Nanette: Give and Take + Tropic of Love
From Never Coming Back (Satara, 1973)

I wrote about this album nearly two years ago and raved about how it had become an instant favorite. I think it’s fantastic that it’s been reissued so that others can enjoy it. I do wish the liners were a bit more extensive on the reissue; I really want to know more about the recording, especially since Nanette is still around. But that aside, you should get this – such a wondrously diverse album in style and sound. I’m sharing “Give and Take” again as that’s my favorite and this time, I’m including “Tropic of Love” which I didn’t include before.

THAT 70S SOUND

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The Center Stage: Everyday’s a Fantasy
From 7 “(RCA, 1971)

“Crossover” is fairly ill-defined (which is saying a lot since most music genres are ill-defined). I find that it’s one of those cases where “you know it when you hear it” and if you had to come up with a gold standard for what crossover sounds like, you could do worse than Eddie Kendricks or the Sylvers II album but you could just as easily have mentioned Donny Hathaway too. He was as much an architect of that ’70s sound as anyone else and besides his own solo work and partnership with Roberta Flack, he also tried to put together a few groups on his own, include The Center Stage who practically slay me with this Hathaway-arranged cut, “Everday’s a Fantasy.” So good, so good, so good. It’s on a promo-only RCA 7″ but it flies far enough below people’s radar as to be fairly easily to cop if you’re patient.

1619 B.A.B.: World
From 7″ (Brown Door, 1973)

I have no illusions that I will ever own the 1619 Bad Ass Bad LP (either version). A man can still dream, of course, but in the meantime, I shall content myself with the very easily attainable 7″ from the group, which features an absolute gem from them: “World.” Again, I could try to explain it but it’s just “that ’70s sound” that’s perfect here.

WEEKLY ROUNDUP 3-18-14

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  • J-Zone talks about his favorite drum breaks.
  • DJ Cable puts together a great video mix of ATCQ songs/videos.
  • Jefferson Mao interviews former Def Jam publicist Bill Adler (dude is a straight legend).

  • Everything you ever wanted to know about the making of Hard to Earn.

  • This James Brown biopic could suck but I’ll still go see it.

  • Some scandalous MFer stole from drummer James Gadson.
  • Crosstown postage, now with more Hendrix.
  • Before they were a mob music clique/click, they were in a marching band. (h/t egotripland)