The Relatives: More Time (To Explain) (Archway, 1971, 7″)
I learned about this Bay Area 7″ from the late Matthew Africa; I not only have a soft spot for Bay Area sweet soul and songs that use both male and female singers, but throw in some background harmonizing and I’m positively weak in the knees.
Best that I can piece together, the Relatives were a one-off group put together by Archie Reynolds III (producer) and Larry Coney (singer/writer/co-arranger). There’s a remarkable musical biography of Reynolds available here; he grew up in New Orleans but moved to San Francisco in the war years and became a fixture in the local gospel scene there, particularly via his involvement with The Paramounts. He created Archway in the early 1960s, alongside a variety of entrepreneurial endeavors, the most successful being Archie’s Hickory Pit down in Bayview.
It doesn’t sound like Archway ever released much besides a comedy album and this 7″ which included Reynolds’s long-time friend Coney. Unfortunately, I can’t find any info on who the female background singers were but I presume they were likely recruited out of the various gospel camps that Reynolds was affiliated with.
Major Lance: Sweet Music (Okeh, 1963, 7″) (Available on The Best of Major Lance
There’s an entire generation of early 1960s R&B artists that I’ve yet to sit with; a huge gap in my soul knowledge. That certainly includes Major Lance who I was mildly aware of but until I picked up this pic-sleeve 7″ from the Groove Merchant in the fall, I had never owned anything by him before. I had heard “Um Um Um Um Um Um,” before but “Sweet Music” was entirely new to me and I was instantly charmed by the shimmering guitar and finger snaps on the intro. Sweet music, indeed.
It’s also an interesting b-side insofar as it’s not quite a ballad but also not another dance tune. More than anything, it reminded me of something Brenton Wood might have recorded, albeit four years later. Then again, maybe I’m just mashing up “Boogum Oogum” with “Um Um Um Um Um Um” in my head.
For day 3 of the 7 Days of Soul challenge, I plucked out a b-side from a 7″ I scored whilst out in Paris in the summer (s/o to Superfly).
Henry Lumpkin: If I Could Make Magic (Buddah, 1967, 7′) (Available on Classmates)
I had never heard of Lumpkin before and perhaps that’s not surprising since he was one of those ’60s artists who landed some promising opportunities – first at Motown, then at Buddah – but couldn’t crack the barrier to national stardom. One rumor I read was that he was too heavy-set for the consumer public and whether that’s true or not, his voice is so light on this side that I was surprised to know he had the reputation for being big.
None of this is particularly relevant to how lovely this song is.”It I Could Make Magic” was written by a trio of men who previously had worked on the Shangri-La recordings – Kenneth Hollon, Robert Bateman, and Ronald Moseley – with Bateman co-producing the song alongside Lou Courtney. This sweet soul number is gentler then most of Lumpkin’s ’60s output and while it’s not too far outside of a conventional, doo-wop-influenced crooner, it has all the elements in a classic lowrider oldie including a heavy, lumbering rhythm and an unexpected dash of flute that darts beneath Lumpkin’s vocals. Throw this one on during a summer night drive under moonlight; top down if possible.
Lumpkin worked with Robert Bateman – an incredibly prolific writer, arranger, producer – as well as producer Lou Courtney and co-writer
Day two of the 7 days of soul challenge brings me to a song I first heard via Heartbreak Radio:
The Arcs: Stay In My Corner (Nonesuch, 2015, Yours, Dreamily)
The Arcs pairs Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys with Leon Michels of Truth and Soul Records plus a crack team of New York’s retro-soul studio musicians including drummer Homer Steinweiss and bassist Nick Movshon. I confess, when I first heard about this project in the late spring, I was looking forward to see how their album, Yours, Dreamily would turn out but totally forgot that it came out, um, in September. Oops.
That said, “Stay In My Corner,” stayed in heavy rotation for much the year. It’s got this perfect blend between the kind of Southern fried blues sound the Black Keys are known for – weighty and a touch distorted – with the kind of bright, soulful flair that Michels and company have been cooking up in Brooklyn since the days of Desco. It’s a deeply romantic song (even though, unexpectedly, it’s dedicated to the Mayweather/Pacquiao fight since the single’s release was timed with that rather disappointing bout (they couldn’t have known that, but still). Now, you’ll have to excuse me while I go catch up with Yours, Dreamily.
Did I forget to mention that for the last year, I’ve been a member of the Pop Rocket podcast? Oops.
But check it out, the other week, we celebrated our 50th episode by revisiting the year in pop culture for 1965. For the occasion, I scoured the thousands of soul songs that came out that year, picked out a slew of my personal favorites…and then looked to see which of ’em where on Spotify.
I’ll say this much about ’65. On the one hand, it’s not my favorite year of the ’60s in terms of music. Motown and Stax needed a year or so more to mature into the eras of their respective sounds I most enjoyed. Atlantic’s Aretha moment was still a couple of years away. Funk wasn’t a household term yet.
But below the top of the charts, I was reminded of how great every year of the decade was for R&B. Some of my all-time favorite soul songs came out in ’65 – the Manhattans’ “Follow Your Heart,” Holly Maxwell’s “Only When You’re Lonely,” The Mar-Keys’ “Grab This Thing“, Allen Toussaint’s “Go Back Home“, et. al. Even though it took a long ass time for me to sift and compile this, I’m very much tempted to do this again, maybe for ’66 or ’67 (or ’64 or ’63, or…)