Tuesday, January 31, 2006

posted by O.W.

Sorry, I meant to post this up a few weeks back but the Sound of Young America recently had a Southern Soul special that featured interviews with Stax biographer Rob Bowman and plus rapper Devin The Dude. Initially, I thought it was the two men interviewing each other which would have kind of, you know, awesome (especially if both got doobied up) but even with two separate interviews, it's still pretty solid.

(Thanks to Jesse Thorn)

Monday, January 30, 2006

posted by O.W.

The Lyman Woodard Organization: Joy Road +Belle Isle Daze Pt. 1
From Saturday Night Special (Strata, 1975)

Lyman Woodard is one of the many talented jazz artists to come out of Detroit who've managed to acquire a small but loyal cult following; think Marcus Belgrave, Phil Ranelin, Dorothy Ashby, Wendell Harrison, etc. (basically, anyone who ever recorded on Tribe or Strata). Woodard began his career in piano but switched to organ after hearing Jimmy Smith play the B-3 and the mid-1960s, he had formed his early bands, including a trio featuring guitarist Dennis Coffey of later "Scorpio" fame.

By the time for formed "the Organization," in the mid 1970s, Coffey had been replaced by Ron English and the rest of the band was balanced out with Norma Bell on sax, Leonard King on drums, Lorenzo "Mr. Rhythm" Brown and Bud Spangler on percussion and last, and possibly least(?), Charles Moore on triangle (not to disrespect the triangle or anything). The group has been described as "jazz funk," usually not a term held in much esteem by other jazz players though personally, this album in particular seems far more soulful than any kind of slap-bass-kind-of-funk. In other words, for supposedly fusion album, it doesn't sound like many of the trite fusion LPs of the same era.

Partly because Strata is a much desired label, partly because the LP has one of the illest gangsta covers (for a non-gangsta album) ever, and mostly because the music is good, this album has become one of those "holy grail" LPs amongst collectors, going for upwards $200. Whether it's worth it or not is purely subjective...but while I didn't pay quite that much, I don't regret what I did shell out for it.

Right now, the music on here is in the groove of what I'm really into, which is to say: mellowed out soulful jazz. I know other finds it cheesy and hey, diff't strokes, diff't folks. But I seriously like the Sunday afternoon feel of songs like "Joy Road" and "Belle Isle Daze." These two cuts are not representative of the entire LP - there's more uptempo stuff too but they are my two favorites.

In any case, if you like what you hear, don't worry about shelling out $200. You can buy the LP on reissue for a mere $8.99.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

posted by O.W.

Sorry for the slow down in postings the last two weeks. Besides an increase in my freelance work, Charles Hughes' excellent Muscle Shoals series was a hard act to follow and I think, mentally, I was just less inclined to try to post much in its immediate wake. I'll probably be back to a 2-3 post a week average now.

I would like to say though: I'd love to get more people contributing to the site in the way that Charles stepped up. You don't have to be an "expert" per se (though knowledge = good) but have a basic passion to write about an artist or an album is always the most important thing to have. I'm definitely open to suggestions and it'd be nice to help open up Soul Sides to more people who'd like to add their own voices here. You can hit me with your pitches here but if I don't get back to you right away, it's probably because I'm busy with too much else at the moment.

Speaking of which: thanks to everyone who responded to my post about needing both a transcriber and web designer. I couldn't get back to everyone but I'll keep people's emails on file in case the need turns back up.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

posted by O.W.

The Falcons: I Found a Love
From 7" (Lupine, 1962). Also available on A Man and a Half.

Wilson Pickett: 99 1/2 (Just Won't Do)
From The Exciting Wilson Pickett (Atlantic, 1966)

Wilson Pickett: Mustang Sally
From The Wicked Pickett (Atlantic, 1967)

Wilson Pickett: Get Me Back On Time (Engine #9)
From Wilson Pickett In Philadelphia (Atlantic, 1970)

I didn't really do a post on Lou Rawls since I was never a deep enough fan to feel like I had much to say. Pickett, on the other hand, was someone I listened to more. He was never my favorite compared to contemporaries like Otis Redding but for many years, I couldn't get enough of songs like "In the Midnight Hour" (hands-down, one of the best soul smashes of that era). I wanted to write up a small retrospective (emphasis on small) the takes into account the many different paths that Pickett was able to walk in his career.

Unlike the great soul crooners of the 1960s – men like William Bell, Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye, etc. – Wilson Pickett’s strong point wasn’t finesse so much as pure energy and verve. He was a shouter and rocker, with a raw, gritty voice that became his calling card.

His career began in his native Alabama in the 1950s, with a gospel group called the Violinaires but like mentors Sam Cooke and Aretha Franklin, he made the transition from gospel to R&B in the late 1950s. His first group was responsible for several R&B greats: The Falcons. Pickett was a later member, already joining Eddie Floyd and Sir Mack Rice. I've included the Falcons minor hit, "I Found a Love," a song that only features the male artists I listed above, but supposedly, singing back-up were the Primettes who later became...the Supremes. (I can't quite hear them though, but I'm assuming they're on the chorus).

What broke Pickett into superstardom was when Atlantic Records – then home to any number of important soul artists, especially Aretha Franklin – signed Pickett as a solo artist. Producer Jerry Wexler took Pickett down to Stax Studios in Memphis where the raw, Southern rhythm section made an ideal match for Pickett’s vocals. It was there he recorded his first mega-hit, the explosive "In the Midnight Hour" in 1965, along with about half a dozen other songs including a personal favorite of mine from that era, "99 1/2 Won't Do." It's got that classic Stax sound: killer rhythm section and nice, subtle integration of the horns.

This is where things enter into the rumor mill: Pickett's strong-headed personality apparently grated the Stax band and combined with Al Jim Stewart's mistrust of Wexler, Atlantic soon ended their relationship with Stax, sending Wexler in searching for another Southern studio to record the label's talent. Enter Muscle Shoals' Fame, back in Pickett's native Alabama. It was there that Pickett minted his next set of hits, the biggest being the salacious, blues-influenced “Mustang Sally” and uptempo “Land of 1,000 Dances.” The former is one of the nicest slices of slinky funk you'll ever enjoy.

The last major era of Pickett’s career came in 1970 when he returned up north to work with Gamble and Huff in Philadelphia. The resultant album, Wilson Pickett in Philadelphia would be the highest charting album for the remainder of his career, turning out a series of solid singles, especially “Get Me Back On Time,” which (to me at least) shows some distinctive James Brown influences but it's not derivative in any blatant way.

Pickett's career began to decline from there, despite a few other minor hits, including a cover of "Hey Jude." To be honest, I need to check out more of his mid-70s material so if folks have recommendations, leave 'em in the comments.


Wednesday, January 18, 2006

posted by O.W.

People were waiting for some beef to cook off for 2006; some thought it'd be DMX after he left Def Jam. Maybe 50 Cent...who's making making subliminal moves against Jay. Instead, Dipset jumped up (to get beat down?)

Much as I like Cam, for a first shot, this was rather weaksauce. Expect to see Jay come back and crush Killa with his reply.

To quote Cam: "you ain't got no 'Ether' for us?"
(Credit: Catchdubs)

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

posted by O.W.

Dr. Delay: Well Done (snippet mix)*
From Well Done Mix-CD (Funk Weapons Int'l, 2005)

Nas + AZ: Life's a Bitch (DJ Delay remix)
From Medium: Rare II Mix-CD (Funk Weapons Int'l, 2005)

I'll be honest - I often confuse Dr. Delay and DJ Day (who I'll have a post from coming soon)...not just because their names are similar but mostly because both put out kick ass mixes and edit tracks. With DELAY, he's just released a power-pack double-CD set, one of funkalcious b-boy tracks for you to wear your Puma soles out to; the other a collection of rare rap that never compromises quality simply for the sake of obscurity.

I included the first 9 minutes or so of Well Done, the b-boy mix; what's nuts is that Delay manages to find at least a few dozen songs that allows him to maintain the same upbeat groove throughout the entire CD yet it without feeling repetitive or redundant.

The second track is actually a bonus cut that Delay includes at the end of Medium: Rare II, a remix of "Life's a Bitch," by Nas, feat. AZ. If I'm not mistaken, I think Delay actually put this together on a whim for an impromptu remix contest on Soulstrut.com but it hardly sounds like something he slapped together. I was never a huge fan of the original beat to "Life's a Bitch," but I'm loving how Delay gives this song a whole new sound and feel. (Hint: white label needed!)

Both CDs are only available for a limited time (I got #101 out of 250 limited run) so act fast to order.

*I purposefully encoded the snippet at a measly 64 rate. The actual CD sounds much better, believe that.

Monday, January 16, 2006

posted by O.W.

Badfoot Brown and Bunions Funeral Marching Band: Martin's Funeral
From Bill Cosby Presents The Badfoot Brown and Bunions Funeral Marching Band (Uni, 1970)

    Through our scientific and technological genius, we have made of this world a neighborhood and yet we have not had the ethical commitment to make of it a brotherhood. But somehow, and in some way, we have got to do this. We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools. We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured.. - "Remaining Awake Through A Great Revolution". 1968.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

posted by O.W.

The Fame Gang: Soul Feud + Grits N' Gravy
From 7" (Fame, 1969)

I wanted to add an addendum to the excellent series of posts that Charles Hughes put together for us (come back any time!).

As Charles alluded to in one of the comments sections, Fame Studios went through a few distinctive eras of rhythm sections: the one that became most famous was the 2nd incarnation - they were the ones who, for example, worked on Aretha Franklin's debut Atlantic album (and were at the center of the drama that went down between Fame, Atlantic, Aretha and her then-husband/manager Ted White). After the fall-out, almost all of the rhythm section left Fame to go found Muscle Shoals Studios across the street.

When Rich Hall rebuilt the rhythm section, the 3rd incarnation became known as The Fame Gang that that included a scorching Junior Lowe on guitar (he was the lone stay-over from the last Fame section) and Clayton Ivey slapping it down on organ. It says a lot about how deep talent was out in Alabama that Fame could lose most its studio staff and then rebuild just as good as ever. It's also notable that the Fame Gang was far more integrated; 5 of the 8 new members were Black unlike the previous generation which was all white.

The Fame Gang, besides playing back-up, also released their own single and album: what you got here a really nice double-sided instrumental funk cooker. I have a hard time choosing between the two of 'em - "Soul Feud" is a hard-driving funky blues tune, complete with some mean interplay between harmonica and guitar - reminds me very much of something that Harvey Fuqua or Charles Wright might have produced.

Meanwhile, "Grits and Gravy" is a more uptempo funk cooker - slick instrumental that shares much in common with some of Kool and the Gang's early jams. Like I said, a great double-sided 7". (It's just too bad their LP wasn't anywhere near this good.)

posted by O.W.

Arthur Alexander: You Better Move On
From You Better Move On (Dot, 1962). Also on Greatest Hits.

Eddie Hinton: Hard Luck Guy
From Hard Luck Guy (Capricorn, 1998)

(Ed.: This is the third in a three part series by Charles Hughes on the legacy of Muscle Shoals in soul music. --O.W.)

The Muscle Shoals Sound, Pt. 3, by Charles Hughes

Both Eddie Hinton and Arthur Alexander were great songwriters, crafting of soul songs that cut as deeply as those of any of their contemporaries. But I didn't put them here simply for that, although both cuts are self-penned.

Eddie Hinton was also a great guitar player, playing on sessions from the Staple Singers (it's Hinton, not Pops Staples, playing the guitar solo on "I'll Take You There," despite Mavis' cries of "Daddy") to Aretha Franklin. But that's not why he's here either. No, I chose these two songs by these two artists to end these entries on Muscle Shoals because of the fact that both Arthur Alexander and Eddie Hinton were great singers, but not as we would perhaps expect.

Arthur Alexander, a tall and graceful black man who worked as a bellhop before his recording fame and drove a bus after the glory faded, loved country music, and the twangy singing of George Jones, Hank Williams and others. (Alexander was anything but alone in this, as nearly every Southern soul singer expressed their appreciation for country music.) His vocal performances are gentle evocations of country emotionalism that have ostensibly little to do with the preaching, pleading or shouting styles normally associated with soul music.

Eddie Hinton, on the other hand, was another Alabama white boy with a fierce love for black music. Hinton, whose best recordings (including "Hard Luck Guy") were only issued after his death, adored Otis Redding, and applied Redding's intense vocal style to his own, creating music that was no less "soul deep" than any of his African-American counterparts. The white boy singing Otis Redding, like the black man doing George Jones, speaks to the deep interracial paradoxes of Southern soul music, specifically in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Both Hinton and Alexander have stories that end tragically, as both men suffered a lot and died before their time. But neither man's music disappeared when they did. In fact, at least for me, this music defines something very important about the way we think about race, culture and American history. There's a whole lot more I could say, but Alexander and Hinton - like all this week's artists - can say it better than I ever could.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

posted by O.W.

James/Bobby Purify: I'm Your Puppet
From S/T (Bell, 1967). Also on Shake a Tail Feather.

The Sweet Inspirations: Sweet Inspiration
From S/T (Atlantic, 1967). Also on Girls Got Soul.

Aretha Franklin: Do Right Woman, Do Right Man
From I Never Loved a Man The Way I Love You (Atlantic, 1967)

(Ed.: This is the second in a three part series by Charles Hughes on the legacy of Muscle Shoals in soul music. --O.W.)

The Muscle Shoals Sound, Pt. 2, by Charles Hughes

No other songwriters symbolize the interracial exchange in Muscle Shoals soul like Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham, two true individuals who, over the course of a decade-long success streak, wrote literally dozens of classic R&B, pop and even country songs. 

Both men grew up in rural Alabama, listening (like most Southern soul veterans) to country, R&B and gospel.  Penn, in particular, became a nearly trans-racial figure, rejecting white music to such a degree that his band (which featured many future Muscle Shoals session players) was banned from some white-only venues because they drew too many black fans.  (Many consider Penn, unrecorded in his prime, to be the best blue-eyed soul singer they ever heard.)  Like most of the Shoals' white songwriters and musicians, Penn cherished (sometimes imperfectly) the opportunity to work with black musicians in such a highly creative context.

Combining Penn's passion and eccentricity with Oldham's quieter brilliance (and supple keyboard playing) resulted in handfuls of classics. Some of them not included above: "Dark End Of The Street," "It Tears Me Up," "Out Of Left Field" and "You Left The Water Runnin'."  Penn and Oldham continue to write and record to this day, and I can't recommend their performances and recordings highly enough.

I love Penn and Oldham's writing for several reasons.  First, and most important of course, is the simple fact that it's uniformly excellent; they have a tremendous gift to capture emotions simply and effectively.  Then there's the fact that two white country boys from Alabama are responsible for writing so many great Southern soul songs.  Also, Penn/Oldham's sheer versatility marks them, and the three tracks I chose to single out speak to that, deep soul hewn from pop ("I'm Your Puppet"), gospel ("Sweet Inspiration") and country ("Do Right Woman").  It is this versatility, and the resulting mixture, that defines much of Muscle Shoals soul.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

posted by O.W.

Staple Singers: I'll Take You There
Be Altitude: Respect Yourself (Stax, 1971)

Wilson Pickett:
Land of a Thousand Dances
The Exciting Wilson Pickett (Atlantic, 1966)

Jimmy Cliff: Sitting In Limbo
From The Harder They Come
(Mango, 1972)

(Ed.: Charles Hughes is a graduate student at the University of Wisonsin-Madison, where he studies with Craig Werner (author of ""A Change Is Gonna Come"). Hughes studies interracialism in Southern soul music which makes him the ideal person to break down the history and legacy of Muscle Shoals. This is the first in a three part series by him. --O.W.)

The Muscle Shoals Sound, Pt. 1, by Charles Hughes

Muscle Shoals, Alabama, is perhaps the last great center of soul music to not be extensively chronicled in books, films and museums.  Not only did "The Shoals," with its various studios and runs of success, produce as many hits and classics as better-known soul capitals like Motown and Memphis, but the music produced in this tiny area of rural Alabama crossed racial, genre and cultural lines in a fashion that has rarely, if ever, been duplicated in American music. 

Apart from all the pop, rock and country hits produced at Fame Studios, Muscle Shoals Sound and the others, the scene's contribution to soul music, specifically, is fascinating in the way that it demonstrates interracial exchange in the creation of music that was soulful, funky, and very conscious, even celebratory, of its blackness. White rhythm sections combined with integrated horn sections to play on songs by primarly white songwriters sung by black artists, for sale primarily to black audiences (by white-owned record companies.) 

While it's tempting to call this the same old appropriation/exploitation tragedy that has long plagued white appreciation of black culture, a deeper examination of soul from the Shoals reveals that to be far too simplistic a view.  Over the course of this week, I'll offer three pieces of evidence, framed around 8 of (in my view) the best recordings made by this weird and wonderful group of musicians, who damn near created new ways to talk about race and music, and did it at the height of the Civil Rights/Black Power Movements, in the heart of Dixie.

The artists who recorded in Muscle Shoals read like a Southern-soul honor roll: Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Joe Tex, Staple Singers, Percy Sledge and many, many more made some of their best and most popular records there.  While I don't mean to diminish the significance of any of these legends, and their accompanying genius, I hold that any discussion of the interracial paradox in Muscle Shoals soul should start with arguably the greatest of the several studio bands that provided the literal foundations for most of the music the scene produced.  The Muscle Shoals Sound (Barry Beckett, Roger Hawkins, Eddie Hinton, David Hood, Jimmy Johnson, Spooner Oldham) helped launch Fame Studios into the stratosphere of success, then split for financial reasons to form their own studio, also called Muscle Shoals Sound. 

These three cuts capture the all-white MSS at the height of their powers, and each song demonstrates the ease at which these Alabama white boys sank into the deepest, funkiest grooves of late-1960s black music.  The Pickett track is full-roar R&B, and both the Staples and Jimmy Cliff are reggae-gospel blends that are thoroughly convincing, the Staples so much so that Paul Simon asked label head Jerry Wexler who the Jamaicans were playing on the record.  Slipping out of what race was supposed to mean for musical expression, the Muscle Shoals Sound shows just how deep and complicated this story is.\

Friday, January 06, 2006

posted by O.W.

Lou Rawls, dead at 72.

posted by O.W.

Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth: They Reminisce Over You (Vibes Mix)
From white promo 12" (B-side of "Straighten It Out") (Elektra, 1992)

Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth: Mecca and the Soul Brother (Wig Out Mix)
From promo 12" (B-side of "The Creator/Mecca and the Soul Brother") (Elektra, 1991)

Both also available on Unreleased Joints.

I'm sure some other audioblog has already posted one or both of these but I finally got my hands on the "Straighten It Out" promo so that gave me an excuse to post these up. If you're an old fogey like me (read: over 28), you might actually remember when a "Pete Rock remix" was about the best thing you could hope for on a 12". But Pete didn't just remake other people's songs, he took his talents to his and C.L.'s projects too. Let's just get this out of the way: you don't improve on "T.R.O.Y.", period. No way a remix can be better. The "Vibes Mix" is more of something for the curious and the completionist and as it is, it's actually a slight remix of a remix, meaning, it's almost the same as the "T.R.O.Y." remix that appears on the commercial copies of "Straighten It Out," except that it layers an extra loop of (you guessed it) vibes on top. It's nice, don't get me wrong; it's not everyday you can hear a funky version of "Lady Madonna" (well, actually, it's covered a lot amongst jazz heads). Maybe the fact that it was a relatively minor remix is the reason they left it off the commercial copies of the 12" but you can still find it on the promo version of the same single.

As for the "Wig Out Mix" of "Mecca and the Soul Brother," it's from the most elusive promo of the early PR/CL releases, a 12" that features remixes of "The Creator" on the A and "Mecca" remixes on the B. Honestly, I still don't own this: I copped the remix off the "Unreleased Joints" EP from Japan. It's a very stripped mix as you can hear: prominent drums, the infamous "U.F.O." sample, and a sprinkling of horn snippets but for the most part, it's definitely more sparse than the original version. Again: not essential but a cool alternative.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

posted by O.W.

The Waters: My Heart Just Won't Let Go
S/T (Blue Note, 1975)

The Whispers: Your Love Is So Doggone Good
Love Story (Janus, 1972)

The nice thing about cleaning out the record closet is rediscovering songs from albums that have just been sitting around but you never spent much time with. With both The Waters and Whispers, I wasn't really blown away by either album as a whole but I was able to find at least one very good song to pull from each. It's like going through your freezer and discovering an ice cream sandwich you forgot about. Or something like that.

In any case, The Waters were a four-person family group who first recorded for Blue Note. That always seemed a bit odd to me given that The Waters were a soul vocal group and Blue Note was, of course, a jazz label but in the mid-1970s, Blue Note had branched out to record a wider array of artists and vocalizing was hardly unusual (see all the Mizell Bros. stuff for example). "My Heart Just Won't Let Go" is from the B-side of the Waters self-titled album (their only LP for Blue Note): it's a nice slice of funky soul, especially given Chuck Rainey's bass work.

"Your Love Is So Doggone Good" was an early, minor hit for this Los Angeles soul group that's become one of the more prolific ones to survive the 1970s. It opens the B-side of Love Story, the group's second album and first recorded for Janus. I was actually ready to sell this LP back - I wasn't really feeling most of the soul songs on here - until I took another listen to "Your Love" and realized I was being too hasty. The slow build on the song is great, the arrangement is the best of any song on the album, and the Scotts nail the chorus beautifully.

There's also something in this song - which I can't place - which gives me flashbacks of San Francisco in the '70s. I know that sounds weird and I wish I could narrow what mnemonic trigger is being pulled here but even though I'm sure I never heard this song when it first came out (I would have been an infant), it evokes a wistful, almost nostalgic response. Great song, regardless.

Monday, January 02, 2006

posted by O.W.

First of all, a few factoids about Soul Sides in 2005:

  • 707,754 page loads
  • 556,436 unique visitors
  • 219,294 repeat visitors
  • 71,376 page loads in the busiest month (September, followed by August, then April)
  • 58,965 average monthly page loads.
  • 144 (+/- 2) music-related entries (with roughly 2 songs per post)
  • 0 cease and desist letters (woo hoo!)
By the way, at some point tonight in fact, we'll have crossed the 1,000,000th page load since the site's inception. Awesome.

I also just updated the blog roll. What's scary is that I added new links left in the comments section of that entry and while I normally have a handful of new links...I had 21 to add to the "New and Under Review" section. Like whoa.

I will very briefly say that the one thing I noticed in many of these newer sites is my age-old pet peeeve: step up your design game. You don't need super-duper professional templates, but a clean, simple, uncluttered page isn't much to ask for.

And no more black backgrounds with big fonts and multi-colors. It looks like someone slaughtered a zebra at a rave or something. If you insist on rocking a black background, at least be as elegant as these guys or these guys. Actually, no more funky color combinations period: save that for your kicks. If you insist on doing something other than white, then you get your color coordination skillz art school tight.

Ok, rant over.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

posted by O.W.

Music For Robots: "It's everything you want in a great soul comp."

KevChino.com: "...satisfying for audiophiles, it’s also a sexy record as a whole to groove to."

Paper Magazine: "Part history lesson, part novelty disc, but completely essential, Soul Sides represents vintage R&B at its purest and most relevant."

TransformOnline.com: "Wang went the extra mile in assembling a wide spectrum of lesser-heard dope joints, but with enough familiarity...to keep novices from getting scared off."

Indieworkshop.com: "There isn't a clunker in the pile."

Minneapolis City Pages: "...his criteria of inclusion isn't so much bottom-of-the-crate one-upsmanship as musical merit."

Allhiphop.com: "Playing like a companion to the blog that spawned it, Soul Sides Vol. 1 is sure to please lovers of good music, regardless of genre."

Stylus Magazine: "Here's hoping this disc is the first in a very long series."

SF Weekly: "...the collection is as tight as one would expect from the musical gems on Wang's site."

The Hub Weekly: "If this music doesn’t make you move, you may want to check your pulse."

Prefix Magazine: "Consider, then, Soul Sides Volume One Wang's take on grown 'n' sexy."

Seattle Weely: "It seems lazy to breezily claim that all of Wang's picks are stellar, but that is, in fact, the truth."

SF Bay Guardian: "these 14 rare tracks stand alone as fabulous testament to the kind of soul music that made you love music in the first place — sweet, gritty, shake-your-ass-then-turn-the-lights-down tracks that should please everyone from the geekiest aficionado to my Cantonese-speaking dad."

LA Weekly (Part 1): "this compilation isn’t a canonical exercise, it’s a wild array of free associations that make you feel and laugh and dance."

LA Weekly (Part 2): "raw, beautiful, old-fashioned soul music."

Chattanogga Pulse: "There are plenty of conversation-starters here for soul aficionados...but these songs are not just curiosities."

SeeingBlack.Com: "Soul Sides is about great music that far too few are aware of and timeless pieces that deserve more shine."

posted by O.W.

(Editor's Note: I got an IM from my friend Todd Inoue over at the SJ Metro the other week, asking me what "sad" hip-hop songs there were. As it turns out, Todd was working on a list for the Sad 13 Challenge and was trying to fill a gap he noticed insofar as no other writers were dealing with how hip-hop mourns in song. I can't remember if any of my suggestions actually made this list, but regardless, it's an interesting question and Todd's finished piece below might make for a good conversation starter. Thought I'd sound-file it up and see what comes from it. --O.W.)

Dead Homiez
What is the hip-hop equivalent of 'Cats in the Cradle'?

By Todd Inoue

In hardcore rap, machismo is a guiding force, where showing feelings can be interpreted as a weakness and admitting sadness or regret can be a fatal flaw for an opponent to exploit. Maybe that's why many rappers strap on a screwface like body armor. "Nobody likes me and that's OK," rapped 50 Cent in an early mixtape appearance. After this quick admission of vulnerability, he proceeds to blast on haters, free from woe's restrictive grasp.

For a genre known for emotional outbursts, sadness should be a welcome topic of exploration among MCs. As the body count began piling up, new feelings began to emerge: regret, vulnerability, confusion and "is there a better place for me?".

Embracing the ideal of loss lead to some of genre's strongest moments. Yet perusing Sad 13 Challenge lists, I saw that I was the only one to include hip-hoppers. I don't know whether that hints at a generational divide or just the demographic makeup (and resulting tastes) of Bohemian readers. Truth is, there are plenty of rap songs out there that pack the emotional wallop of Elliot Smith or Hank Williams. Here's a couple.

Common feat. Lauryn Hill: Retrospect For Life
One Day It'll All Make Sense (Relativity, 1997)

Common's meditation on abortion is personal and poignant without coming across didactic. The embryo removed, Common wonders how much of his identity was sucked away during the procedure. "I'm sorry for taking your first breath, first step and first cry but I wasn't prepared mentally or financially," he raps in one line. And with Lauryn Hill singing an interpolation of Stevie Wonder's "Never Dreamed You'd Leave in Summer" on the hook, this is a profoundly sad song that begs for a reconciliation that never comes. All that's left is the afterimage of regret. "Next time, I'll use self control instead of birth control because $315 ain't worth your soul."

Ghostface Killah w/Mary J. Blige: All That I Got Is You
Ironman (Epic, 1996)

Abandonment, poverty, roaches in the cereal box, urine-stained mattresses, siblings with birth defects--it's all there as Ghostface keens over his tough childhood. Similar in strata to "Retrospect," "All That I Got Is You" is bare emotion with an R&B diva on the hook to drive the point home. The point being: shit ain't sweet when you're poor. Mary J. Blige serves as a hopeful ray of sunshine swirled in strings of hope.

Lauryn Hill: Ex-Factor
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (Ruffhouse, 1998)

A mournful Hill dissects a relationship going nowhere. Her plaintive cries for an explanation passes through various stages of grief to arrive at the musty core of a love gone rotten.

Ice Cube: Dead Homiez
Kill At Will EP (Priority, 1990)

In a foreshadow of his success on the silver screen, Cube delivers a measured eulogy to fallen comrades without shedding a tear. Over a classic funk bed, Cube exposes the confusion of mourning. "They say 'Be strong' and you're trying/ But how strong can you be when you see your pop's crying?"

The Nonce: Who Falls Apart
From World Ultimate
(American, 1995)12" (B-side of "Bus Stops") (Wild West, 1994)

One of rap's most depressing songs came from the Los Angeles underground by one of its most slept-on denizens, the Nonce. "Who Falls Apart" is about the shadiness of the music business and why good rap groups don't stick around.
(Thanks to Hua for the sound-file)

Eminem: Stan
The Marshall Mathers LP (Aftermath/Interscope, 2000)

Em's narrative told through the perspective of an obsessed fan accelerates in hysterics and showed his critics how complex and amazing a storyteller he can be. The rainstorm effects and Dido sample add to the dark, surreal nature.

Buck 65: Ice
Man Overboard (Anticon, 2001)

Buck 65 recounts the agonizing aftermath of his mother's fatal battle with breast cancer. "All my soul, my head, and aching tummy, why in the world was my mother taken from me."

Kanye West: Roses
Late Registration (Roc-A-Fella, 2005)

His grandmother in a coma, Kanye rushes to the hospital, reflecting upon the family's matriarch and discovering that health care is a class issue. When he asks a nurse for help, she asks if he can sign some t-shirts.