Sunday, April 30, 2006

posted by O.W.

Smith: Baby, It's You
From A Group Called Smith (Dunhill, 1969)

Still on the road. Just got back from Seattle and Portland - I attended a day and a half of the 5th annual EMP Conference of which I've gone every year even though, this year, didn't present. Some really great papers though and it was very, very good to run into many old friends and colleagues, many of whom I only see once a year. Based on some convos I had there, we might be hearing something more from UW-Madison's Charles Hughes who brought us that great Muscle Shoals series of posts earlier this year - he's got something about the intersection b/t soul and country music that I think is going to blow people's minds. Likewise, good friend Joe Schloss gave an amazing paper on Sly Stone that he promises to convert into a post for us. There's a few other papers I might try to solicit but we'll see what works out.

The song below isn't actually related to any of that but I learned about the Smith's cover of the Shirelle's "Baby, It's You" when I was doing research on the Gayle McCormick album I wrote about earlier. She started in Smith before going solo and "Baby, It's You" was their big hit. I. LOVE. THIS. SONG. Seriously, I cannot get enough of it. This is the exact kind of cover that gets me loopy with excitement. It's familiar yet takes off in a completely different direction at the same time and McCormick just KILLS it on the vocal. Too bad the rest of the album was more or less unlistenable to me. I don't care though, "Baby, It's You" is good enough to hold down a double album of tepid tracks. I drove from Portland to Seattle and back and that song held me down for the 6 hour round trip.

Labels: ,

posted by O.W.

Romano Mussolini Trio: Hong-Kong
From Mirage (PDU, 1974)

Joe Bataan: This Boy
From Sweet Soul (Fania, 1972)
While flying back fro Seattle and reading this month's Atlantic Monthly, I read that Romano Mussolini died. For those unaware, Mussolini was an Italian pianist and a well-respected jazz musician in that country. He was also the song of Benito Mussolni. Aka the dictator who joined forces with Hitler during WWII and was subsequently caught and hanged. It's an interesting backstory for Romano, to be sure, but his music speaks for itself regardless of the surname. Mussolini was very prolific, much of his stuff was straight-ahead, but Mirage has become popular (not to mention $$$) amongst soul-jazz heads, namely for its funky arrangements and Mussolini's choice to play a Rhodes electric piano on it. I've always liked this album for its sound - fusion-y at times but definitely far from overboard. I went with "Hong-Kong" which didn't sound like what I expected - exotica - it's actually a very nice, soulful arrangement.

Also, it's no secret I'm a big Joe Bataan fan. I've spent a good deal of time interviewing him and will certainly be writing more on him in the future. However, surprisingly, I don't actually own any of his original Fania material - I have his post-Fania albums on Mericana and Salsoul but his Fania material isn't cheap and for whatever reason, I was slacking in going out to find more of it. However, I recently had a chance to pick up Sweet Soul and I would have just bought it on the strength of the cover alone. However, it opens with this great cover of "This Boy" by the Beatles. Hope you enjoy - I certainly did.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

posted by O.W.

The Coup: I Ain't the N---- (Orig. Mix)
From EP (Polemic, 1991)

The Coup: Dig It! (Remix)
From 12" (Wild Pitch, 1993)

The Coup: F--- a Perm (LP Mix)
From Kill My Landlord (Wild Pitch, 1993)

The Coup: Takin' These (Remix)
From 12" (Wild Pitch, 1994)

First of all, along with Ghostface's Fishscale, The Coup's new Pick a Bigger Weapon is one of the best rap albums I've heard in 2006 and it will definitely make my Top 10 for the year. Buy this album.

Second of all, if it wasn't for the fact that Boots and Pam take over 4 years to put out albums, I'd probably remember more often that The Coup are one of my favorite rap groups ever and I came to the realization the other day: they're also one of the most consistent musical acts I know of. Seriously, five albums, not a dud in the bunch even if one can nitpick small issues. Even Jay-Z, De La Soul and the Wu have dropped lackluster CDs...the only other group with as good a track record as The Coup is probably Outkast so that means Boots and Pam are in great company.

Third, Buy this album. Just in case you didn't hear me the first time.

Fourth, has a seriously awesome two-part interview with Boots up right now. Here's Part 1, Part 2 coming soon.

Fifth, I wanted to hit ya'll with some of my favorite Coup tracks from the early part of their career, back when I was first discovering them. The first is off the group's very first release, a 1991 EP that had about four/five songs on it. A few of them ended up on the Kill My Landlord album though, in the case of "I Ain't the N----" the original version had a completely different track behind it. The LP version uses "The Message" by Cymande which was actually a great call but this original is an interesting early look, especially with its P-Funk-y track.

"Dig It!" is one of the most underrated examples of lyrical excellence I can think of: in either version (LP or remix) it demonstrates just how talented Boots is as an MC and then-member E-Roc plays off his partner beautifully. I also prefer the remix over the original because of the slicker production, especially those lovely horns that open the song plus the handclaps on the track (The Meters I assume).

There's an extended mix of "F--- A Perm" on the B-side of the "Dig It!" 12" but I actually prefer the quick hit of the LP version. Just 42 seconds long, it pretty much says all it needs to in affirming Black (hair) pride. Great track too - super slick and funky.

Lastly, like with the remix of "Dig It!" I prefer the remix of "Takin' These" (which appears on the Genocide and Juice) over the original mix; those guitars are a nice contrast in style and gives the song a smooth layer of melodies to glide on even if the song content is far rougher. Plus, biting the Siamese Cat theme from Lady and The Tramp gets bonus points.

My next Oakland Tribune column (to be run on May 5th) is a review of Pick a Bigger Weapon, plus it explains exactly why I think The Coup are basically one of hip-hop's best groups ever. Check for it when it drops. In the meantime, buy this album.

Unrelated but I was supposed to tell people when my Darondo piece came out. It's out in the new issue of Wax Poetics. Enjoy.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

posted by O.W.

Johnny Paycheck: Impalaville (sampler)*
From Impalaville (Good Records, 2006)

DJs Matthew Africa + B. Cause: Soul Boulders (sampler)*
From Soul Boulders (2006)

I'm going to let you in on the realness: I'm tired of super fried funk. I mean, I like some good gutbucket, Friday night sweat box funk 45s as much as the next guy but it's not what I need right now. I need something sweet and soulful that will relax my mind and heart in these here times.

You need it too. Really, you do. And thus, you need both Soul Boulders and Impalaville.

As someone who listens to a lot of mixtapes and compilations, the mark of a really good one is when I think, "damn, I wish I had done this." I felt that way about both of these.

Impalaville is the creation of Johnny Paycheck aka Johnny Pacheco aka the owner of Good Records NYC. Despite being located in NY however, the album is inspired by L.A. Chicano summer anthems: Low Rider Soul 4 Real. Rarity isn't the point here (though there will definitely be songs you haven't heard before) - it's all about nailing a vibe. Pacheco sets up the mix as the best radio show you never heard - something you can imagine drifting out your car stereo as you cross the bridges of East L.A., 3pm sun blazing overhead.

Believe me, you may look over the tracklisting and say, "yeah but who hasn't heard "Groovin'" or "Evil Ways" before?" Then you'll slip this on at a backyard BBQ one afternoon, watch a dozen people walk up and ask, "hey, what's playing right now?" and realize how genius this is. Everyone, from you parents to your boy/girlfriend to your 11 year old nephew/niece will be feeling this. Top that.

As for Soul Boulders, it's a new mix-CD of "slow, funky soul burners" put together by a tag team of two of my favorite Bay Area DJs: Matthew Africa and B. Cause. Between the two of them, they have crates so deep you could drown in them (and believe me, I'd want to). Seriously, the selections on here are so damn good, I'm already started to plot ways to cop a few of the titles for my own stash.

To put it another way, if you liked my CD, then you will definitely like this too. The 9 minute sampler I include here is the tippy tip of the iceberg.

Once again: both are these are fantastic. GET THEM.

*Sound files encoded at a crappy 64 bitrate. The actual CDs sound, of course, pristine.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

posted by O.W.

The Diplomats: I've Got the Kind of Love
From 7" (Dynamo, 196?). Also on Greatest Recordings.

Gayle McCormick: You Really Got a Hold On Me
From S/T (Dunhill, 1971)

Joe Williams: Sad Song
From Joe Williams Live (Fantasy, 1973)

Mickey and the Soul Generation: Iron Leg
From 7" (Maxwell, 1969). Also available on Iron Leg.

I've been on the road lately - in the last three weeks, I've been to L.A., N.Y.C., Yellow Springs (Ohio), Minneapolis and Denver/Boulder. If you're curious why, peep. I haven't always taken full advantage of my travel schedule to go record shopping while I'm out wherever but this most recent trip last week (to MSP and DEN) lead me and diggin' partner Adam M. to hit up a few spots.

The pipe dream of most road trips is to find some crazy ass $1,000 private press gospel country heat but it's not really all about that (and plus, I, uh, didn't find any of those albums). The fact that you're scouring through random crates means landing on random records that aren't necessarily linked by genre or theme or geography. They're just what you come upon by chance. Here's a quartet from this last trip:

In Minneapolis, Adam and I only had time to really hit up one store so we took the bus out to the southeast part of the city. The store looked fantastic, insofar as it definitely could have been a winner but we actually didn't find a ton that day. I perused the 45 section and found the Diplomats 45. This is what I call a "Shaolin soul" type cut (in deference to RZA's taste in vintage soul) - gritty yet sweet. The Diplomats are an interesting group - originally formed in Washington D.C. in the late 1950s, throughout the '60s they changed personnel and labels. This single, on Dynamo, was one of half a dozen they cut for the imprint until the early 1970s where they changed their name to the Skull Snaps. Yeah, those Skull Snaps.

The McCormick LP was something I actually saw in Minneapolis but ended up buying in Denver (I was being really cheap on this trip and wasn't trying to spend more than a few bucks if I could help it). McCormick originally was the lead singer for the L.A. based rock group Smith and then went solo in the early 1970s. This was from her first solo LP and I'll be honest - while she's not bad for a blue-eyed soulster, I wasn't really blown away by the arrangements on the album even though she covers "A Natural Woman," "Rescue Me," and "Save Me." I did, however, like her cover of "You Really Got a Hold On Me" especially for the instrumentation and how it begins with the bassline and electric piano.

Speaking of Denver, we hit up two stores - the first located in a strip mall in one of those cookie-cut suburban sprawl zones that you see in many cities throughout America (unfortunately). Cool store though - it was combined with a book store/gaming store - basically a geek's wet dream (did I mention the huge vintage porn collection too?) The Williams LP came out of there...the moment I needle-dropped on "Sad Song," it sounded familiar and looking at the back, I realized it's because the most of the same personnel who play on here (essentially, the Nat Adderley Sextet) also played on another Fantasy LP around the same time, Soul Zodiac. That explains the smooth funkiness of the backing band.

Last, but not least, I was combing through the 45 box at this store in downtown Denver and pulled out a "well-loved" (read: VG-) copy of "Iron Leg" but for .50 I'm not about to pass up one of the illest funk 45s to ever come out of Texas (and as it turns out, it still sounds pretty good considering the condition). The way this song opens, with the near-distorted guitar and that thick bassline is reedonkulous. By far, my favorite find on this trip.

Like I said, I didn't pull anything bonkers but it was nice being out in the field again after a long year+ of just eBay "digging" and the weekly sojourn to the Groove Merchant.

Friday, April 14, 2006

posted by O.W.

1) As some of you have noted, I've finally installed a new banner. No contest this time but if people want to take some guesses at all eight people (and/or albums) feel free to put forward your conjectures in the comments. NOTE: picture two is NOT from an album cover but is just a photo of the group. Everything else is from an LP cover.

2) Our friend Jesse just posted this remarkable anti-Communist soul song over at The Sound of Young America. Check it out.

3) I've been noticing that there's been a few MP3 blogs shutting down shop: The Perfect Beat and Vinyl Addicts to note just two that officially closed. However, I deleted at least 10 off the blogroll that clearly are dead (when you don't have a new post in the last six months, you might as well be) or are on the verge.

I also made the decision not to link to blogs that exclusively post up full albums. I know this is a growing phenomenon but I can't truck with it on multiple levels, both ethical and personal. I might re-evaluate that policy at a later point.

I also didn't have a chance to put up new possible links for review. Ran out of time just going through all the defunct ones.

5) Finally, R.I.P. June Pointer of the Pointer Sisters. Proof too.


Tuesday, April 11, 2006

posted by O.W.

Sunset Travelers: On Jesus Program
From On Jesus Program (Peacock, 1965)

O.V. Wright: 8 Men and 4 Women
From 8 Men and 4 Women (Back Beat, 1968)

O.V. Wright: A Nickel and a Nail
From A Nickel and a Nail (Back Beat, 1971)

O.V. Wright: We're Still Together
From We're Still Together (Hi, 1979)

(Ed. The following post comes to us from Soul Sides reader Manu from France. Yeah, we continental like that.)

I can't remember the very first time I heard about O.V. Wright but I guess it was either Peter Guralnick's Sweet Soul Music or a Jay Owens' interview (who played guitar and toured with O.V. Wright) that planted the idea that I should listen to some his music.

You couldn't find his original albums as CDs then (you still can't) but an excellent compilation of his songs on Back Beat had just came out, The Soul of O.V. Wright. It was nothing short of an illumination.

Overton Vertis Wright was born October the 9th, 1939 in Leno, Tennessee, right outside of Memphis. Like many of his peers, he honed his singing early in the church choir where his talent was soon noticed. During the 50s and early 60s, he sung with local gospel acts: the Memphis Five Harmonaires, the Spirit of Memphis Quartet, the Luckett Brothers, the Highway QC's and the Sunset Travelers (with whom he started recording for Peacock in 1964).

His first foray into secular music was the original 1964 version of "That's How Strong My Love Is" for Goldwax (a song written by Roosevelt Jamison). The song was picked by local DJs and later got covered by Otis Redding. This success, instead of kickstarting his secular career, stalled it: Don Robey, Peacock Records' boss, claimed O.V. Wright was still under contract and filed a lawsuit against Goldwax.

O.V. switched to Peacock records subsidiary Back Beat and in 1965 he released albums If It's Only For Tonight and 8 Men and 4 Women. Each respective album featured 2 beautiful ballads, the kind he excelled at: "You're Gonna Make Me Cry" and the haunting "8 Men and 4 Women," his 2 highest-charting songs.

On his his next album, 1969's Nucleus of Soul, O.V. Wright started working with Memphis producer Willie Mitchell, the beginning of a long and successful collaboration. The next two albums on Backbeat, A Nickel and a Nail and Ace of Spades (1971) and Memphis Unlimited (1973), are arguably his best, finding O.V. on the brink of despair, singing with devastating power.

After leaving Back Beat in 1973, O.V. signed with Willie Mitchell's Hi-Records and they released 4 LP's, since reissued as The Complete O.V. Wright on Hi Records, Vol. 1: In the Studio.

However, after years of hard work, drug abuse, and personal problems, his health went into sharp decline. On his last album : We're Still Together (1979), released not long before his death at only age 41 (heart attack), his voice sounds like a broken bell, but in a similar way to Billie Holiday's last records, it is very moving despite the awful back-up vocals and bubble-gum-disco music.

Through all this, I was always smitten by his voice: gorgeous, sinuous and punchy. His singing WAS church (imagine Ira Tucker singing the blues). His performances were full of pathos, tension and drama - the epitome of soul music. Finally, I couldn't escape feelings of sympathy. I mean, his life was built on great talent, great hopes, taken to the brink of success, then slide into hardship and problems, and ultimately, tragically, early death.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

posted by O.W.

The Devics: Distant Radio
From Push the Heart (Filter, 2006)

Feist: One Evening
From Let It Die (Interscope, 2005)

I was recently in Los Angeles while Sharon was attending the Radical Craft Conference in Pasadena. Tasked with occupying Ella for the day, one of my techniques in making sure she was getting her naps in was hitting the road and just driving. Anywhere. Randomly. Which, in L.A. is a rather easy thing to do.

I have a love/love relationship with driving in Los Angeles. Yeah, there's gridlock. There's atrocious air pollution. There's the materialism of equating what you drive with who you are (for the record, I was rolling in a rented Kia mini-van so flossin' I was not). But I grew up in L.A., I learned to drive there, and the radio became part of my life in a completely different way as it turned into a constant companion on the road.

This is hardly a new observation but music simply sounds different - mostly better - in the car. Part of it is the acoustics of the space but all fidelity aside (my first car had a crappy, single speaker stereo with no cassette deck even) the moods invoked by music forms a synergy with the rhythm of driving (except in cases of said gridlock). Everything feels more expansive, more atmospheric (just to abuse that oft-used musical cliche), more perfect in the way we want music to be.

So anyways, I'm winding my way through streets I've never been before, somewhere between South Pasadena and downtown L.A., and I'm tuned into KCRW's Saturday "The A Track" show and these two songs come on, back-to-back and I'm totally mesmerized. Surprising as it may sound, I actually like stuff that's not soul/funk/Latin/hip-hop and for some reason, I've always had a special place for female, moody singer/songwriter types. I think this is because an ex got me into Sarah McLaughlin and then I discovered Aimee Mann on my own and since then, I'm just a sucker for this kind of sound. I'm not making apologies or excuses here: I don't care if other people think it's pretentious indie folk dribble (as one friend said, upon hearing the Devics' song, "that's so Lilith Fair."), I really do like this stuff. In moderation. (I feel the same way about, you know, Young Jeezy).

Of the two, the Devics was more enticing that afternoon - it's those damn guitars and the vocals offer a melancholy yet expansive feel that seems well suited to a long drive to nowhere. By the way, you don't hear it on this song, but elsewhere on the album, the Devics make good use of accordion. You don't hear that everyday. Outside of polka. (Check "A Secret Message To You" especially).

I think Feist has a superior vocalist - I like the edge of her voice and her nuances in singing. Musically, it's a big quiet stormy but again, on a nice Saturday afternoon, it seemed to hit the right groove. Also, Let It Die is more ambitious than Push the Heart but honestly, I doubt either CD is going into my constant rotation despite my soft spot for the two songs in question.

Your favorite road tunes?

Monday, April 03, 2006

posted by O.W.

Diamond D: I Went For Mine
From Stunts, Blunts and Hip-Hop (Chemistry, 1992)

Busta Rhymes: New York Shit
Upcoming from Big Bang (Aftermath, 2006)

?: "Drunk Girl"
From ? (?, 1977)

I first heard this new Busta song on the XXL website and it's just now leaked onto the internet. The first thing I thought when hearing it is, "damn, Busta jacked the beat from Diamond D" (technically, DJ Scratch produced it). After all, it's a very distinctive track and I don't think another rapper has flipped it since Diamond D cut "I Went For Mine" (co-produced by Jazzy Jay) back in 1992. That latter cut was always a favorite of mine from the album even though it only appeared on CD and cassette version but not, alas, the vinyl (it's since been bootlegged on 12").

With Busta's new song, Swizz Beats actually opens the song but he was so incredibly annoying to listen to as a hypeman that I simply edited him out. What's funny is that half the song is really just Busta shouting out every single rapper/producer of note from NYC. I don't mind the roll call but what I thought was a bit weird was that Diamond basically gets a perfunctory shout-out in the "producers" section but Busta seems to have forgotten that he's rhyming over a track that Diamond made famous. Provided, "I Went For Mine" was a sleeper hit but I'm surprised nonetheless. Scratch should have schooled him!

In any case, I don't believe the original sample to "I Went For Mine" was officially cleared back in the day even though 1) it's already been bootlegged on a few comps and 2) according to Diamond himself, he's more or less insulated from any copyright problems over that album at this point. Regardless, I'm not going to list the artist and title here (please respect that - if you throw it up in the comments, I'm deleting it). Sufficed to say: the O.G. track is niiiiiice. Why can't more disco songs sound like this?