Wednesday, September 27, 2006

posted by O.W.

Tony Alvon & The Belairs: Sexy Coffee Pot
From 7" (Atlantic, 1969)

Aretha Franklin: Rock Steady (Alt. Mix)
Unreleased (Atlantic, 1971)

Both available on What It Is!: Funky Soul and Rare Grooves (1967 - 1977)

Among the various activities that had me busy earlier this year was writing the liner notes for this Rhino Records' new 4-CD boxset. It is, to be sure, an ambitious effort, even for reissue specialists like Rhino: 91 songs, drawn from the vaults of Atlantic (including ATCO, Cotillion and other subsidiaries), Warner Bros. and Rhino itself.

I pulled two cuts - one a personal favorite, the other one an "exclusive" featured in the boxset. "Sexy Coffee Pot" is possibly the most desired of the various songs included on the album, a 45 only funk cut that's well-known but still fetches hundreds on the market. It's easy to see why - it's such a solid, front-to-back dancefloor burner, with a heavy horn section to keep the mood hot while the bassline locks everything down, especially during the brief but memorable solo.

The Aretha is a notable treat: an alternative mix of "Rock Steady" that doesn't sound that different on the front end but once you get the second half, you can hear the new direction it goes in.

I've got a couple of 17-song samplers that Rhino was kind enough to spot me with to give away to Soul Sides listeners. To win 'em, answer this:

At least two of the songs in the boxset have appeared on Soul Sides at some point in the past. Name two and win a sampler. Send your answers to, attn: Funk Box Trivia.

Good luck!

Got the winners...(I'll email you if you won). The correct answers would have been two out of these three:
Grasella Oliphant's "Get Out of My Life Woman"
Wade Marcus' "Spinning Wheel"
Cold Grits' "It's Your Thing"
Wilson Picket's "Engine #9"

Bonus round: name all eight albums the new Soul Sides banner is built from. Post your answer to the comments, make sure I have your email address. First one gets a What It Is sampler.

Monday, September 25, 2006

posted by O.W.

I wrote this. Cop it when they drop it.

(No, not the Baltimore club article. The other one).

Thursday, September 21, 2006

posted by O.W.

Aretha Franklin: One Step Ahead
From 7" (Columbia, 1964?)

I know this is supposed to go on Soul Sights but it deserves more shine.

Here's the thing you have to understand: this is one of Aretha's rarest sides on Columbia (where she was, more or less unsuccessfully, before Atlantic signed her and nurtured her into soul's greatest female icon). Let's put it this way: I'm a huge Aretha fan, I love her Columbia years and I love this song in particular...and I don't even have a copy of the 45. It doesn't even appear on an LP - besides a greatest hits comp which is how much folks come by it.

Yet, amazingly, there's actual footage of her performing this song. Seriously, my mind is so blown right now.

(And yes kiddies, we know, this is where "Ms. Fat Booty" came from).
(Source: Soulstrut)


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

posted by O.W.

Roy Haynes: Guadelupe
From Jazz A Confronto 29 (Horo, 1975)

This is one of those albums I would only have only learned about at the GM - an Italian jazz series that invited different artists to record single albums. This one was by drummer Roy Haynes and it showcases the legend gettin' nasty on the jazz funk tip.

The only thing is: at the time I first heard it, I was really into this sound but these days, most "funky jazz" leaves me as inspired as a yawn. The real saving grace here is the fact that Haynes cuts loose on a drum solo with some deft combinations of rolls, fills and of course, breaks...and does this for two minutes. You can't be mad at that.


Monday, September 18, 2006

posted by O.W.

Ozel: Ozel's Dance Routine
From How to Belly Dance For Your Sultan (Elay, 196?)

Günter Noris Jet Sound Inc.: Spinning Wheel/Son of a Preacher Man
From Party Pepper No. 1 (Hör Zu/EMI, 196?)

I was combing through some of my more left-field LPs and had forgotten about the Ozel LP. Ozel is the dancer by the way, not the group, but this song veers from the kind of Middle Eastern belly dance routine you've probably heard in one too many Hollywood movies and then drops into some thick slabs of funk that drop in out of nowhere. I didn't post up the entire song (it's 15 minutes) but gave you enough of a before-and-after taste to help you appreciate how strange an interlude that passage is.

The Günter Noris track is just one of many cover medleys on the Party Pepper album and for my money, was the only one that wasn't completely pop/cheesed out even though it's still plenty cheesy. That said, I never get tired of funky covers of "Spinning Wheel" let alone one that goes into "Son of a Preacher Man" another personal favorite song o' mine (even if I do like Aretha's better than Dusty's).

Sunday, September 17, 2006

posted by O.W.

Ghostface Killah: Return of the Iron Man
From ? (2006)

(credit: The Strut)

Sounds like it's from a new J-Love mix-CD. Rumored to also be on a new Theodore Unit LP. Either way, it's just another reason why Ghost may be the last 80s 70s baby left worth listening to. This isn't necessarily Ghost par excellence but on this Sunday afternoon? Yeah, I can rock with it.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

posted by O.W.

Fergie: Fergalicious + Clumsy
From The Dutchess (Interscope, 2006)

People are going to hate. And that's fine. I mean, it's Fergie. Thus far, she's proven herself to be a songwriter of unfathomably limited skills and a singer whose style clones other singers like a Star Trek replicator.

That said, when it comes to a great pop tune, a lot of that can be entirely irrelevant. Just listen to "Clumsy" ("Fergalicious" is rap kitsch if such a thing ever existed but hey, shout out to Afro Rican, givin' it all they got).

BTW, here's a bonus for you:

(thanks to HHH)

posted by O.W.

Shot in the dark: I'm helping on a Betty Davis reissue CD (official, not some shady bootleggery) but we're having a tough time finding photos of her back from back in the 1970s. On the random, off-chance that you or someone you know may have photos of her (performances, on the street, with Miles Davis, etc.) please holler at me.

P.S.: I appreciate people's suggestions and offerings so far. Just to be clear: you're not going to find anything online that we haven't already found. Seriously. At this point, what we need is people who have photos that have never been scanned or published since we have leads on photos from old magazines and photo archives (like Michael Ochs) already.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

posted by O.W.

Battered Ornaments: The Crossword and the Safety Pins + Late Into the Night
From Mantle-Piece (Harvest/EMI, 1969)

I'm a psych newbie - actually, now that I think about it, I don't know if there's any genre I'd dare profess expertise in. One thing about music you learn very quickly is that there's always more to learn. This said, I really don't know much about psych except that 1) psych collectors are not to be messed with lightly. They'll drop mortgage loot on a record if they want it bad enough and 2) it's appeal lies in precisely how weird yet sublime its mix of cross-genre music and mind-bending songwriting can be. I first really started to listen to psych LPs at the Groove Merchant and was introduced to this album by Shane aka Sharpshooter who first played this at a gig we shared and then I heard it again once when Cool Chris had a copy of the album at the store. (Just to quickly note: I own the American EMI issue but the OG is actually the UK-released Harvest issue for those we keep track of these sort of things).

This Battered Ornaments LP is a good "starter" album (albeit not a cheap one) for getting into psych - it's not necessarily best in the genre but sit with this enough (especially while perhaps under the influence of some substance) and for me at least, it leaves me hungry for more. That's what I mean by a starter album.

The bonus is that it has such a rich back story. The Battered Ornaments began as a backing group for Pete Brown (of later Cream songwriting fame) and this was to be their second album. However, Brown had a falling out with some of the other band members after they had largely recorded the entire LP. With Brown now booted, the group took all his vocals off the recording tapes and re-recorded all of them on their own. The result, some critics note, is less rich given Brown's absence but his songwriting still lingers here and you can imagine how some of the more zooted out songs (like "Safety Pins") might have sounded with Brown on there.

Either way, what's impressive about this album in particular is how completely different the moods can be. Few tracks sound like any other on the LP and I pulled out two of my favorites that just happen to illustrate what I'm talking about here. "The Crossword and the Safety Pins" is this slow, sleepy, mesmerizing vocal performance underpinned by the resolute stomp of the heavy drums and the choir-like vocal accompaniment. I love how the song builds and swells over its 5.5 minutes.

Then listen to something like "Late Into the Night" which basically sounds like a spiritual jazz tune you might have expected on a Gary Bartz LP, and it's hard to imagine them being on the same album (the acclaimed Deidre Wilson Tabac LP is much like this as well). This is such a groovin', sweaty track, filled with an energetic pulse that makes "Safety Pins" sound even more lethargic than it already is. I like both songs, for completely different reasons. I get, you know, psyched out for 'em (har har har, sorry about that).


Saturday, September 09, 2006

posted by O.W.

Ike Turner and the Kings of Rhythm: Funky Mule + Getting Nasty
From A Black Man's Soul (Pompeii, 1969)

It's a shame that Ike Turner had to be such a crazy, abusive s.o.b. since it's hard to listen to his music without thinking, "oh yeah, this was the dude who used to beat Tina. Crazy s.o.b." That said, A Black Man's Soul is still a great album, regardless of the personality behind it, and thanks to all the interest that's been directed at it over the years, it's been available on reissue for a while.

I'm sure some other audioblog has posted up these songs or probably the entire entire at some point but if you've never heard the music off here before, it's very, very good acoustic funk being played by a small outfit. "Funky Mule" is a cover of Marvin Holmes' hit dance (Bay Area, represent) and dare I say, I think it comes off a bit tighter than Holmes' version. For me however, the real gem is "Getting Nasty" - I love how they manage to make a piano-powered song like this swing with such a slick, funky feel. It's easy to see why both Large Professor and Jurassic 5 were so into the song.


Tuesday, September 05, 2006

posted by O.W.

James Brown: Your Cheatin' Heart + September Song
From Soul On Top (King, 1970)

I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to work on a story for the L.A. Times that ran today about James Brown's "Soul On Top" concert he's giving tomorrow at the Hollywood Bowl. The article breaks down the history of the project but here's the short version: Soul On Top was a 1970 album Brown recorded with a 20 piece big band lead by drummer Louie Bellson with arrangements by Oliver Nelson. For the concert, Brown is teaming with Christian McBride who put together a 17 piece band and Bellson will be featured on at least one song.

Like 1969's Gettin' Down To It (recorded with Cincinnati's Dee Felice Trio), it has Brown singing jazz, pop and country standards with a "jazz" band though obviously, the big band power of Bellson's players creates a different atmosphere than what Felice's trio knocked out. All in all, it's one of Brown's more interesting albums to be sure - it probably sounds less dramatic now (in a time where "big band funk" isn't as unusual as it might have been in the late '60s) but it's not less unique amongst Brown's massive catalog. I wanted to do two things with this post: one was to give folks a sampling of this album, the other to add some details that, for a variety of reasons, were left out of my story.

To begin with: it was very tough just selecting two songs from the album since really, I would have been just as happy with another pair than what I selected. What these two share in common - and why I chose them - is that they're some of the more dramatic re-envisonings of "classic" standards that Brown had and Nelson pulls off the arrangements (as per Brown's direction) beautifully. Both of these are supposed to be slow ballads but they get remade into what Bellson described to me as "boogaloo" rhythms (though Brown disagreed with the application of the term for reasons I didn't quite get). The simpler way to say it is that they become funky, mid-tempo tracks that give a once-familiar song a whole new makeover. Personally, I'd probably given the edge to "September Song" as the better of the two but frankly, I think both are great.

This said, i don't want to dress up the album as simply "funky big bang jazz!" without acknowledging that while Brown certainly wanted to bring a funk element into the project, there are some songs, especially the excellent "That's My Desire" which are all soul and do a great job of showcasing Brown's versatile vocal talents.

As for that bonus content, here's a few based on my interviews with James Brown, Christian McBride and Louie Bellson:

James Brown on how he thought Bellson's big band performed compared to his own band:
    "It was stiff - I wasn't going to get out [of a big band] what I [could] put together [on my own] because they could make the quick turns and quick hits. [The big bang] swang, I didn't want them to swing, I wanted them to CHOP, BAH, DAH, BAH BAM, you know."
(Just to note: Brown was "very, very pleased" with the band but the specific question was how ddi they perform compared to Brown's normal stage band).

Christian McBride on the challenges of writing new arrangements because Nelson's originals were lost:
    "’ I hired a guy named Ed Palermo who’s a brilliant musician and arranger, he does the Frank Zappa Big Band in New York, he transcribed all of the charts off the album, which was pretty incredible, because the horns weren’t recorded very well. Listening to the original masters when we went back to listen to some of that stuff the mics were really far away from the horns so it kind of sounds like they had one mic over each section so it was kind of hard to really hear the individual parts compared to a Sinatra album with Nelson Riddle where everything is crystal clear. Considering that he did a hell of a job."

Louie Bellson on the actual recording sessions that took place in November of 1969:
    "It couldn’t of been any better, because sometimes you do a CD, it can be a great band and the singer is not up to it or the singer is not gelling right. That can happen with the best of them, but this is a case of right from the first note that the band played to the first arrangement, we were in, we all knew this was going to be something great. Oliver played a big part of it. He had a chance to work with James before the recording so a lot of the background was something things that James Brown dictated to Oliver and Oliver knew exactly what he wanted. I think that kind of pre-recording is important, because you have to sit with the artists, especially the arranger to know what kind of background to use or write. That really was 90 per cent of the battle right there."

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Monday, September 04, 2006

posted by O.W.

Nico Gomez: Aquarela + Samba De Uma Nota So
From Bossa Nova (Omega, 197?)

This was the very last LP I picked up at the Groove Merchant before blowing out of town. I think it's safe to say that the store has the best Brazilian collections on the West Coast and even though I'm still a babe in the woods about the various genres coming out of Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro, I certainly got exposed to more good Brazilian there than I would have under other circumstances.

What's interesting about Nico Gomez is that despite having put out any number of very collectible Latin and Brazilian albums, he wasn't actually from South America. Born in Amsterdam, Gomez had his mark in Belgium where he lead a series of different bands (and recorded under his own name). His best known outfit were the Chakachas who scored a cult hit in the '70s with "Jungle Fever" (on Polydor no less) but he also headed up the El Chicles. There are few Belgium composers from that era with a more consistent track record for straight up funky and Latin-flavored tracks.

Bossa Nova contains one of his biggest hits in the genre: "Aquarela," a slick, mid-tempo dance track. It's ended up on a bunch of cheap Gomez compilations from the era and it's hear to hear why with its samba rhythms and those distinctive vocals. Personally though, I kind of prefer Gomez' take on "One Note Samba (Samba De Uma Nota So)": it's such a wonderfully chill song, especially with the interplay between the vibes and piano. Definitely some Sunday afternoon music.

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Sunday, September 03, 2006

posted by O.W.

Monomono: Give a Beggar a Chance
Ofege: Whizzy Ilabo
Both from EMI Super Hits 2 (EMI, 197?)

Like many, I know about Fela Kuti but beyond that, my Nigerian music knowledge is wafer-thin. As I've been introduced to other material, I can easily see why Afro-rock/funk music has such a cult following. To make a completely obvious observation, they blend up the familiar with "the exotic" insofar as it's clear that many Afro-pop groups took their inspiration from American R&B and rock traveling across the Atlantic back in the '60s and '70s. At the same time, their approach, borrowing from traditions within the African musical aesthetic, sounds like very little within the American canon, especially in their differences in keys and scales.

These two cuts come off a fantastic 1970s compilation that EMI - home to many important Nigerian groups of this era - put out. As it turns out, Josh Bea aka DJ B.Cause already put two songs off this comp onto his "summer songs" post back in June: I learned about the album from him (via the Groove Merchant, as it were) and had spent months trying to track down a copy of my own. This whole comp makes for a great sampler of the Nigerian sound of the early '70s and I'm very curious to know what Vol 1 sounds like.

Monomono's roots trace back to Fela Kuti's band: the leader of Monomono (which means "dawn of awareness" in Yoruba), Friday Jumbo, was originally a congeuro for Fela and left the band to join forces with vocalist Joni Haastrup (who would blossom into a legend) and bassist Kenneth Okulolo. From best I can tell, they put out several albums in the early/mid-1970s and this track was almost certainly taken from their EMI Nigeria LP Give a Beggar a Chance.

Ofege seems to be a grand story: they were a high school band who followed in the footsteps of groups like Monomono, BLO as well as Santana and Robert Plant. For a bunch of teenagers, they certainly had solid musical chops as heard on this song and other cuts off their debut, Try and Love. You can hear on "Whizzy Illabo" that fusion between psych, funk, soul, and rock, filtered through an Afro-pop sound that's able to embrace these various styles without sounding forced or contrived.

By the way, our respected comrades over at Captain's Crates has up another one of our Top 10 favorite Latin dance tunes. Get with the "Royal Marcha" while the gettin's good.

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Friday, September 01, 2006

posted by O.W.

I've been wanting to post so many YouTube videos of late but I didn't want to clutter up the main Soul Sides page too badly so I created a new sub-site: Soul Sights.

From now on, I'll be posting strictly video content there and leaving Soul Sides for music only. In the meantime, be sure to check out the vintage Eddie Kendricks/Soul Train performances. Great stuff.