Tuesday, July 28, 2009

posted by O.W.

Social Climbers: Chris and Debbie
From (Hoboken, 1981)

In principle, I really like the whole idea of No Wave; I just don't happen to be that knowledgeable about the movement besides a cursory awareness of 99 Records, Liquid Liquid and ESG (given their influence on hip-hop). When Cool Chris started playing the Social Climbers LP at the Groove Merchant (as you may have noticed, most of my recent posts have all been inspired by my recent trip to the Bay), I was really drawn into the blend of sounds here. Most obviously - at first - it's that funky drum programming which wouldn't have been out of place on Arthur Baker-produced New Order project. Then comes in those hypnotic, druggy guitars and ska-influenced bassline. It's like the great loves of my '80s - New Wave + hip-hop, swirled together.

According to Waxidermy, even though Social Climbers were signed to the NJ-based Hoboken Records, the group is actually from Indiana. (Waxidermy also has another song by them for your listening pleasure).

Speaking of Liquid, Liquid...

Liquid Liquid: Lock Groove (In)
From Successive Reflexes EP (99, 1981). Also on Liquid Liquid

I picked this up ages ago (also from the Groove Merchant) and have been meaning to write about it and now seemed as good a time as any. Liquid Liquid is arguably the best-known of the artists who released on 99 and their post-punk-meets-hip-hop sound has been one of the most influential of all the No Wave artists. In contrast to "Chris and Debbie" which had a more distinct swing to it, "Lock Groove (In)" feels more mechanical (though still funky) and cold, though, compared to, say, Kraftwerk, this is positively cozy.

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posted by O.W.

Jackson 5: Walk On By
From Goin' Back to Indiana (Motown, 1972)

Public Enemy: By the Time I Get To Arizona
From Apocalypse 91...The Enemy Strikes Black (Def Jam, 1991)

Mandrill: Two Sisters of Mystery
From Just Outside of Town CD (LP version) (Polydor, 1973)

I had made passing reference to the Jackson 5 song during all the MJ coverage - it's from a medley of "Walk On By/Love You Save" recorded for the group's live Goin' Back to Indiana album. It's hard to imagine someone really improving one of the most epic, monster funk jams in soul music history but the Jackson 5 really understand the power of that vamp, especially at the breakdowns that come back every 30 seconds.

It's the incredible ferocity of this moment that Public Enemy so beautifully wields to their full advantage on "By the Time I Get to Arizona." What they do at 2:47 in their song is nothing short but a complete distillation of the badassessence of everything that came before it - The Jackson 5, Isaac Hayes, heck, we'll show Burt Bacharach and Hal Davis love here too. They then take this 200 proof spirit, douse the song in it and then light it all on fire.

To put it in a less convoluted-metaphoric way: the moment where the vamp slams in on "Arizona" is, to me, the "Greatest Moment of a Public Enemy Song That Doesn't Come At the Beginning."

Seriously, think about this a second: P.E. has probably the all-time best song openers in hip-hop history. To wit:

1) How Flavor Flav's "yeaaaah, boy!" slides into Chuck D's "bass!" at the beginning of "Bring the Noise."
2) Chuck and Flavor Flav combining to yell, "Nineteen Eighty Nine!" on "Fight the Power."
3) The horn punches sliding into the descending sax - plus Chuck's "Yes!" - on "Rebel Without a Pause."
4) The line, "I got a letter from the government, the other day..." on "Black Steel In the Hour of Chaos."

...you get the idea.

In this case, the key moment isn't at the song's beginning but rather, when "Walk On By" drops in unexpectedly, as Chuck intones, "by the time I get to Arizona!"

The impact is simply devastating. The group flips the first chorus of the Jackson 5 song, which includes the screams of the audience. On the Jackson 5, those screams reflect the fans' excitement; on "Arizona," they sound more like cries of terror, as if P.E. has swept into AZ with an ungodly fury. This is Krishna's arrow, Fudo's sword, Thor's hammer. It takes a nation of a million Minutemen to hold them back.

Lastly, I'd be remiss in not at least giving due credit to the excellence that is Mandrill's "Two Sisters of Mystery" since it provides the main loop that runs through "Arizona." On any other song, this would be the highlight - those angry, buzzing guitars, the slurring bassline - but as good as it is, when the J5 come through, there's no contest.

(A note by a commentor reminded me that I should link to the video for "Arizona" which takes things to a whole 'nother level. I forgot they even made a video for the song and watching it now, you can see that even visually, the group knew how to time the use of the "Walk On By" vamp perfectly with the explosion of violence you see depicted on screen. Mississippi goddamn, this was one incredible video.)

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posted by O.W.

Spinnerty feat. Elliot Peck: Sweet Soul
From 7" (Trazmick, 2008)

Spinnerty feat. EP and Czar Absolute: Feels Like Rain
From 7" (Trazmick, 2008)

At some point last year, someone suggested to me: "check out this guy Spinnerty," including a link to "Sweet Soul." I instantly dug the vibe, it reminded me some of Adriana Evans' songs from the early 1990s or a track that would have gotten some love at Nickies BBQ in the Haight. I should have already known this was out of the Bay but for whatever reason, I thought it was from Seattle. I also couldn't quite figure out who Elliot Peck was but I'm assuming it's the female singer on here...the fact that she's name "Elliot" is both strange and cool.

It wasn't until I was actually on Haight, at the Groove Merchant, listening to Spinnerty's latest earlier 45, "Feels Like Rain" that I discovered: duh, Spinnerty, 1) isn't a group. It's a guy and 2) he's currently living in the Bay (though he's originally from the Midwest).

As much as I liked "Sweet Soul," I really, really, really loved "Feels Like Rain." I credit those sweeping vocals looped up in the background but this is so easy to throw onto single-song repeat and just keep playing it over and over. Peck is back, this time credited as "EP" and joining her is rapper Czar Absolute who drops two small verses. The song works better with vocals but there's nothing wrong with flip the instrumental on as a lovely bit of background.

Update: I got a nice email from Dan "Spinnerty" Finnerty who corrected my timeline: "Feels Like Rain" actually came out before "Sweet Soul." He also filled in some backstory:

"The sample for "Feels Like Rain" I actually found at Rooky's [another record store in the Lower Haight]. It's a funny record because you can hear one of the guys coughing halfway through and some other foibles like that. I was over at Elliott's house doing some recording of another emcee for a different track and was playing some beats and heard Elliott humming along in the other room a la the oooooo'ing that made the final version. DING. Lightbulb went off."

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posted by O.W.

Pacific Division: Church League Champions mixtape

What's staying in heavy rotation right now. Ball up.

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Monday, July 27, 2009

posted by O.W.

Joe Bataan: Sadie
I Do Love You
From The Years of Soul (Century, 1992)

Being the avid Joe Bataan fan I am, when he mentioned that he had recorded an album for a Japanese label in the early '90s, it perked my curiosity since this was during the era that Bataan wasn't recording at all. Best I can tell, Years of Soul is the only album he sat down for between the early '80s and early '00s and given that it came out on a Japanese imprint, it's probably his most obscure album.

I'd love to say it's this great, unsung masterpiece but truth be told, it's forgettable, especially given a Euro-disco sound that I don't find particularly successful here. That said, two songs still worth checking - "Sadie" is a remake of "Gypsy Woman," one of Bataan's earliest hits and I could pass up sharing his cover of Billy Stewart's classic lowrider jam, "I Do Love You," which, to me, was the strongest track on the album given Bataan's penchant for the slow groover.

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Sunday, July 26, 2009

posted by O.W.

The Metros: Sweetest One
Since I Found My Baby
From Sweetest One (RCA, 1967)

Dustygroove.com's been re-releasing a slew of CDs for the last couple of years and it's covered a wide range of styles, from latin funk, to soul jazz, to Brazilian. As far as I can tell, their reissue of The Metros' Sweetest One is their first foray into Northern soul. The genre is really much more based around singles and Sweetest One is part of a select group of Northern soul LPs that have become collector favorites. I was lucky enough to score a copy I found stored in the bathroom of The Groove Merchant, of all places.

Given that I'm hardly a NS expert (though a budding fan), I figured to lend some background, I'd bite from Black Sheep Magazine: "The Metros were a Detroit quintet comprising singers Fred Mitchell, Percy Williams, Robert Suttles, James Buckman and Gordon Dunn. That sweetly soulful doo-wop style track is the opening cut on this little-known 10-track album, which significantly also includes the propulsive Northern Soul anthem ‘Since I Found My Baby,’ a song penned by moonlighting Motown Funk Brother, percussionist Jack Ashford. Other Motor Town luminaries appearing on this session include pianist/arranger, Joe Hunter, guitarists Eddie Willis and Dave Hamilton, and sax player, Mike Terry, whose contributions elevate the album in terms of quality and consistency.

It’s true to say that ‘Sweetest One’ is a cut above most soul albums from the same timeframe - there are no weak cuts or obvious filler and the whole package has a sense of artistic cohesion that was often absent from Motown albums from the same period. Given this, it’s strange, therefore, that The Metros failed become really successful – the liner note writer suggests that the reason for this was that the group’s music was too black for white consumers and too white for black record buyers. Maybe – but it may have more to do with how RCA (not a label renowned for its soul acts) marketed The Metros. What is unequivocal, however, is that this is a mighty fine album that no self-respecting soul aficionado should ignore or live without."

I'll certainly agree on the quality front - this is a surprisingly consistent effort, with quite a few solid tunes in the mix though, perhaps not surprisingly, the two favorites of mine are still the obvious ones. "Sweetest One" makes great use of the group's multi-layered harmonies; it has a classic Motown flavor drizzled all over it, complete with that infused sense of joy that's so much a part of their legacy. "Since I Found My Baby" is one of the best uptempo soul tracks I've heard in a while; it's anchored by a great bassline and the background vocals are aces here.


posted by O.W.

Light: On the South Side.

You need this.

Friday, July 24, 2009

posted by Eric Luecking

NOTE: Instead of the traditional player that Soul-Sides normally uses, I embedded audio of the full album to peruse. You should just be able to click on Music in the lower left and then click on the song of your choice.

From BLACKsummers'night (Columbia, 2009)

After a D'Angelo-like hiatus, Maxwell released his fourth studio album on July 7th. While he was away having new life experiences to write about, the soul music landscape has undergone quite a few changes. When Now, his last album, was released in 2001, neo soul was still making a small run at R&B marketshare and Jamie Foxx was just starting his run at more serious movie roles and not yet focused on topping charts. Today, the mainstream R&B front, on the whole, is more watered-down than ever (“Birthday Sex” - really, this is what it has come to???) and Jamie Foxx is making auto-tune hits.

This go-round, Maxwell's coif is not blown out but he's still blowing up the radio. The first single “Pretty Wings,” a ballad about letting go of a failing relationship, quickly shot to #1 on the urban charts. While the album does feature a couple of funky tunes, namely in the choppy horn groover “Cold,” it's primarily a slow jam affair. Maxwell, with his ability to go from natural singing voice right into a smooth falsetto, is a master of vocal sensuality; some critics have even said he's the premiere R&B vocalist of his generation.

Sensuality doesn't always have to mean explicitly sexual-filled rants of play-by-(fore)play; there's something to be said for leaving something to the imagination and allowing the sway of the music, vocal intonations, and bending of notes to open the door to the boudoir so YOU take care of bedroom business – not the singer getting you through every position before the first chorus. Marvin proved that to us years ago with his sexually-laden Let's Get It On album. Along those lines, Maxwell knows that less can truly be more. In the school where he comes from, set the mood and the rest will take care of itself.

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posted by Eric Luecking

A Love She Can Count On (Live)
From Depend On Me: The Early Albums (Hip-O Select, 2009)

The Miracles laid an indelible mark on popular music in the 1960s. They were Motown’s first group but had the distinct advantage of an ace up their sleeves. Few could write a tune and make a clever play on words (“What’s So Good About Goodbye”) and phrases (“Shop Around”) like Smokey Robinson. The latter is so deceptively masterful with its witty marriage of consumer colloquialisms and relationships that it’s easy to trick yourself into thinking that you, too, could write such a seemingly simple song (which is why that song has become a staple of American popular music playlists). It’s neither black nor white, which is exactly where Motown aimed (and succeeded many times over).

It’s interesting how songs that charted in yesteryear can get lost in time. “A Love She Can Count On” charted as high as #21 on the R&B charts back in 1963 but has been excluded from numerous Miracles compilations. The background vocals, especially in the live version, help make what would otherwise be a mediocre song into a great song. This particular live version was recorded during the Motortown Revue in Chicago in the early ‘60s. As they strip the layers out of the song and allow Smokey to ad lib about how to woo a woman, it shows the power of performing for a crowd and engaging them conversationally.

The set comprises their albums through May of 1963. In addition to the classics heard to this day on oldies radio, you also get a reminder of the direction that the Miracles were heading (before reversing course) in 1961/1962 covering some pop standards and American songbook titles such as “On The Street Where You Live” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” They even had a pending album release called Miracles Sing Modern that was ultimately shelved for unknown reasons. Perhaps they realized that they had too many great songwriters in their stable to sing other people’s songs. They had their own classics to create.

Hip-O puts it all together in a slick digipak that has a double-gatefold. Much like the recent Michael Jackson set, the CDs slip into the cardboard with no extra protection. One nice touch, though, is the glossy cardstock insert that features a replica of the fronts and backs of the albums to help retain the vintage feel. Album art is an artform that is unfortunately lost in this disposable digital age. Fortunately, the music lives on despite a changing business model. Good songwriting always prevails, and that’s no miracle.


Thursday, July 23, 2009

posted by Eric Luecking

Michael Jackson: Don't Let It Get You Down (Different Versions Snippets)
From Hello World: The Motown Solo Collection (Hip-O Select, 2009)

Over the last month there has certainly been no shortage of Michael Jackson coverage by the media, Soul-Sides included. With the megastar status he held, it's hard to believe that at one time he was just a child singing songs with a fervor and understanding well beyond his pre-teen and pubescent years. So for a brief few moments, let's forget the hoopla and concentrate on one of the elements that elevated him to another level – the music.

Hello World: The Motown Solo Collection gathers material from his Motown solo albums from 1972-1975 which have been out of print on CD for a number of years. Additionally, vaulted material that appeared on mid-80s LP compilations such as Looking Back To Yesterday and Farewell My Summer Love (both of which contained overdubs on many of the tracks) are included. Farewell My Summer Love has its accompanying original mixes also included. You can hear how the horns were substituted by an electric guitar in “Don't Let It Get You Down” in the '80s version. Many of the overdubs also substitute in those popular synths and drums from the mid-80s.

It's quite fun to be able to listen to this material in a sitting to hear how his voice changes from spunky little kid to budding young man. While Motown certainly leaned a share of material toward the aw-shucks-kid vein (“With A Child's Heart”), it also let him cover much more serious material such as Withers' “Ain't No Sunshine,” the Miracles' “You've Really Got A Hold On Me,” and Wilson's “Lonely Teardrops.” Elsewhere, he also sang a spirited cover (at age 11, mind you) of Starr's “Twenty-Five Miles” that was subsequently cut from Got To Be There. It's no wonder he helped to usher in a sub-genre of kid soul.

Hip-O Select has done an excellent job with the remasters and really outdid themselves with the packaging. It's a small hardcover book – not quite two CDs wide – with glossy color pages featuring pictures from the album photo shoots along with other tour and press photos. One picture that struck me in particular was a picture of Michael in what appears to be a room with art supplies and a desk. In the background is a drawing of Charlie Chaplin.

This 3-CD release was planned well before Michael's untimely death, and it's rather ironic that this picture made the cut given that his brother Jermaine sang "Smile," penned by Chaplin, as a tribute during the celebration of life a couple of weeks ago. The only complaint about the release is that there is no protection for the CDs as they just tuck into the back cardboard of the packaging. Aside from that small gripe, the whole package is fantastic and well worth the price. Given its 7,000 limited edition run, it may not last long.


posted by O.W.

Qrquesta Cubana De Música Moderna: Vehicle
Los Papines: Para Qué Niegas
Both from Si Para Usted Vol. 2: The Funky Beats of Revolutionary Cuba (Waxing Deep, 2009)

Can it be already two years since the first volume of this series appeared? The folks at Waxing Deep are at it again, mining the rich - but under-appreciated - catalog of Cuban records from the 1960s and '70s that flourished despite the country's isolation from the U.S.

It's always stunning to consider how pervasive and influential Cuban music has been on America, all despite the political and economic distance that's been enforced between the two countries and the Si Para Usted series has excelled in showcasing how rich a dialogue was happening despite the official blockades.

In picking two songs to highlight off the excellent Vol. 2, it was hard to pass up Qrquesta Cubana De Música Moderna's "Vehicle" - maybe it's those opening horns, maybe it's because I've heard the Ides of March's original so many times but you have to admit, it is a damn catchy tune and this Orquesta does a bang up job of keeping its vivacious funkiness front and center.

With the Los Papines, I wanted to take things in a completely different direction, with a groove that was subtler but no less impressive. I love the layers of sound going on here, from the Brazilian-esque locals popping up in the background, to the smooth main vocals melting in, to the soft brushes of Frank Emilioano's keys and Cachaíto's bass. It's a collision that probably shouldn't work but the more you listen, the deeper you fall in.

Bonus: Juan Formell and Los Van Van: Llegue, Llegue / Guararey de Pastoria
From Juan Formell and Los Van Van (Areito, 1974)

Jesús "Chucho" Valdés y Su Combo: Descarga de Kike/Quique
From Jazz Nocturno Jazz (Palma, 196?)

Thank god for this comp - it finally got me to write about a few personal favorites from my very small collection of Cuban records, beginning with one of the biggest bands to come out of the island - Juan Formell and Los Van Van.

I first "heard" "Llegue, Llegue" in the form of Cut Chemist's "Intro" for The Litmus TestJurassic 5's "This Is" - either Cut Chemist or Numark loops the front part of this song and when I came across this Los Van Van/Juan Formell album years later, I finally knew where they had gotten it from. You gotta love how hypnotic this groove is, especially as it patiently unfurls and builds over its 9 minutes until it transforms into a more conventional Latin dance track. The use of strings in here is just incredible; totally unexpected but most welcome.

As for the descarga I also included - funky, no. Jazzy? Sí! This comes from the great Cuban pianist Chucho Valdés for a lovely Latin jazz LP he recorded for the Palma imprint. I'm assuming this particular descarga is dedicated to one of Valdés' collaborators named Quique (it's misprinted - though phonetically consistent - as "Kike" on the cover) but I can't tell if that's supposed to be Enrique Plá or another musician nicknamed "Quique." Great, great dance number though.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

posted by O.W.

As promised, one of my two NPR pieces on Lee Fields. This music list includes music I didn't include in my post from the other week.


Lee Fields: Bewildered b/w Tell Her I Love Her
From 7" (Bedford, 1969)

Just picked this up at the Groove Merchant over the weekend - supposedly Fields very first single, released back in '69. I'm really feeling "Bewildered" especially - so Southern soul!

By the way, if you're in New York and need something to do tonight.... But hey, if you don't live in NY, you can still listen in live.

Speaking of which, the audio for this won't be up until 4pm PST, but here's my review of the new Lee Fields album for NPR's All Things Considered.

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Monday, July 20, 2009

posted by O.W.

Musica del Alma � Blog Archive � Guest Post: O-Dub (Soul-Sides.com)

Pachanga, pachanga, pachanga!


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

posted by O.W.

Arrested Development: Ease My Mind (DJ Premier Remix)
From 12" (promo) (Chrysalis, 1994)

Jamie Foxx: Blame It On the People (DJ Fabian Blend) (2009)

Like most groups labelled "alternative rap" in the early 1990s, Arrested Development had the misfortune of being considered insufficiently "real" at a time when hip-hop's shift towards ghettocentricity was in full effect. To be fair, the group helped in this regard, especially with a relatively lackluster sophomore effort but in hindsight, it seems unfair to discount the quality of their output just because "Tennessee" wasn't "Shook Ones Pt. 2."

I'm reminded of this by how infectiously fun this DJ Fabian blend is, throwing Jamie Foxx's ode to intoxicated seductions over the "People Everyday" remix beat from '92. That original "Metamorphosis Mix" remains one of the timeless tracks from that era and for whatever reason, Foxx's acapella sounds quite perfect over it. Kick up the treble tone.

The DJ Premier remix of "Ease My Mind" was only found on promo copies of the single; I don't know if it was a rights issue or whatever but when the actual single came out, the remix was MIA. It's not one of the most intricate Primo beats ever but despite its simplicity, its catchiness is undeniable.

I'm just blown away that it's been 15+ years since these songs came out. [Insert "I feel old" complaint]

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

posted by O.W.

Quantic and His Combo Barbaro: Mambo Los Quantic
I Just Fell In Love Again
From Tradition in Transition (Tru Thought, 2009)

It's good to be Will "Quantic" Holland. His soul/funk remixes and productions are some of the best out there but then he went to developed a love affair with Colombian music and that's opened into a whole new, beautiful arena of music to craft.

This new album finds Holland teaming up with some of the same players who graced the Quantic Soul Orchestra's excellent 2007 album, Tropidélico, including the ever-excellent pianist Alfredo Linares, legendary Brazilian composer and guitarist Arthur Verocai, drumming bad ass Malcolm Catto and the singing talents of Panama's Kabir.

The album is an intriguing blend of multiple styles; it's not as "Latin" as you might initially expect. Instead, the group finds a way to bring in any number of different elements - a little cumbia here, some Afro-beat there, a dose of shing-a-ling, a whole lotta soul - to each song. "Mambo Los Quantic" is perhaps the closet thing to a set "genre" as you can find here but even then, it's not like you'd confuse it for something that would have rotated through the Palladium back in the day. "I Just Feel In Love Again" showcases the contribution Kabir brings to the Combo and I love the kind of happy energy emanating as the song shifts through sharp solos from the assembled talent.

Musica Del Alma has another Combo Barbaro song (not on the CD) for you to check out.

Bonus beat: Nostalgia 77 feat. Alice Russell: Seven Nation Army
From the forthcoming Tru Thoughts Covers.

Quantic's long-time label partners at Tru Thoughts are readying a compilation of cover songs and I am, quite predictably, looking forward to what they're bringing. One of the first songs they're circulating is this awesome cover of the White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army" that first came out in 2004. It's incredible how monstrous they've made the signature bassline and when Alice Russell comes tearing in on the vocals, it's enough to make you cry. Hopefully, I can bring you at least one more selection off this comp once it drops later this summer.

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posted by Eric Luecking

24 Carat Black: The Best Of Good Love Gone
From Gone: The Promises Of Yesterday (Numero, 2009)

(Editor's note: It must feel good to be running The Numero Group. One of the advantages to creating one of the best reissue labels of our generation is that when something unexpected turns up - say the tapes of the unreleased second 24CB LP - you're in the position to really do something good with it. When last I wrote about the group's debut album, Ghetto: Misfortune's Wealth, I noted that it was one of those "big digger titles" that was so incredibly good as to transcend its status as as "big digger title." Not surprisingly, any other material by the group would be of major interest and thanks to TNG, we now have access to these long-lost tapes. --O.W.)

24 Carat Black was headed by Dale Warren whose music, with its challenging, often operatic backdrops, was panned by critics when it was initially released. With its dark lyrical, musical, and topical overtones, it was too close to home to have any real commercial success. To further complicate matters, Stax was going broke. A couple of years after “Ghetto: Misfortune’s Wealth” was issued, Stax turned belly up.

Numero has dug up lost treasure with material that was being worked on for the follow-up album. Much of it was damaged beyond repair, lost to the sands of times. However, what has survived gives us a glimpse of the direction that Warren was headed. The societal doldrums were mostly gone as Warren had decided to revisit some material he had previously written as well as rearrange other work. However, darkness still looms over the album with titles such as “I Begin To Weep,” “I Don't Love You,” and “The Best Of Good Love Gone.”

While the most known feature might be the title cut's reworking of the Mad Lads classic, the album is filled with imaginative reinventions. The opening song has a slick and slinky bass groove that really rides while Princess Hearn's vocal interpretation of material that was well beyond her teenage years is both breathy and emotion-filled. Elsewhere, the album's most light-hearted affair is“I'll Never Let You Go,” which is jaunty at first (reminiscent of the first album's “Brown Baggin”) before an explosive bridge that then transforms into an almost masturbatory interlude and finally revisiting its bouncy beginnings.

Numero's blog, periodically updated by the powers that be at the label, has linked clips of some of the original material against Warren's reworkings that give you an idea of his new vision. Interestingly, they also posted another song from the project that was too damaged to make the final cut. You can also hear other snippets here.

Warren took away any further insight of the record's proceedings with his death in the mid-'90s. We may never know what the final product may have sounded like in full form, but we get a glimpse into the producer's mind of where the project was going. Incomplete never felt so satisfying.

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Thursday, July 09, 2009

posted by Eric Luecking

Recently, Schoolhouse Funk Volume 1 was reissued through DJ Shadow's website as well as other retailers. The original release came out earlier this decade in a very limited release and sold out rather quickly. The concept initially started when Shadow and Lyrics Born were trying to outduel one another with who had the best high school records. Currently copies of the initial release are going for $80 on eBay, so get the reissue for a much more reasonable $15 or so while they last. The album features a variety of high school bands performing funk and soul songs like “Scorpio,” “Chameleon,” and “Cisco Kid.” A bit quirky but very fun. My wife hates when I listen to it, but screw it... sometimes a guy's gotta do what a guy's gotta do.

In other LB news, this past Tuesday Lyrics Born released a digital-only mixtape The Lyrics Born Variety Show Season Pho (samples available on his website). No reason to not get this... it's only $5. FIVE DOLLA! He even rocks the auto-tune on “Pop Campaign” as well as puts his own spin on Kanye's "Paranoid" on the "Differences" mash-up. Apparently he didn't get Jay-Z's memo. Catch some new exclusives, get a sneak peak of his upcoming album (due in early 2010), and enjoy a solid mix of the one and only LB!

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Wednesday, July 08, 2009

posted by O.W.

This is real minor but I just wanted to update folks on some improvements I've been trying to make to the site.

Basically, I'm making full use of our Facebook group. More and more, I'll be using it to post smaller content (i.e. things that I think would be interesting to you all but perhaps not major enough to warrant its own post) such as videos, mixes from other sites, etc. For that reason, I deaded the old Soul Sights site - I never updated it frequently at all but now, via Facebook, I can easily add content quickly and throughout the day.

So join us today (if you haven't already).


posted by O.W.

Jay-Z: Never Change (Dilla Remix)
From Jimmy Green's What if J Dilla Produced The Blueprint? (2009)

It's a bit odd that in 2009, someone would mash-up Jay-Z's 2001 album, Blueprint with a series of J-Dilla beats. Furthermore, let's just answer the question:

If Dilla had produced The Blueprint, Jay-Z would have taken an L. That's no diss on Jay Dee but c'mon now - it's not like Kanye West and Just Blaze were exactly slacking on what's arguably one of the best produced albums this decade. What's next? "What if J Dilla Produced It Takes a Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back?" (Note: maybe Def Jam should release the acapellas to that album).

All this said, I have to admit that I am loving this remix of "Never Change." I'm not saying it's better than the OG, I'm just saying it's good - so laid-back yet slightly sinister.

And it really brings to mind how Burt Bacharach compositions (in this case, "The Look of Love") make for potentially great sample fodder given that 1) they're familiar enough to catch our attention and 2) they're generally classics in basic, simple but rich songwriting and arrangements. When I was listening to this, I immediately thought of another mash-up from a couple years back:

Biggie and Lil Wayne: If You See Me Walking
From Mick Boogie and Terry Urban's Unbelievable: A Tribute to Biggie Smalls (2007)

This time, it's a flip on a pre-Isaac Hayes version of Burt's "Walk On By."

And heck, if we're going own the memory lane of "rap songs flipping Burt beats" then we can't forget this twist on Johnny Pate's version of "Look of Love":

Show and A.G.: You Know Now (Buckwild Remix)
From Goodfellas (Payday, 1995)

And just to really blow your mind, here's the Jackson 5 throwing down their take on Isaac Hayes' version of "Walk On By." The LP version of this appeared on their live Goin' Back to Indiana album.

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posted by O.W.

We need some more estrogen up in here, stat.


Tuesday, July 07, 2009

posted by O.W.

Just in time for today's memorial services, here's my NPR.org list of MJ5 cover songs.

One song wasn't available for streaming via NPR; you can also hear it here.

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Monday, July 06, 2009

posted by Eric Luecking

Céu: Bubuia
From Vagarosa (Six Degrees, 2009)

I'm not quite sure what it is about Brazilian music that makes the sun shine and evokes a sense of summertime. Maybe you've heard of Céu, maybe you haven't – but maybe you should. This chanteuse, who has previously been nominated for a Grammy in 2007, has some serious vibes going on with “Vagarosa,” out this Tuesday. “Bubuia” lightly sways with its jaunty percussion. Meanwhile, the rest of the album features a nice blend of acoustic instrumentation but also blends in some underscored turntable effects to create a modern sound yet still keep its roots deeply planted. She wrote or co-wrote much of the album which was produced by Beto Villares.

You've read about the Brazilian old school, and now, along with Curumin, you can hear some of the new school, too.

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posted by Eric Luecking

For all those video jocks out there or if you just love to watch a good concert in the comfort of your own home, PublicTelevision.org is now selling Raphael Saadiq's “Live From The Artists Den” concert on DVD before it's available anywhere else. Proceeds from this pre-release will benefit New York Public Media. Starting July 21, you can purchase it at your local retailer as well. It's never too early to start shopping for Christmas!

If you enjoyed “The Way I See It” by Raphael Saadiq, you can be sure you'll love this excellent companion piece. You can watch a clip below.

The DVD track list is:

1. 100 Yard Dash
2. Love That Girl
3. Keep Marching
4. Thinking Of You
5. Living For The Weekend
6. Dance Tonight
7. La La
8. Sure Hope You Mean It
9. Charlie Ray
10. Be Here
11. Still Ray
12. Just One Kiss
13. Oh Girl
14. Let’s Take A Walk
15. Big Easy
16. Staying In Love
17. Love That Girl Reprise
18. Skyy, Can You Feel Me

Raphael Saadiq - Love That Girl from Artists Den on Vimeo.

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posted by O.W.

(Editor's note: This was long overdue - Eric Luecking has been contributing heavily to our site for months now but I realized: he's never really introduced himself to readers here. Don't miss his Summer Songs post either! --O.W.)

My stepdad used to always say to me when I was a kid, “You can't live life on the entertainment circuit,” to basically drive home the point and you can't be all play and no work. But who says you can't enjoy what you do? It's a revelation I'm trying to come to terms with and put into practice of how to better extract joy from what I do in life.

Some people enjoy a fine wine; I enjoy a well-written song and a thought provoking movie. Recently I've been catching up on Pixar movies I haven't seen. After getting past animation being their chosen media form and really sinking my teeth into the subject matter that dwells underneath, there are really excellent underlying themes and life lessons.

My brother has been a mobile DJ for nearly 20 years, and I've helped him rock out a few weddings here in the Midwest, although with me tying the knot a few years ago and now being a proud papa of a beautiful baby girl, my time spinning tunes for the entertainment of others has been quite limited. And honestly, I'm okay with that.

Making mix CDs and turning others on to music that turns me on is still something I love to do – hence, the writing here at Soul-Sides.

I've always enjoyed writing. As I took on summarizing in poem-form the short stories that were assigned reading during my sophomore year in high school English, it was a task that was not an assignment by my teacher but one which I enjoyed challenging myself to see if I could do. My teacher would read them aloud to the class so I knew I was doing something right. Hey, I may have been a nerd, but I had a passion.

Fast forward to a few years ago when I went to a soul/funk exhibit in Indianapolis at the State Historical Society. I wrote a piece on it and sent it to Egon at Stones Throw Records. He enjoyed it, which encouraged me further. I hounded him to no end on an Indiana Funk project he had been working on for sister label Now Again. Finally, I begged my way onboard to the project, helping him conduct interviews and writing pieces that will hopefully be incorporated into the liner notes of the as yet unreleased project.

Then, last year, I e-mailed back and forth with OW about Soul-Sides and asked to contribute an article on Sam Cooke. Well the ink has yet to run dry in my pen as I'm still writing about the best music in the world – soul music.

Current Top 3 Playlist:

1. Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes – Wake Up Everybody: a call to action with hopes of making a better world to live in

2. Michael Jackson – Man In The Mirror: another call to action song dealing with how to make the world a better place. I've recently revisited it since MJ's untimely death after not hearing it for many years. After gaining some life experience and a greater appreciation for a well-written tune, it's such a beautiful song for trying to improve yourself and the world around you.

3. Steve Martin featuring Vince Gill and Dolly Parton – Pretty Flowers: I know, it's not a soul tune. Country music, and especially bluegrass, has never been one of my favorite genres. However, when I first heard this song being performed on the American Idol finale this season (subsequently, the only episode I watched this season), I was taken away by its inviting melody and simple, but heartfelt storyline. Ray Charles always has maintained how great the storytelling is in country music (one of the few, true American musical styles), and this song tells a wonderful story about a couple falling in love. And yes, the banjo is being played by THAT Steve Martin, the legendary comedian. The whole album is truthfully wonderful, and I will not be one bit surprised if it wins a Grammy next year. Rounder Records has a knack for garnering nominations year in and year out.

Contact: You can tell me how much you love or hate my writing – or just generally say hi – through soulsideseric AT gmail.com


Thursday, July 02, 2009

posted by O.W.

Thanks to Eric to an excellent review of Fields' new CD, My World. I have a couple of pieces on Fields being readied for NPR but they don't appear until later this month. In the meantime, I had a few "leftovers" that I thought folks here would enjoy.

Here's the thing you must understand about Fields - he is far, far, far more prolific than you can imagine. Even someone like Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings - who have an impressive catalog - pale in comparison to the volume of music that Fields has put out. People who think of Fields as a primarily retro-soul guy don't even realize that this constitutes the minority of his output. Peep the discog. Fields is a monster in the Southern soul/blues scene and while retro-soul fans probably would blanch at the sonic style of that music, there's no denying that Fields has as many fans - if not more - in that regional, thriving scene as he does amongst listeners who like him for his throwback style.

Moreover, even within the retro-soul circles, Fields has been a straight up monster when it comes to output. Peep the track record - he is, by far, the most recorded singer in that community, having worked with: Desco, Soul Fire, Truth and Soul AND Daptone, which doesn't even include all his other contemporary projects.

I assembled a small sampling of Fields work, from his first album through some more current material, though heavy on songs that many probably haven't heard since most of them were only on vinyl 7" or compilations.

Lee Fields: Flim Flam
From Let's Talk It Over (Angle 3, 1979)

This instrumental cooker is off of Fields' debut album back in 1979 but the date is a bit misleading since he had been recording throughout the '70s; he just didn't release a full-length until '79. I don't know for certain but "Flim Flam" certainly sounds like something recorded earlier in the decade though given how hard "Little J.B." rode that '60s raw funk vibe, I wouldn't be surprised if this was his attempt at recapturing some of that magic, even in the heart of the disco era.

Lee Fields: Steam Train
From Let's Get a Groove On (Desco, 1999)

Along with Sharon Jones, Fields was the perfect vocalist for Desco back in its heyday. He just had "that sound" that went with their house musicians, most of whom would end up in the Dap-kings. "Steamtrain" came out on 7" as well as the big "comeback" retro-soul album, Let's Get a Groove On. I really dig how the rhythm section here recreates the feel of a rolling train.

Lee Fields & The Dap-Kings: Give Me a Chance Pt. 1
From Daptone 7" Singles Collection, Vol. 1 (Daptone, 2006)

Speaking of the Dap-Kings, Fields ended up recording with them too (as well as the Sugarmen 3) for a few singles with the then-nascent Daptone label. This colalbo churned out yet another uptempo funk burner.

Lee Fields: Honey Dove (OG Version)
From Problems (Soul Fire, 2002)

"Honey Dove," without a doubt, is my favorite Lee Fields song but while most people have heard his version with The Expressions, the original version of the song came out on his 2002 album, Problems recorded for Soul Fire (the other label, besides Daptone, that came out of Desco's dissolution). Personally, I think the Expressions improved on this song considerably but I wanted people to hear the OG to get a sense of the song's evolution.

Martin Solveig: I'm A Good Man
From Sur La Terre (Defected, 2005)

I didn't even realize this until very recently, but Fields drew the attention of French DJ/producer Martin Solveig around the same time he was recording with Soul Fire and that's turned into a very fruitful partnership as the two men have recorded (I believe) four songs together thus far, which doesn't include a ton of remixes, especially for their first song together, "I'm a Good Man." The song strikes a fine balance between obviously club/electronic-oriented but Fields helps ground it with his vocals.

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Wednesday, July 01, 2009

posted by O.W.

Some excellent reading on MJ's music and legacy:

Mark Anthony Neal: "That boy spent a lifetime seeking a meaningful freedom, perhaps from the tyranny of family, but later from the tyranny of celebrity. And yeah perhaps Mr. Presley, Ms. Monroe and those four British mop-tops could relate, but when that young boy was hitting his half half of them were dead—and they never had to deal with MTV and 24-hour cable networks in their prime."

Hua Hsu: "Jackson was one of the last figures of our time who could, in his very presence, describe the possibilities of pop. He wasn't just the King--he was the entire domain, the rules and regulations, the dream-horizon of the citizenry, the place where the land met the heavens. Jackson was one of the first (and last) artists whose new videos, tours and albums were actual, global events...This was the cultural history of the pre-digital age: simultaneity, mass worship, millions sitting in front of their TVs at the exact same moment. (The closest analogue now: millions around the world, sitting in front of their computers, carefully recomposing Michael's Wikipedia entry the moments after his death was made official.)"

Jeff Chang: "Long before anyone could read into Michael Jackson’s cubist, etiolated face a work of performance art, the wounds of internalized racism, or the excess of boredom and wealth, all those things that would make us either look away or gawk, there was his voice...And for that voice, he lost his childhood. Or more precisely, he gave it to us. Many of his most affecting performances were about distance and displacement, the desire to be somewhere else, the inability to return to a lost past"

Ann Powers: "I remember the inner sleeve of the Jackson 5's 1971 release "Maybe Tomorrow," one of the very first vinyl records I ever purchased. It was full of pictures of the brothers, their Afros shaped into hearts, their boyhood turned into a charm suitable for sticking onto a schoolgirl's notebook. In reality, Jackson was a black steel-mill operator's son from Indiana, no one a white accountant's daughter from Seattle would have ever met. The teen idol machine turned him into a dream friend that any girl or boy could have."

Ta-Nehisi Coates: "I remember when this came out, and all the kids who'd been lucky enough to stay up and see Friday Night Videos came to school bragging about it. You couldn't get cable in Baltimore back then. Fools were like, "Yo, every time he took a step the stones would glow! And then when he went invisible the stones kept glowing!!" We thought Mike could save us all. We hadn't heard BDP yet."

Ernest Hardy: "He was Blackness and maleness, soul music and pop culture, all forged pre-hip-hop, pre-Reagan, pre-crack, pre the implosion of short-lived Civil Rights-era idealism and hope. That’s an incalculably important point to understand the thick strands of optimism, possibility, aesthetic & political vision that ran through his work. And that makes the darkness and paranoia that marbled so much of his later work all the more heartbreaking, especially as it roughly paralleled the shifting tenor of the times. He never lost his humanitarian streak or his belief in the overall goodness of humanity, but the evolution of his own relationship to the world and his feelings about how he was treated darkened noticeably."

Hua..again: "in this moment before communication was instant and cheap, Michael was one of the most powerful access points to American culture from abroad -- his star didn't tarnish at the same rate elsewhere. Perhaps it was the wonder and magic of his music or the subversive hue of his skin that exempted him from accusations of cultural imperialism."

Jason King: "While I always felt Jackson had to dance out of the necessity of sheer ecstatic release, his younger counterparts, happy to imitate their idol, have yet to find their own original moves. Nor have any of them found a real sense of personal abandon in dance. It’s been said that Jackson did not pick up choreography easily (nor did Gene Kelly for that matter). But when he danced, he did so with fierceness, with creative risk. It was as if his life depended on it."

Greg Tate: "Michael's death was probably the most shocking celebrity curtain call of our time because he had stopped being vaguely mortal or human for us quite a while ago, had become such an implacably bizarre and abstracted tabloid creation, worlds removed from the various Michaels we had once loved so much. The unfortunate blessing of his departure is that we can now all go back to loving him as we first found him, without shame, despair, or complication. "Which Michael do you want back?" is the other real question of the hour: Over the years, we've seen him variously as our Hamlet, our Superman, our Peter Pan, our Icarus, our Fred Astaire, our Marcel Marceau, our Houdini, our Charlie Chaplin, our Scarecrow, our Peter Parker and Black Spider-Man, our Ziggy Stardust and Thin White Duke, our Little Richard redux, our Alien vs. Predator, our Elephant Man, our Great Gatsby, our Lon Chaney, our Ol' Blue Eyes, our Elvis, our Frankenstein, our ET, our Mystique, our Dark Phoenix."