Saturday, February 27, 2010

posted by O.W.

Eddie Robinson: God's Love Song
Absolutely Beautiful
From You In My Life (Ren Unlimited, 197?)

It's not all about the funk. This Eddie Robinson LP is a stunningly smooth, mellow and soulful gospel album, filled with electric piano and Robinson's own dulcet croons (oh yeah baby, let's get down and...pray). And then there's this very simple edit I put together:

The Art Reynolds Singers: Down Here Lord/How Did It Feel?
From Tellin' It LIke It Is (Capitol, 1966)

This album - a hit on the gospel circuit in its day - is best known for "Jesus Is Just Alright" but the two songs that drew my attention were the slower, dramatic "Down Here Lord" and the more upbeat, uptempo "How Did It Feel?" both of which benefitted from that strong choral presence. However, something about the arrangement in both songs sound so much alike that I figured I'd just combine them into one and the end result, in my humble opinion, works quite well.

On a similar tip is this tune:

Sterling Glass and the Metropolitan Singers: Thank You Lord
From Jesus Never Fail (Glori, 1973)

Straight out of Waterbury, CT, Glass and the Metropolitan Singers offer up a beautifully arranged and executed song here. That pianist is straight killing it (uh, in a spiritual way). Interestingly, this album got reissued in the mid-80s on Nashboro; I wonder if it was a decent seller in its time.


I just wrote up the 3 Titans' "College" as a Song of the Day for NPR.

And my latest blog post for Fania is on Ricardo Ray's "Lookie Lookie" and the origins of Latin boogaloo.

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Friday, February 26, 2010

posted by O.W.

The Violinaires: Groovin' With Jesus
Put Your Hand in the Hand
From Groovin' With Jesus (197?)

One of the best known gospel funk songs out there is the appropriate titled "Groovin' With Jesus" by the venerable Violinaires. This Detroit-founded group has a long, deep history - Wilson Pickett was once a member and the Rolling Stones apparently wrote for them. This comes out of their early '70s catalog (and if you've ever perused the gospel section at a record store, you know how prolific they could be) and they're very clearly experimenting with some secular flavor. Frankly, I have yet a hear anything even remotely on this level, at least in terms of how well it kicks that '70s funk sound. Humble Pie and the Lifesavas knew the real.

I included a second song off the same that you would have assumed might kick a little break based on experience but no. Yet, this is probably one of the best versions of the song I've ever heard. Despite the opening drum break on other versions, they tend to slide in campy country rock and the Violinaires keep their version quite soulful throughout.

Rev. Carlton Coleman: Rockgospeltime Pt. 2
From Rock Gospel Time (Brunswick, 1970)

Coleman is probably best known in soul circles for having worked with James Brown on the novelty cut, "The Boo Boo Song". By 1970, longer "King Coleman" but Rev. Carlton Coleman, was on Brunswick and recorded one of the more eclectic albums for that label (which is saying a lot). That LP was a mix of long (and I do mean long) monologues about Coleman's unique "Rock Gospel Time" philosophies with a few really funky cuts, among them "Share It" and this mostly instrumental jam, "Rockgospeltime Pt. 2"

The William Singers: He Lifted Me
From He Lifted Me (Checker, 1973)

Thought I'd finish off with another Checker release (the studio seemed to be encouraging these kind of gospel-meets-funk fusions), this one from the William Singers. I think it's safe to say this cut, in particular, borrows heavily from Chicago's dense music scene with a classic funky blues riff powering the cut.

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posted by O.W.

For the longest time, I've been meaning to write a series of posts on gospel soul but for whatever reason, I kept putting it off. Then, a few weeks ago, I was asked to review two new gospel anthologies for NPR:

  • Fire In My Bones
  • Born Again Funk

    The review ran yesterday afternoon.

    With it, I figured, damn, I can't keep putting this off any longer so I'm going to use them as a prompt to finally get my stuff together and knock these posts out.

    Let me start by saying that I'm a completely secular guy so gospel's appeal to me has nothing to do with theology. However, I've long respected gospel's important, formative influence on R&B ("gospel soul" almost sounds redundant) but more than that, I appreciate the depth of emotion that comes into gospel. You can't really compose a song meant to praise an entity like God and come half-assed about it. That commitment? That is the essence of soul.

    My favorite song off of Numero Group's second in the Good God series is what I tried to end my review with but given the length of the piece, they had to cut it off pretty quickly:

    The Inspiration Gospel Singers: The Same Thing It Took
    From Good God!: Born Again Funk (Numero Group, 2010)

    This song is so perfect on every level - the bassline, the lead vocalist, the back-up vocalists, the hook... It kills me that this is also insanely rare ("a handful of known copies" according to the compiler), with many copies having been destroyed in a warehouse fire. All the more reason I'm thankful it got comped here.

    One song that I'm frankly amazed hasn't made a gospel soul comp is this one:

    Robert Vanderbilt and the Foundations of Soul: A Message Especially From God
    From 7" (Sensational, 196?)

    It's an Illinois record (and I just have to think TNG thought about comping this at some point but I don't really know) and I swear to god it sounds like they're using the instrumental track from another song but I can't for the life of me remember which one. Either way, this rolls deep, especially with those guitars and the faint swirl of...(I have no idea what's creating those swirling notes except for some weird reverb off the bass). It's a pity that it came out on styrene. I have what looks like a mint stock copy but there's just the slightest, annoying touch of cue burn on it so I'm borrowing my rip here from a JBX mix. I don't know anyone who's ever heard this and not been floored.

    Alright, let this be the first post of several over the next few days (or hours, if I get around to it) to highlight some of my favorite picks out of my small (but hopefully growing) gospel crates.

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  • Wednesday, February 24, 2010

    posted by O.W.

    Sebastian: Living In Depression
    From 7" (Brown Dog, 1975)

    Sebastian's "Living in a Depression" highlights a different kind of "cover" (even though it's technically not): the recording of a new vocal track over a pre-existing instrumental. This happens in R&B more often than some may remember - "Light My Fire," by Young Hold Unlimited, Jackie Wilson AND Erma Franklin being one of the better known examples. However, it wasn't until last year that I even realized that "Living In a Depression" existed even if its instrumental track - Little Royal and the Swingmasters' "Razor Blade" is pretty much a common but classic funk 45.

    Here's the thing: I don't think this song works well. Partly, the mix sounds way off; you can barely even hear, let alone comprehend, what Sebastian is singing. But even if the song had better engineering, Little Royal's original arrangement just doesn't sound like it was meant to have vocals on it. Trying to fit "Living in depression/what you gonna do?" over that opening horn line feels forced and awkward. Yet, I like the 7" because it is so off, as if this was some bad studio cut that was meant to be thrown out but was released by accident. (Thanks to Soul Marcosa for turning me onto this song).

    I also recently got this single from Spain that seems to fall under the same category:

    Charly and the Bourbon Family: Boogachi
    From 7" (Poplandia, 1971)

    Charly is clear riffing on "Look-a-py-py" by The Meters (uncredited as it may be). A perfectly awesome funk instrument which Charly and the Bourbon Family then proceed to get all CCR over with their vocals. Interstingly, though this appeared on a Spanish label, Charly and the Bourbon Band (aka The Diamonds, aka the Untouchables) were a German band who cut their teeth in the various American G.I. clubs throughout Europe. They also, apparently, do covers of Hugh Maekela's "Grazing in the Grass" and Cliff Nobles' "The Horse" both those are formal covers unlike this, an "unauthorized" re-versioning of "Look-a-py-py." (I have an even more bizarre European 7" out of Sweden which puts vocals over the Mohawks' "Champ" but that will have to wait until another time).

    In terms of another example of this phenom that I unqualifiably enjoy, that'd have to be this:

    Leon Austin: Steal Away
    From 7" (King, 1970)

    This is a "double" cover of sorts. For one, it's a legitimate cover of Jimmy Hughes' 1964 hit, "Steal Away" but James Brown (who produced the single) also threw the vocals over the instrumental track "Nose Job". And unlike the ill-fit with Sebastian/Little Royal, Leon Austin sounds great over the "Nose Job" riddim. (Thanks to Mao for turning me onto this song).

    P.S. Speaking of covers, here's a real one. I write up the awesome Mexican cover of the Joe Cuba Sextet's "El Pito" for Super Sonido.

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    Sunday, February 21, 2010

    posted by O.W.

    This is like the answer back to all those folksy singer/songwriters trying to be cute by covering Dre and Snoop songs.

    A few updates.

    One reason I've been slow to post here is because I had knock these out...

  • Sade review.
  • Africa Boogaloo review.
  • Song of the Day about "Cumbia Moderna De Soledad" from Black Man's Cry.


  • Another Song of the Day for that Little Ann song.
  • A review of Freeway's Stimulus Package
  • Guest post for Super Sonido's 45 series.

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  • Saturday, February 13, 2010

    posted by O.W.

    I had a great time last night. The Boogaloo Assassins killed it, as usual, and impressed the hell out of the folks from Fania who had heard 'em but never seen them perform in action. I am insanely jealous of anyone in the NYC area who gets to see the band fly out to the birthplace of boogaloo and perform for the first time in their history. That's coming up on February 24 - do not sleep!

    I was also very blessed to have finally met, in person, Bobby Marin after several years of picking his brain for all things boogaloo-related. It is incredible how many different projects he worked on in the '60s and '70s. I had no idea he helped get the Ghetto Brothers onto Mary Lou to record their album.

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    posted by O.W.

    I hate to pick on something done for charity but can we just talk about how stunningly terrible this is? Four things off the top of my head (just so I don't explode in criticism):

    1) It's been a quarter century since the OG "We are the World." Are you telling me no one could find a way to write a new ensemble song? Are you f----ing kidding me?

    2) Bringing back video of the original artists - MJ for example - was tacky. And again, says something very poor about the current state of popular music.

    3) Speaking of that current state...the train wreck of styles here was just painful. The original arrangement just was not designed to incorporate much of a hip-hop segment and then way they crammed it in here did a disservice to everyone.

    4) Autotuned Lil Wayne? Really?

    I could go on. But good god, next time someone asks for how the road to hell is paved with good intentions, please send them the link to this.

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    Wednesday, February 10, 2010

    posted by O.W.

  • T.R.O.Y. has Cypress Hill's demo tape. Seriously - this demo tells me that whoever A&R/exec. produced their debut deserves massive credit for improving the band's final product. The demo is cool as a curiosity but more rough than diamonds, if you follow me.

  • Just Matter and Roger Jao team up for a fun and impressively executed mix called Still Diggin' Disco, featuring the best in electro country house. (Ok, actually, it's all disco).

  • Late pass (#1) on my part but Jay Electronica's Victory mix-CD is a must-to-bump. Can I just marvel, for a moment at how good this sounds to me?
    Jay Electronica feat. Talib Kweli, Jay Cole and Mos Def: Just Begun

    I've read elsewhere this is actually a Reflection Eternal cut feat. Jay E, Jay Cole and Mos. That's less relevant than just appreciating how this is a real flash back to the turn of the 90s/00s, when people still presumably carried about a bunch of "dope" MCs "dropping" "hot lines" over a "cool beat." F--- if you can't feel this.

    Weiss still has the mix.

  • Speaking of the Passion of Weiss site, DJ Sach has put together a Winter Mixtape, a concept I've been wanting to create for a long time but thankfully, someone got around to doing it first. Everyone needs a Winter mixtape.

  • Late pass (#2): DJ Numark live at the Do Over. This dude stays mad underrated but is still one of the most party rockin' DJs out there. And not just because he plays mooged out covers of the Mohawks. (It does not hurt though).

  • Funky16corners brings you their Forbidden City Organs. If you can't get enough of a fiery, funky bunch of organ vamps, this is for you. B3 me!

  • Last but not least, I probably should write a full post about this at some point but I'm hella behind on a ton of stuff and I'd hate to overlook at least saying a lil' something...Souljazz Orchestra are a Canadian ensemble who, true to their name, have kept the soul-jazz sound of the '60s and '70s alive and well. The album is heavily Afro-beat influenced but the cut that really stood out to me is more in the vein of Black Jazz than EMI Nigeria:

    Souljazz Orchestra: Lotus Flower
    From Rising Sun (Strut, 2010)

    Loving the smooth, cool flavor here; absolutely takes me back about a dozen years to when I was trying to grip Strata East, Black Jazz and Prestige titles with the quickness. This drops in the next couple; sleep not.

    The group also has a video for another song off the album:

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    posted by O.W.

    I'm doing research on the diffusion of digital DJ tools (CDJs, Serato, etc.) into the world of DJing. I prepared a survey (short, less than 20 questions) for working DJs to fill out.

    By "working" I mean you make part of your living doing this vs. strictly bedroom spinners. You do NOT have to be a DJ that uses digital tools.

    If you're down to participate, please go here.



    Monday, February 08, 2010

    posted by O.W.

    My man Chuck Wild has a great Haitian inspired mixtape for free with any donation of $5 or more to Partners in Health. See here for more info.


    Friday, February 05, 2010

    posted by O.W.

    Very nice - Mingering Mike created the cover art for the upcoming, debut album for Kings Go Forth, the Milwaukee-based soul band who've gotten an incredible response for their 7"s and are finally dropping a full-length on April 20th.

    (Thanks to Shore Fire Media)

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    Thursday, February 04, 2010

    posted by O.W.

    Fat Joe feat. Young Jeezy: Slow Down (Ha Ha)
    From The Darkside Vol. 1 (upcoming, 2010)

    Funny; me and Hua were just rapping about the acapella mix for Soul II Soul's "Back to Life" earlier today and then I heard this new Fat Joe/Young Jeezy track that uses part of the acapella to full effect. Seriously, this beat is bonkers and both Joe and Jeezy kill sh-- over it.

    Props to Scoop Deville for the beat. He's Kid Frost's son and given that he also hooked up Snoop's "I Wanna Rock," it's like he's been raiding pop's golden era hip-hop crates (how long until Mixmaster Spade gets remade into a new beat?). I can't wait to spin this out - it's the epitome of banging.


    Tuesday, February 02, 2010

    posted by O.W.

    Little Ann: Deep Shadows
    From Deep Shadows (Timmion, 2009)

    Stop whatever the f--- you are doing, right now.

    Play this, preferably at a loud enough volume without shattering eardrums.

    Soak in it.

    Get mind blown.

    Sorry for the terseness of the post but in this moment, I don't have much to add except to say that (even though this is from last year), I've had my first sublime musical experience of 2010.

    Currently, this is only on vinyl and if that doesn't encourage you to go right out and get a turntable, I'm not sure what will.

    *Correction: you can get it on CD too, as part of Dave Hamilton's Detroit Dancers series. (But still, get a turntable anyway).


    Monday, February 01, 2010

    posted by O.W.

    As my dwindling finances can attest to, snapping up records with cover songs is bad habit sickness passion that I can't/won't shake. I'm sure there will be a Deep Covers 3 in the offering at some point in the near future but in the meanwhile, here's a few highlights from the last few months.

    The Power Pack: I Got You
    From Soul Cure (Polydor, 1969)

    Generation Gap: Family Affair
    From Plays Shaft (RCA, 1972)

    These both come from instrumental exploitation LPs, jacking contemporary hits of the time and giving them makeovers that, in most cases, are laughably weak. Occasionally though, you cross a few tracks that at least can hold your attention (though I would never suggest that either of these two are superior to their inspirations).

    The Power Pack seems to have been a session band overseen by Nick Ingram, one of the better known UK library composers and this very much sounds in the vein of KPM or similar library labels. The UK Polydor version of this album goes for far more money than really makes sense to me but personally, I prefer the Canadian Polydor issue for having the superior cover art. In any case, their cover of James Brown's "I Got You" has some slick, Hammond flavor to it and most of all, a strong drummer holding it down (albeit a bit "squarely").

    Generation Gap were American (presumably) and tackled R&B hits of the early '70s, including a few blaxploitation tracks as the title suggests, but I thought their take on Sly and the Family Stone's "Family Affair" was decent as far as instrumental flips go. Nice opening break and the sax is surprisingly uncheesy.

    Byron Lee and the Dragonaires: Get Out of My Life, Woman
    From People Get Ready, This Is Rock-Steady '67 (Dynamic, 1967)

    Derrick Harriott: Let It Whip
    From Acid Rock (Crystal, 1982)

    On the reggae tip, I pulled one off one of the Byron Lee albums I only recently got around to copping - the quite excellent Rock-Steady '67 which I learned about from my man Michael Barnes. "Soul Ska" (as Michael noted) is the jam on here but it's always fun to come across yet another cover of "Get Out of My Life, Woman," especially one given a ska rhythm makeover.

    Fast-forwarding about 15 years, we arrive at Derrick Harriot doing a surprisingly groovy cover of The Dazz Band's classic "Let It Whip." For real - I don't think I really ever want to hear the actual original again but this reggae remake is totally working for me.

    La Lupe: Bring It On Home to Me
    From The Queen Does Her Thing (Tico, 1969)

    The Exciters: Bring It Home To Me
    From 7" (Loyola, 196?)

    I know La Lupe has quite the posse behind her and I can't say I've listened to a ton of stuff from her outside of a handful of songs but everytime her shrill, cackling voice rings through on an English-language song, I think, "for the so-called Queen of Latin Soul, she mostly sounds like a novelty act." And let me be serious for a sec here - part of why La Lupe can lay claim to the title is because there's so little competition. The Latin soul scene had very very few women singers involved (unfortunately) so I suppose someone like La Lupe had a better shot at the title than, say, Noraida or the enigmatic duo behind Dianne and Carole and the Latin Whatchamacallits.

    In any case, her singing on "Bring It On Home To Me" veers close to cringe-inducement (especially on her higher notes) but the fact that the song still manages to work is a testament to how good the source material is. Not that I'd want to hear it but I bet the Chipmunks could do a version of this and it'd still sound pretty good; the original arrangement and songwriting is so good, it can easily forgive less than stellar attempts at working with it.

    I couldn't close with this though and I decided instead to bust out a cover of the same song that I absolutely, unqualifiably adore - Los Exciters' cover, all the way from Panama. Sure, no one in the group is touching Sam Cooke (and that pretty much applies to everyone in the world not Sam Cooke) but I thought their take on this song was done beautifully, especially the vocal harmonies. I have a few heavyweight pieces from this group but this 7" b-side is easily the favorite thing of theirs I have.

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