BARBARA ACKLIN + JACKIE WILSON: DOING THEIR THING


Barbara Acklin: I Can’t Do My Thing
To Sir, With Love
From I Did It (Brunswick, 1970)

Jackie Wilson: Go Away
I Get Lonely Sometimes
From Beautiful Day (Brunswick, 1973)

If you’re looking for soul records, it’s inevitable that you’re eventually going to cross paths with Brunswick. In the R&B world, the label is best known for its association with Jackie Wilson but at various points in history, they were also home to Young Holt Unlimited, Barbara Acklin, Willie Henderson, the Chi-Lites, The Lost Generation, even Lionel Hampton, Orlando Marin and bounce/rock/skaters Vaughn Mason and Crew. (By 1973, Brunswick was also distributing Dakar, founded by Brunswick employee Carl Davis). Altogether, it’s not the most prolific catalog but it’s hard to complain about the quality of the output.

This isn’t meant to be some definitive Brunswick post but I’ve been meaning to write up these two LPs for a while now and it seemed like a good reason to at least talk a bit about the label. Acklin’s album for them is surprisingly under the radar to me. Erma Franklin’s lone Brunswick album, Soul Sister tends to be regarded better and Acklin’s Seven Days of Night (the one with “Am I the Same Girl”) is better known. But for a funk-influenced soul LP of the early ’70s, you could do far worse than I Did It which includes a stone-cold classic in “I Can’t Do My Thing.” Everything about this cut is a gem – the strings, the hard guitars, Acklin’s sweet voice floating over that funky, raucous rhythm section. I was going to include “I’m Living With a Memory,” another funky soul cut but I was so drawn to hearing Acklin handle Lulu’s “To Sir, With Love” that I wanted to include it instead, just for contrast.

As for Jackie Wilson’s Beautiful Day, one could say it marked the beginning of his career decline; it was the first LP of his in nearly 3 years and within three more years, Wilson recorded his last LP. To be sure, Beautiful Day isn’t going to match up with the likes of his best years but it is interesting to hear him try to meld into the emergent R&B aesthetics of the 1970s. “I Get Lonely Sometimes” and “Go Away” could have easily one out of Philly Int’l or the pen of Barry White, only with Wilson’s incredible, signature voice bearing down on them.

PATTI DREW: STOP AND LISTEN


Patti Drew: Tell Him
From Tell Him (Capitol, 1967)

Fever
From I’ve Been Here All the Time (Capitol, 1969)

Hundreds And Thousands Of Guys
From
Wild Is Love (Capitol, 1970)

All songs also available on Working On a Groovy Thing.

Ok, time to take a break from Gur-eulogies. I could have sworn I had posted about Patti Drew at some point but it was really in passing. Drew’s not exactly obscure but I wouldn’t go as far to call her a household name either. One of the many hopefuls to emerge out of the Midwest (in her case, Illinois) in the 1960s, Drew’s first outing, as part of the group, Drew-Vels, yielded what is arguably Drew’s best-known hit: “Tell Him,” a beautiful little doo-wop-tinted ballad. I’m not 100% clear if Drew’s solo debut, Tell Him includes the Drew-Vels version or a new recording of the song but either way, that same album also yielded my favorite Drew song, “Stop and Listen” which I last wrote about in my 2008 year end review (shouts out to Chairman Mao for putting me on that tune).

I first became familiar with Drew years ago from her third album, I’ve Been Here All the Time; if you’re looking for uptempo, funky soul, this LP is a no-brainer. It not only has this killer version of “Fever” (one of the best, and that’s saying a lot), but she also covers Otis Redding’s classic “Hard to Handle.”

Wild Is Love was a more recent discovery; it’s best known for the smoky “Beggar for the Blues” but “Hundreds and Thousands of Guys” is a fun, blues-edged ditty as well. The whole album has Drew doing a little monologuing before the rhythm section kicks in and the way she shouts, “guys! guys! guys!” got a laugh out of me.

Capitol hasn’t reissued the albums individual but the Working On a Groovy Thing anthology is decently comprehensive.

THE POSSE + LITTLE DENICE: FLIP SIDES


The Posse: You Better Come Out and Play b/w That’s What Makes Us Happy
From 7″ (EJC, 197?)

Lil’ slice of Michigan funk here; the A-side sounds like something Norman Whitfield might have whipped up for the Temptations in their psychedelic era but then accidentally ended up in the hands of the Jackson 5 (albeit, the Posse’s falsetto lead here is no MJ). The lyrics make it sound innocent but the vibe is so dark that when the singer croons, “you better come out and play,” it sounds like a threat made by an arsonist holding a Moltov. I’m just saying. Flipside is a more conventional, mid-tempo sweet soul tune about cotton candy and ferris wheels; talk about an incongruous A/B side combo. (Thanks to Cool Chris for this one).

Little Denice: Check Me Out b/w You Can Teach Me New Things
From 7″ (Ruthies, 196?)

This 7″ by Little Denice is a two-fer two ways: not only is it a remarkably solid A/B-side, it’s also simultaneously one of my favorite kid funk and Bay Area singles. I don’t know much about the artist or the players here at all; her backing band is pretty bad ass and Little Denice herself is a frickin’ monster on this single. “Check Me Out” is so salacious that it feels a bit dirty listening to it as she brags about “no other woman could take a man from me.” Damn girl, slow down! “You Can Teach Me New Things” is pretty much the same song, content-wise, with another horn-heavy funk track powering Denice’s precocity.

CAROLYN FRANKLIN: DYNAMITE, BABY


Carolyn Franklin: I Don’t Want to Lose You
From Baby Dynamite (RCA, 1968)

Carolyn Franklin: You Really Didn’t Mean It
From Chain Reaction (RCA, 1970)

Both on Sister Soul: The Best of the RCA Years.

Carolyn Franklin: Deal With It
From If You Want It (RCA, 1976)

(Originally written for Side Dishes)

The fates of the Franklin sisters – Aretha, Erma and Carolyn – comprise a classic American tragedy. One, Aretha, would go onto spectacular fame and worldwide acclaim (big bow and all) while her sisters, Erma and Carolyn, had brief careers as recording artists but never enjoyed anywhere near the same success. Far worse though, both succumbed to cancer – Erma survived into her 60s, but Carolyn passed away at only 43.

The youngest of the three, Carolyn may have been in her sisters’ shadows but she also contributed to both their careers as a songwriter. Especially for Aretha, Carolyn helped co-write her enormously successful “Save Me” and was also behind the mesmerizing torch song, “Ain’t No Way.” This video (alas, the quality is quite degraded) shows Aretha and Carolyn rehearsing an early version of the song and Aretha makes a special point to big up her little sis.

Carolyn released a handful of singles in the mid-1960s but it wasn’t until 1968, when she signed with RCA, that she had her first major opportunity to make it on her own. What is readily obvious from any of her recordings in that era is that she was not trying to follow Aretha’s footsteps in either singing or sound. Carolyn wasn’t blessed with the singular voice that her older sister had but she shows the influence of good training and natural ability to project herself with power and clarity.

“I Don’t Want to Lose You” was one of her first singles for RCA and the very beginning reflects Carolyn’s deep gospel roots with a slow-building opening of multi-part choral harmonies that then shifts into a slinky mid-tempo funk tune that allows her to demonstrate why her debut LP was called Baby Dynamite.

“You Didn’t Really Mean It” comes from Carolyn’s second album, Chain Reaction and this power ballad shows some of the creative production and arrangement details her collaborators Wade Marcus, Jimmy Radcliffe and Buzz Willis (amongst others) put into the effort. Listen to the force of the brass section which is used sparingly but wisely and Carolyn flows into the song with passion and intensity.

I end with a song off of Carolyn’s 1976 album, If You Want Me. With a feel reminiscent of Aretha’s “Rocksteady,” Carolyn lays down a slice of funky soul that’s become a favorite amongst connoisseurs. Alas, this would be one of her last albums; she stopped recording on her own after this point and within 10 years, she was gone, undersung but not unaccomplished.

THE YEAR IN MUSIC: PART 1 (THE OLD)


(from l-r, Alton Ellis, Edwin Starr, Labi Siffre, The Impressions
Joe Bataan, Stevie Wonder, the Watts 103rd St. Rhythm Band
Bobby Matos, Nina Simone, Marvin Gaye, Skye 7″)

(This post began life on Side Dishes and has “evolved” since).

I had a strange realization the other week: 2008 might be the first year where I spent more time listening to older music than new music. This hasn’t been out of nowhere – it’s been a long-term shift but it hit me, when I was trying to come up with the standard “Top 10” list that I’m not even sure if I actually listened to 10 new albums in ’08.

Not just that: even the new music I did like tended to overwhelmingly be music that sounded like it was from another era – Raphael Saadiq, Solange Knowles, Mayer Hawthorne, etc. For real – if there was one big presence in my 2008 year-in-review, it was Motown! Not only do quite a few Motown artists fill up my “old music I discovered this year list,” amongst the new artists, several of them ride off the Motown sound and one of them (Q-Tip) is actually signed to Motown.
I turned 36 this year but why do I feel like my tastes are that of a 66 year old?

KEEP READING:


On one hand, your tastes are your tastes and if that’s the direction I’m leaning, maybe I should just shrug and enjoy it. I don’t have the professional pressure to have to stay as current as my colleagues do but as I said last year, I also don’t want to be a born-again baby boomer (even though my fascinating with the 1960s has only grown this past year).

So here’s my New Year’s Resolution For 2009: I shall listen to more new music and ideally, not new music that sounds like old music. (We’ll check back a year from now and see where I’m at).

This all said, here’s Part 1 of my year-in-review, beginning with old music I (re)discovered.

Edwin Starr: Running Back and Forth
From War & Peace (Gordy, 1970)

I get music recommendations from all sorts but no one is more influential than my friend Hua who has probably put me up on more of my more recent “new favorite songs” than any other single source I know. It helps that he has kick ass taste as well as a circle of friends in NY who have equally good taste and so I get some of these recommendation second, even third hand but heck – I ain’t too proud!

Case in point: this lesser known single off Starr’s big selling War and Peace album. It’s easy enough to forget that there was any other songs from that LP given how successful and iconic the “War” single became but when I first heard “Running Back and Forth,” I had a proverbial jaw-drop over how good it was and that it’d be from the same album. This song oozes with classic Motown production strengths of its era (RIP Norman Whitfield!), especially in its brass and the driving push of the sound bed. Seriously, try to piece apart all the little bits of the music; it is dense yet comes off sounding clean and simple. In contrast to Starr’s forceful polemicizing on “War,” here, he’s in classic love man mode, trying to kick some game. (Bonus points for the Sam Cooke nod on the bridge).

Labi Siffre: A Little More Line
From S/T (Pye, 1970)

This British singer, songwriter and poet has a voice you can’t soon forget – it’s not the most powerful, nor the most dynamic – but it is so distinctive and soothing, it stays with you long after the song’s end. I especially love how this song builds from an almost hymnal opening only to swell in size and sound with the string orchestration and some killer work on the drums. Siffre’s entire catalog from the ’70s is classic material (even if many of you probably have never heard of him). This was from his debut album and it’s just as good of a place to start as any to enjoy his gifts.

Alton Ellis: What Does It Take To Win Your Love
From Sunday Coming (Coxsone, 1971)

There is something humbling discovering this song the year of Ellis’ death. My awareness of him preceded his passing but I had been giving Ellis’ cover of Jr. Walker’s hit much spin in the first part of the year that when Ellis passed away in October, I found myself coming back to his catalog again and again. Ellis was arguably reggae’s finest soul man, not just with his covers but also original compositions.

The Impressions: I’m Loving Nothing
From This Is My Country (Curtom, 1968)

In a year of Obama’s ascendency, there are no doubt more apropos songs from the Impressions’ catalog but the song of theirs that will haunt me is “I’m Loving Nothing.” Its beauty seems almost profane given that this is all about the death of love. Not something you’d want as a first dance at your wedding but doesn’t it sound like an embrace rather than slow turn away?

Bonnie and Shelia: You Keep Me Hanging On
From 7″ (King, 1971). Also on New Orleans Funk Vol. 2.

King is best known as the home of James Brown for many of his pivotal funk productions of the late 60s but at least for this single, the Cincinnati-based label picked up a slice of NOLA funk thanks to this excellently produced tune from Wardell Quezerque. One of my new favorite femme funk tracks, “You Keep Me Hanging On” reminds me a lot of the snap and sass of Jean Knight’s “Mr. Big Stuff.” Hang with it.

Ray Barretto: Pastime Paradise (Good Parts Edit)
From La Cuna (CTI, 1981)

Gotta thank my man Rani D for hepping me to this Barretto song. As big of a fan I am of the late master’s work, I had never listened to anything he did past the early ’70s and I was mightily drawn to how good this cover of Stevie Wonder’s song is. The sound of this song is just so gorgeous, especially the first few minutes but I did have to admit I wasn’t quite as enamored with the vocals…and cheesy sex…and bad, Santana-wannabe rock guitar. So I just cut all that out and left you with a 1/3rd length “best of” edit from the song. Like Bobby B. – it’s my prerogative.

Joe Bataan: Ordinary Guy (7″ version)
From 7″ (Fania, 1967)

“Ordinary Guy” has been Joe Bataan’s enduring hit for over 40 years but this version, which only appeared on 7″ single, isn’t well known and when I first heard it, I was instantly enamored. It’s not entirely clear what Fania’s thinking was but they brought in pianist Richard Tee to give the song a a subtle new dynamic, most obviously heard in how different the new intro is. Tee’s piano has a strong presence, especially with an arrangement that sounds very much like the beginning of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s “Precious Love.” This is probably my favorite version of the song, precisely for that intro which gives the tune such a rich, soulful feel to it.

Bobby Matos: Nadie Baila Como Yo
From My Latin Soul (Phillips, 1968)

I’ve owned Bobby Matos and Combo Conquistadores’ incredible My Latin Soul album for years, but I had somehow totally overlooked the incredible charm of “Nadie Baila Como Yo” (nobody dances like me). It wasn’t until I heard the Boogaloo Assassins play it at their shows that I was reminded of how damn good it is; it’s since become, easily, one of my favorite Latin songs ever. Love how it changes up from a guanguanco into a son montuno and has those beautiful keyboard chords anchoring.

Skye: Ain’t No Need (Unity Mix)
From 7″ (Ananda, 1976)

When I was out in New York earlier this year, Jared at Big City Records slipped a reissue of this 45 into my hand and I was hooked (and then later, managed to procure an original from the Groove Merchant). Sometimes all you need is a good groove and this obscure disco single from the mid-70s delivers a one helluva great groove that just goes on and on and on. Under other circumstances, I’d find the whole thing repetitious but somehow, I don’t tire of it. Ever. (I created this “Unity Mix” which combines the original mix and disco mix in a simple edit).

Stevie Wonder: Send Me Some Lovin’
From I Was Made to Love Her (Motown, 1967)

Heck, I could have filled this list with Stevie Wonder songs I’ve been rediscovering but “Send Me Some Lovin'” has stood in front of that line. I love the small touches of funk to the arrangement, especially those pianos at the very beginning. This has a fantastic groove to it and you put Stevie’s distinctive vocals on top of that and you have an unbeatable combination.

Songs that are technically new (i.e. that just came out) but are based on older recordings:

Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd St. Rhythm Band: Express Yourself (alternate version)
From Puckey Puckey: Jams and Outtakes, 1970-71 (Rhino Handmade, 2008)

This was a real gem from the Puckey Puckey anthology that I wrote the liner notes for. It’s a completely alternate recording of the Watts 103rd’s big hit, “Express Yourself.” Compared to the original, this one is far more languid, like the group was nearing the end of their recording day and just wanted to something to chill out to, maybe smoke a bowl to (as they were known to).

Final Solution: I Don’t Care
From Brotherman (Numero Group, 2008)

Provided – their name was terrible. No one wants to think of the Holocaust while groovin’ to sweet soul – but even if the Chicago band formerly known as the Kaldirons probably could have chosen a better name for themselves, at least the music speaks for itself. The album – a soundtrack for a blaxploitation film never made – has an interesting backstory all its own but for now, all you need to know is how damn good “I Don’t Care” is. Especially when paired with that melancholy but heavy guitar melody by newcomer Carl Wolfolk, there’s something sublime about how the group’s falsetto voices come coasting in on top of the track. It’s a mix of slow-building drama with an angelic set of voices, lending a gospel-like quality to the music’s otherwise dark undertones.

Marvin Gaye: What’s Going On (DJ Day Edit)
From 7″ single (MPM, 2008)

This single just came out a week or so ago and it finds California’s DJ Day reworking an alternative version of Marvin Gaye’s classic “What’s Going On” in a way so clean and organic that even Motown fanatics would swear it was a lost tape from the label’s vaults. I don’t know why it sounds so perfect with the season but there’s something warm and comforting about this that makes you want to wrap yourself in it.

Nina Simone: Gimme Some (Mike Mangini Remix)
V/A: Verve Remixed 4 (Verve, 2008)

Frankly, this song had three killer remixes that I found almost equally commendable including Diplo’s remix of Marlena Shaw’s “California Soul” and the smoky Chris Shaw remix of Sarah Vaughn’s “Tea For Two”. But if I had to pick amongst that trio, this Nina Simone reworking took the slimmest of leads, possibly because it’s so damn happy (which is not an adjective I often associate with Her High Priestess. Seriously though, this whole album is nice.

Honorable Mentions:
1. Patti Drew: Stop and Listen
2. Joubert Singers: Stand On the Word
3. Ceil Miner: Stardust
4. Aaron Neville: She Took You For a Ride
5. New Holidays: Maybe So, Maybe No
6. Nick and Valerie: I’ll Find You
7. Pedrito Ramirez y su Combo: Micaela
8. Bobby Reed: The Time is Right
9. Smokey Robinson and the Miracles: If You Can Want
10. Tammi Terrell: What a Good Man He Is

PART 2: NEW(ISH) MUSIC (to follow soon!)

Q-TIP: THE VIBE IS BACK


Q-Tip: Won’t Trade + Believe (feat. D’Angelo)
From The Renaissance (Motown, 2008)

Ruby Andrews: You Made a Believer Out Of Me
From 7″ (Zodiac, 1969). Also on Casanova.

Large Professor: For My People
From The LP (Geffen, unreleased, 1995)

Having sat with Q-Tip’s new album for a few…I have to say, this is phenomenal. I know I may be biased – like many rap fans who grew up in the 1990s, Q-Tip and A Tribe Called Quest might very have been to us what the Beatles were to my parents’ generation. Especially given that Q-Tip has been incognito now for the last 9 years, since Amplifeid dropped (and Kamaal The Abstract did not), Q-Tip’s coming back into the game at a risky time. Young bucks don’t necessarily know him and old heads might have too-high expectations after such a long hiatus.

I can’t speak to whether The Renaissance is going to intuitively appeal to the same cats bumping T.I. and Young Jeezy (though, in T.I.’s case, maybe they are) but as an old head, The Renaissance not only reminds us why Q-Tip was one of our favorite MCs a decade but he’s also – remarkably – improved in that time off. I can’t think of too many other rappers who could claim that but Tip’s upgraded his flow. It’s more rhythmically complex, more in-the-pocket yet can play off the beat when it wants to. Listen to how he just darts effortlessly on “Won’t Trade” – this is not the same laconic, breezy flow from the days of “Bonita Applebaum.”

Personally, I was also tickled by the fact that Tip uses one of my favorite femme funk singles of all time: Ruby Andrews’ “You Made a Believer” out of me. Andrews’ original is ferocious – I think that’s the Brothers of Soul backing her and they cook up a monster of a funk mover here.

Q-Tip’s sample choice actually has some Native Tongues resonance since De La Soul used the same loop all the way back in 1989 for a bonus skit called “Brain Washed Follower.”

However, as I just suggested, Q-Tip is still down with the Abstract Poet vibe, recreating some of the magic of the Tribe era with songs that have a rich, emotional resonance thanks to the soul and jazz stylings and accented by Tip’s own philosophical meditations. A track like “Believe” (the album’s penultimate song) embodies the same qualities that Tip’s embodied throughout his career – putting the MIA D’Angelo in the mix only enhances the sweetness.

I was enjoying the track so much, I didn’t notice this right away but it dawned on me that it sounded familiar and then it hit me – this version of “Believe” interpolates a very similar beat to what Large Professor cooked up all the way back in 1996 for his doomed solo debut, The LP. In some ways, the two men share more than just musical tastes – both had bitter label experiences resulting from unreleased projects. Though Large Professor’s new Main Source hasn’t garnered the same attention (or strong reviews), there’s a nice serendipity to having the unreleased song from one man’s album being remade for the comeback album of the other.

If you want to check out my radio review of this album, voila.
(This post originally written for Side Dishes).

BLAZE IT UP: FUNK HEATERS



James Brown: The Chicken
From 7″ (King, 1969). Also on Popcorn.

Sugar Pie DeSanto: A Little Taste of Soul
From 7″ (Gedinson’s 100 Wax, 1962).

John Ellison: You’ve Got to Have Rhythm
From 7″ (Phil L.A. of Soul, 1970). Also on Funky, Funky Way of Making Love.

Lou Courtney: Hey Joyce
From 7″ (Pop-Side, 1967)

Toussaint McCall: Shimmy
From 7″ (Ronn, 196?). Also on Nothing Takes the Place of You.

Little Eva Harris: Get Ready – Uptight
From 7″ (Spring, 1968). Also on The Spring Story.

Bonus: Mighty Mo: The Next Message (Version)
From 7″ (Peace Find, 2007)

Today’s pick six follows on the Latin Party Starters post I made a few weeks back; this time, I offer up a selection of funk tracks. I, by no means, have that impressive of a funk 45 collection but I tend to collect for efficacy rather than rarity.

That’s why James Brown is such a blessing – much of his better material is easily attainable since he was so popular and prolific. “The Chicken” is a great example of his late ’60s funk styles, more minimalist than his ’70s output which tended to be more dense and involved. Something like “The Chicken” is such a clean, simple funk instrumental and no doubt, an inspiration to the dozens of bands who began to churn out similar funk tunes to this and other stuff off the excellent Popcorn LP.

The Sugar Pie DeSanto cut comes from a few years earlier – it’s a great example of “proto-funk,” one of the many sides from the early 1960s which clearly foresaw the kind of rhythmic energy that the end of the decade would be awash in. Though this song appears on the James Brown’s Original Funky Divas anthology, the Brown connection here is somewhat tenuous – he didn’t produce the single but his former drummer Nat Kendrick did lead her backing band here. Also, the version here is the original 1962 release (which to me was far superior). The version on the comp was actually an alternate take from 1964 which was much faster but loses something in the trade-off. (Thanks to Cool Chris and the Groove Merchant for this one).

I first heard the John Ellison cut at Miles Tackett’s long-running “Funky Sole” party and the first thing it reminded me was Don Gardner’s “My Baby Likes to Boogaloo” because of that hard, gritty guitar line that comes in after the intro. That is so my sound. Ellison was one of the Philly soul/funk artists to come out on the Phil L.A. of Soul label but this one, alas, isn’t as easy to catch as, say, the People’s Choice. I’d love to get any recommendations for other stuff with “that sound”.

Lou Courtney’s “Hey Joyce” is one of those frustrating 45-only cuts from an artist who has quite a few LPs under his belt but didn’t manage to put this song onto any of them. Between Pete Rock and Brainfreeze, this single has had a following for years and you can hear why; it’s got everything – an opening breakbeat, killer horns, an absolute gem of a rhythm section and two sets of background singers. Are you kidding me? They don’t get much better than this.

The Toussaint McCall might be one of the greatest funk instrumentals (outside of James Brown and Meters) that’s so easy to come by, you should be asking yourself why you don’t already have this (if you don’t already have this). I mean – this thing has what? Two parts: organ and drums but it sounds like a monster.

The Little Eva Harris is probably something I first heard at Funky Sole as well – you know me and covers – the moment I heard this, I knew I had to have it. Seriously – she is killing the “Get Ready” cover and you medley-mix that with Stevie’s “Uptight”? Holy s—, that’s hot. Her backing band tears this whole track up. Great, great, great stuff.

For a bonus, I added this sort-of new 45 from Finland that Jared Boxx hepped me to last time I was in NYC. The A-side is a cover of Grandmaster Melle Mel’s “The Message” but I’m actually partial to the “version” mix on the flipside. Even though the melody from “The Message” isn’t as obvious here, the sparser approach appeals to me more but both sides bring down the hammer. Copies of this may be hard to grab still but do your best; you’ll be happy you did.

RETRO SOUL SUMMER?


Solange Knowles: I Decided
From Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams (Geffen, upcoming 2008)

Estelle feat. Kardinal Offishall: Magnificent
From Shine (Atlantic, 2008)

Little Jackie: One Love + 28 Butts
From The Stoop (S-Curve, upcoming 2008)

Bonus: Tammi Terrell: What a Good Man He Is
From Irresistible (Motown, 1969)

Question: exactly how many “next Amy Winehouses” can there really be? So far, in the last year we’ve heard about: Leona Lewis (more like the new Mariah), Duffy (voice so thin, you could shave with it), Adele (Tracy Chapman meets Madeline Peryoux), Gabrielle Cilmi (didn’t both Nicole Willis and Amy both do this same video already?), even Lykke Li (doesn’t belong in the same conversation), et. al.

It has been a curious phenom that in the wake of last year’s epic Sharon Jones + Winehouse one-two punch, everyone is rushing to jock the bandwagon, and especially with Amy, there’s a desire to find another personality who could loom as large (good luck! You’ll need more than a bee-hive to fill Amy’s coif). From my point of view though, the upside to all this is that 2008 is shaping up to be a summer chockfull of retro-soul-esque production. I mean, sure, a lot of it is derivatives of derivatives – is there such a thing as neo-retro-soul? Hmmm…) but frankly, I’d rather listen to a bad clone of a clone of Motown/Stax than some of the new music that’s the alternative.

Case in point, three more recent artists on the retro tip, all of whom I’ve found perfectly enjoyable even if two of them seem to be riding the bandwagon. I’ve installed a “Wine-O-Meter” to measure similarity (not quality).

Solange, aka that other Knowles sister, decided to go to the source and hire Mark Ronson to produce her new single, “I Decided.” I admit – I was initially really skeptical about the song but it’s grown for me. Here’s my main beef: that little, jaunty, handclap track is very Motown-ish but it’s an intro: after a bar or two, the real beat drops in and in this case, that’s all there is. It’s like the song is all build-up but never delivers a gorgeous melodic hammer that you’d expect. That said, once you accept that, it’s a catchy tune. Snap along!

Wine-O-Meter: 7

Estelle’s Shine is one of my more favorite albums of 2008 and a strong, second showing for this British artist. I actually don’t think she’s very much like Winehouse; her vibe is more like a throwback to the late ’90s if anything else. There’s that R&B-meets-classic-hip-hop flair on songs like “Wait a Minute” (shades of “Kick In the Door”) and “So Much Out the Way” (Beatminerz steez) plus the ragga flavor on “Magnificent.” I just really like how that whole song flows, especially with the heavy ska/dub influence and Estelle’s silken vocals. Sweet stuff but hey, she should have gotten Special Ed on here instead of Kardinal. That would have been offishall.

Wine-O-Meter: 3

As for Little Jackie…ok, now THIS is definitely on some post-Winehouse tip, not just musically (Adam Pallin does a pretty good flip on Ronson’s style) but also in terms of the attitude and spark in the songwriting. Here’s the confusing thing: Little Jackie is not the singer; it’s the group name. The vocalist is Imani Coppola, who some of you might remember from “Legend of a Cowgirl” from about ten years back. Vocally, she’s also more contemporary than throwback but as noted, the kind of wit and cutting-ness in the songwriting will likely remind folks of Winehouse…even though, if you think about, her career goes back at least half a decade earlier. True as that may be, it’s really hard to listen to something like “28 Butts” (which I’m pretty sure uses this song) on part of the rhythm section) or “One Love” and not make the comparison. The latter is straight up ’60s girl pop (and I’m feeling it!). Their album drops later this summer: I highly recommend it.

Wine-O-Meter: 9

This all said though, you still gotta ask: why go retro when you can still listen to the originals? The bonus track is by the late Tammi Terrell, from (tragically) her only solo album, Irresistible. This song is so soulful, so funky, so ridiculously good for something that’s nearly 40 years old. It’s artists like Terrell who set the bar – now let’s see who can pass it.

P.S. Peep when Terrell drops: “let this girl tear the world up” – loving it!

BETTY DAVIS, DONNA SUMMER AND LITTLE BEAVER IN HEP MAGAZINE

I came upon this magazine today: a 1976 issue of Hep, an African American tabloid from the 1970s, published out of Ft. Worth, TX. This particular issue, apart from noting that “Blacks Are More Psychic Than White” and that alarming, banner story about a wild boy raised by monkeys, also had a cover story about Betty Davis, plus stories on Donna Summer’s “new” single (“Love To Love You Baby”) and Miami’s Little Beaver. I scanned in the relevant pages to share with you all (wig ads not included).

Bonus: More scans. These include a feature on the death of original Supremes member Florence Ballard, a random assortment of advertising and yes, wig ads by popular request, PLUS a racial explanation of psychic powers.

SEXY JAMS


Lloyd Charmers: Let’s Get It On
From Trojan Motor City Reggae (Trojan, 2006)

Little Beaver: Let the Good Times Roll
From Party Down (Cat, 1974)

Betty Wright: Tonight Is the Night
From Danger – High Voltage (Alston, 1974)

My sister-in-law is starting a dance class and is looking for suggestions for suitable music. To be more specific, she’s looking for: “”songs that make you feel like getting your groove on. Sexy slow uptempo or mid tempo, it’s all good we’re just asking for some ideas of what makes you feel sexy.” I’ve thrown some suggestions her way but I figured I could gather a few from the Soul Sides crowd.

Here are two songs that came to mind for me:

“Let’s Get It On” is practically de rigeur under these conditions but I thought I’d offer up the song with a twist – a really nice reggae cover by Lloyd Charmers that does a nice job of working off the original without straying too far. It’s not better than Gaye’s original – nothing ever could be – but it’s a cool twist on a familiar classic.

The Little Beaver song is something I’ve been meaning to post for a long time but as part of a Little Beaver post…I still haven’t gotten around to that (obviously) but this seemed like a good opportunity to pull out this, one of my favorite songs by one of Miami’s finest. I love how the song hits this perfect balance as a soulful funk tune (or funky soul tune) with an irresistible rhythm that, for me at least, always seems to inspire a scrunched scowl that says, “oh yeah baby.” You know what I mean.

Last song is the original version of Betty Wright’s hit “Tonight Is the Night.” Most folks are familiar with her live version and strangely, it’s very hard to find her first version on CD. I can see why the live version is more celebrated but I’ve always liked this studio take too – it’s more mellow, a bit more slick (vs. the rawness of the live one) but still has that familiar melody and hook that people know so well. That plus, c’mon – it’s just about the best song ever written about losing one’s virginity (albeit, no one’s first time likely goes this groovy).

What sexy jams would you suggest for my sister-in-law’s class?