MY FAVORITE THINGS – 2019

2019 was a good balance between new music I discovered/enjoyed vs. old tunes I’m continually finding via records. I find that raising a teenager helps with the former and while I would never try to pass myself off – these days – as having a finger of the musical zeitgeist, I think it’s valuable to stay engaged with new music coming out. Anyways…I’m going to flip this from the round-ups of the last few years and start with the old tracks I gave heavy run to last year. (Not in ranked order)

1. The Rascals: My World (1968)

So…yeah, I slept. I think the only reason I even came across it last year was because of the 3 Ft. High and Rising anniversary mixtape. Anyways, this is an example of a perfect ’60s pop song in terms of all its core elements: the vocal interplay is key, the instrument and arrangement decisions are lush without being overbaked, and the hook is a legit ear worm.

2. Karen Dalton: Are You Leaving For the Country? (1971)

Credit for this goes to Jason Woodbury who brought in the Dalton LP for our Heat Rocks episode. I find the song haunting and melancholy and even this city boy isn’t immune to its sentiment.

3. Basabasa Experience: Homowo (1979)

Earlier this summer, I was crashing for a couple of nights with my friend Hua and in his office, he has a small stack of records and this was near the top. I was intrigued by the title and asked about it and he just put it on and I was instantly smitten. It’s easily the best African disco LP I’ve ever heard and “Homowo” is a standout thanks to those opening synths and the lyrics.

4. Italian Asphalt and Pavement Company: Check Yourself (1970)

No shade on The Intruders, who originally recorded this Gamble/Huff tune, but this cover by the IAP Co. is straight crossover fire.

5. Ohio Penitentiary 511 Jazz Ensemble: Psych City (1971)

The best prison spiritual jazz LP ever recorded. Ok, maybe the only but seriously, this whole album is a gem. Read more here.

6. Kalle & L’African Team De Paris : Africa Boogaloo (1971)

I’ve long been a fan of New York boogaloo influences returning to its African roots and this single, written/produced by Manu Dibango, is a stellar example of the genre.

7. Nina Simone: Cosi Ti Amo (1970)

https://youtu.be/csIJBNhbKMk

The High Priestess taking it higher for an Italian jukebox-only cover of her “To Love Somebody,” sung in Italian. I have Y La Bamba’s Luz Mendoza to thank for this since I came across it when she chose Simone’s LP for her Heat Rocks episode.

8. R.D. Burman: Dance Music (1976)

Listening to Freddie Gibbs/Madlib’s “Education” (see below) compelled me to track its sample source back to this R.D. Burman-produced Bollywood marvel that packs in four movements in so many minutes. I find the whole song to be magical but the portion that kicks off a little after two minutes in is the best.

9. Herman Davis: Gotta Be Loved (1971)

A white whale that took me a few years to hunt down, I think of this as a repentant playboy’s anthem. Love the whole groove of this one-off single from St. Louis MO’s Davis, especially the plinkling piano after “I hear the raindrops” opening line.

10. The Delfonics: He Don’t Really Love You (1968)

Talk about coming out the gate: this is the Delfonics’ first single and it’s a masterful deep/sweet soul tune. The hook is massive and shout out to whoever is working the kettle drum on this.

11. Sweet Daddy Reed: I Believe To My Soul (1969)

Came across this via my dude Pablo: Sweet Daddy Reed takes Ray Charles’s original and strips it down to its bluesy bones. So deep, so good.

12. Breakers Two: I’m Gonna Get Down (1965)

When I came upon this in Amsterdam’s awesome Wax Well Records, I assumed it was an early electro single given the artist name and song title but nope: it’s a gorgeous island soul single from Guyana.

13. Joby Valente: Tu N’es Pas Riche, Tu N’es Pas Beau (1970)

Same trip to Amsterdam also brought me to Paris and I scooped this (plus the “Africa Boogaloo” single from earlier) at the ace Superfly Records. Originally from Martinique, Valente recorded several sides for the French/Guadalupe label Aux Ondes and this B-side is a killer blend of her voice with some soul boulder goodness on the track.

14. Members of the Staff: Stop the Bells (1972)

https://youtu.be/UWG1F04zeVM

Bought this one off of the aforementioned Hua: a Leon Haywood-produced, Gene Page-arranged, local L.A. tear-jerker that’s definitely NOT what you want to play at a wedding.

15. Fully Guaranteed: We Can’t Make It Together (1972)

One of the last things I picked up in 2019, I love how this is an answer/rebuke track to the 1970 soft rock hit, “Make It Together.” Take that, Bread!

Ok, onto the new joints….

1. Jamila Woods: Betty

I mean…Jamila made a song about Betty Davis. That’s already frickin’ awesome but it’s also my favorite tune off her Legacy! Legacy!” Those opening piano chords lure you in and I was hooked all the way through the stinger. I just wish it was longer but hey, I don’t want to be greedy.

2. Valerie June: Cosmic Dancer

Would I have guessed that Valerie would absolutely smash a T-Rex cover? Actually, yes, yes I would. The melancholic beauty of her rendition is just sublime.

3. Bazzi: I.F.L.Y.

This might be the most “Spotify sound” track on my list but if I’m a victim of the algorithm, I’m ok with that. Give me all the mellifluous guitar R&B beats.

4. Normani: Motivation

This feels like retro-Destiny’s Child and I mean that in all the best ways.

5. Los Retros: Someone to Spend Time With

I’m fine with Tapia’s general sound but it’s the pairing of his voice with Firelordmelisa’s that makes this work as well as it does.

My only knock: why is there no 45 for this yet?!?!?!

6. UMI: Sukidakara

UMI is one of my favorite new artist discoveries and I love that she gets to bust out her Japanese skills on this one. My 14 y.o. was already into her sound but discovering that UMI is half-Japanese (like her) endeared her even more.

7. Samm Henshaw: Church

London’s Henshaw is also one of my favorite new artist discoveries. I thought his 2018 single, “Broke” was stellar and this new gospel-infused single is similarly awesome. Glory glory hallelujah.

8. Kota the Friend: Chicago Diner

The lyrics here are…just ok but the vibe? Cookies in the oven on a Sunday, indeed.

9. Lady Wray: Come On In

As the late Matthew Africa would have called this: it’s a soul boulder.

So. Damn. Heavy.

10. Brainstory: Beautyful Beauti

Straight outta the Inland Empire, Brainstory’s Buck was one of my favorite albums of 2019 and this single, in particular, embodies everything great about their sound/style.

11. G Yamazawa: Good Writtens Vol. 5

I’m digging G’s entire “Good Written” series so this really was a toss up between equals. Regardless, I’m hyped for whenever he puts out some new studio material in 2020.

12. Amber Mark: Love is Stronger Than Pride

Technically from 2018 but no song got more early 2019 play than Mark’s luscious riff on Sade’s classic.

13. Solange: Stay Flo

I’m not sure how a song can sound sparse and lush at the same time but here we are.

14. Freddie Gibbs, Madlib, Yasiin Bey, Black Thought: Education

I suppose this is lab-engineered to appeal to ’90s heads like myself but I don’t care. Having these three cats flow over that R.D. Burman loop (see above) is lo-fi gold.

15. Lizzo: Truth Hurts

Artist of the year and it’s not particularly close. We’re all in Lizzo’s world now.

PUSHING FORWARD

swan-silvertones-if-you-believe-your-god-is-dead-try-mine-hob-is-gospel

Swan Silvertones: If You Believe Your God Is Dead
From 7″ (HOB, 197?).

I received this email, from out of the blue, the other day:

Oliver, the world needs you more than ever now.

Your Soul selections (and general selection) is such an important part of global culture especially Soul & Black culture worldwide.

To DJ’s and Soul collectors you are a hero, and the one thing I know we all need in this world is more Love marinaded with your incredible selection skills.

SoulSides wasn’t just a blog, it was access to catalogues of music that never reached parts of our globe like Africa as an example, obviously because of political issues, but mainly because of limited budget releases of those incredible labels and artists.

It’s hard to describe how much it meant to receive it and not just because it’s highly complementary.

When I started Soul Sides in 2004, I was subconsciously using it to replace my old college radio show. The latter had gotten to be a slog so I was happy to reclaim those 3+ hours a week but I missed having a way of sharing and talking about music so voila!: audioblogging filled that space.

And in the heady days where people still, you know, blogged, it was kind of like doing radio but even better because people would comment and there’d be small convos that’d breakout on account of it. That kind of feedback is vitally important; it lets me know that people are out there listening.

And then Facebook and Twitter arose and I was just as guilty as anyone in shifting my attention and energies – as a reader – over to those platforms. I understand why people stopped commenting here but over time, I just couldn’t tell who was reading/listening anymore. Was I writing these posts to a non-audience? And if so, what was the point of doing that? And so, over time, my posting has slowed to a trickle.

I’m not saying this to guilt anyone out there. I’m totally fine with people hopping on, DLing a few songs, and jumping out. I do/did the same. But what this email reminded me was “oh, people are reading/listening” and it helps me to want to create more for you (the abstract “you”, not just the author of the email).

I’m thinking about this a lot lately because I’ve been in a dark place because of what’s happening in my society and I keep coming back to something my friend Jeff Chang wrote: “don’t despair, create.” I’m really trying to take that to heart because action is a great counter to depression and so I’m more committed, than ever, to want to create things in the world, whatever forms that may take. And so you may see an increase in posting here but here’s my ask: let me know what you think. Again, feedback to a writer/DJ is part of our lifeblood. It helps to know who’s reading/listening out there. I’m not asking for paragraphs – just a sentence will do. And again, my point here isn’t to guilt people. And maybe what I need to do is create  Facebook group or something along those lines (since there’s not a ton of interaction on the FB page). But in any case, it helps to hear from you all, it truly does.

It also seems apropos that in a time where it feels dark, I gravitate towards songs that seem to burst with light and I can’t think of one much better than this Swan Silvertones’ single. I’m not religious so gospel to me is about feeling rather than faith but heck, the insistence they have in saying, “if you believe your god is dead, try mine, he’s still alive” is so powerful, it makes me want to believe. And theology aside, the basic message is: do not despair, hope survives.

 

DAPTONE SUMMER

After what seemed like a quiet winter/spring, Daptone has burst out with a grip of new releases over the last few months.

Of the bunch, my favorite has been Naomi Shelton and the Gospel Queens’ “Sinner“:

I wouldn’t have expected this to have been the cut I’d gravitate to but there’s such power here, especially in those opening bars where Shelton lights into “I…was…born!!!!!” This is the lead cut off the upcoming Naomi Shelton album.

I’m also into the new Ever-Soul reissue of The Relatives’ “Leave Something Worthwhile”.

From what I can suss out, this is the first time this track appears on 7″ and it’s a fantastic slice of mid-tempo/crossover gospel soul. Feel good, all day long. Drops July 15.

Also feeling the new single by the former back-up singing duo of Saun and Starr (aka the Dapettes).

Besides liking any story that features back-up singers moving to the front of the stage, this single has that classic Dap-Kings sound. Both sides are aces.

Last, we have Charles Bradley, joining forces with LaRose Jackson on a limited (and now sold out) 7″:

To be candid, despite this being on hot pink vinyl(!), I surprisingly wasn’t that into either side but that is, of course, purely a subjective opinion. They’re competent sides, just nothing that inherently connected with me though.

HOLY GHOST POSTS: FEEL THE ETERNAL RUSH

Arthur Blessitt/The Eternal Rush: God’s Love
From Soul Session At His Place (Creative Sound, 1969)

So Blessitt is an…interesting guy and this album was recorded during what I can only imagine was a really heady, psychedelic era of Hollywood history when Blessitt used to run a nightclub called The Soul Session.1 Among the folks who used to come in was a group called The Eternal Rush, whose lead singer Jim McPheeters is who you hear here. Really trippy, groovy stuff here, especially the mix of acoustic and electric piano. The rest of the album is whatever, but this one song is pretty amazing to me.

  1. How could NOT want to go there?

HOLY GHOST POSTS: HENRY JACKSON GIVE THANKS

HENRY JACKSON COMPANY THE THE GOSPEL TRUTH US 73 I M SO THANKFUL

The Henry Jackson Company: I’m So Thankful (Extended Intro/Bridge edit)
From S/T (Gospel Truth, 1973)

This Jackson LP has one of easier gospel funk cuts to track down; a slick, Southern soul influenced cooker (this is on Gospel Truth, which means that the rhythm section was likely drawn from Stax/Volt session players). The original LP version does have a little breakbeat to open it plus that groovin’ bridge but in case I ever wanted to DJ out with this, I did a quick/dirty edit to extend the intro break into 8 bars instead of 4 and did the same with the bridge. It doesn’t sound forced (hopefully). I call it…enhanced.

HOLY GHOST POSTS: CHARLES JOHNSON HITS A HIGH NOTE

All seeing eye

Charles Johnson and the Dynamic Gaylarks: God Got His Eyes On You
From 7″ (Richburg, 197?)

The slow build on this is fantastic…I’m not sure if Johnson’s falsetto isn’t just a little pitchy but you can’t ask for a more dramatic crescendo to kicking off the rhythm section to launch into what’s essentially a crossover-style gospel jam. This one’s out of Newark, NJ.1

  1. By the way, I have an extra, stock copy of this 7″ if anyone’s interested. Drop me an email.

HOLY GHOST POSTS: MOURNING DOVES COME IN FROM THE WILDERNESS

Mk01 12pmt04 01

Mourning Doves: Come Out the Wilderness
From 7″ (Kable, 196?)

Since I just wrote about the new Numero comp of gospel soul, I thought I’d just carry the theme through for a couple more posts.

Pretty sure I heard this originally from Greg Belson; utterly fierce gospel funk track that sounds reminiscent of an arrangement that’s escaping me right now. The general gist though: it kicks ass, spiritually speaking, of course. The flip is a nice ballad-y hand-clapper to boot.

HOLY GHOST POSTS: APOCRYPHAL HYMNS

Numero’s latest in the Good God! series of gospel soul/funk albums might be my favorite yet. I’m, of course, slightly biased by the fact that they ended up using a song from an album that, years ago, I had suggested they reissue and I ended up helping them with the album scan that’s in the comp (Religious Souls). But really, this is absolutely up my alley in terms of gospel’s dip into deep soul. The fact that I even owned one (let alone three) of the albums/singles featured on here is partial evidence of that (on the last two Good God! comps, I’m not sure I had any prior to hearing them). Here’s some of the highlights on their latest.

Songs from Good God! Apocryphal Hymns (Numero Group, 2013).

The Religious Souls: Sinner Man
From Sinner Man (Artist’s Recording, 197?)

I’m still convinced there’s gotta be a way for someone to devote an entire comp to the Kingcannon family. There’s no shortage of material out there, for certain. “Sinner Man” was never my go-to track for them but listening to this again? Perhaps it should have been. So damn good, especially the harmonies.

Shelton Kirby: Poor Wayfaring Stranger
From Yield Not (Bee Gee, 1973)

So, uh, I’ve owned this LP for years and I’m not sure how I never connected the fact that it’s a gospel album. Gorgeous electric piano work; makes you want to melt into the song.

The Gospel Clouds: Let Us Pray
From 7″ (Spectrum, 197?)

This is one of my #1 wants in any genre. It’s just an amazing cut on so many levels, but especially all that analog synth work. Pity this thing is insanely rare though. The fact that it’s a Bay Area record only makes me love it more.


I should also note that Numero also took this comp as an opportunity to pay tribute to the private press labels out there. The CD label, for example, is a flip on the old Century custom label logo and apparently, the album has different covers, all taken from stock images that you’ll see on dozens, if not hundreds, of gospel LPs from this era.

As it is, I recently wrote about custom labels for KCET’s ArtBound, on the occasion of the release of this new book, Enjoy the Experience, put out by Sinecure Books. For the piece, I ended up interviewing Eothen “Egon” Alapatt, Sinecure co-founder and creator of Now-Again as well as Thes One since both of them are heavy private press collectors. Fun story to work on but also poignant in challenging how we think about the “official” musical record. Read my story, cop the book.

ASK US (ROUND 3)

Map of Scandinavia

Question (from Dinsdale): Hi O-Dub. Have you ever made a post focusing on Scandinavian stuff? Do you have any preferences at all vis-a-vis this?”

Answer: I’ve never done, as far as I recall, a dedicated post specifically about music out of the region. I’m simply not familiar with it as a “scene” to try to frame it as such. That said, I have written about artists from those countries, especially Sweden. That includes Bob Azzam, Alice Babs, The Gimmicks, and I’m not sure the Impossibles count since they were Thai even if they recorded for Philips in Sweden.

Outside of there, I’ve done a few posts about artists connected to the Finnish label, Timmion. I think Webster Lewis, who recorded in Norway, got a brief mention in a post or two but never a dedicated post. I do have other records from the region that I’ve never written about and maybe this will spur me to pull some of those out. But in general, as noted, I don’t feel like I “know the scene” well enough to created a region-specific series of posts about it. If anyone cares to put me up on names I need to know: holler.

I realized that I should actually be including more music with these “Q&A” posts so here goes:

Bombey Horn: Subway Baby
From Subway Horn (Philips, 1977)

I can’t remember if Chairman Mao or Cool Chris was the first to put me up on this…it’s by (I believe) a Danish pair who released the album on Phillips in Sweden (though I think it also had a local Danish release as well). A very cool mid/late 1970s crossover tune that’s got lovely bits of jazz and soul thrown together (all that and subway sound effects!). It’s one case where vaguely cheesy sax doesn’t actually sound all that bad at all. My memory is that this LP was kind of a one-tracker but maybe I’ll go back to to it and check again.


Question (from Josh G.): Souful/funky gospel. What’s the label or region motherlode that hasn’t been re-issued?

Answer: The better question is what labels or regions have there been solid reissues of? I feel like gospel is a pretty massive genre that hasn’t seem that much attention yet relative to the number of recordings out there. Greg Belson is a L.A. based DJ who is a hardcore soulful gospel fan and he’s always posting up songs to his FB page and it just blows my mind how much stuff is out there that’s barely on the edge of our awareness.

But if you’re asking about labels, you could do a lot worse than start with HSE and Champ. But seriously, gospel records run far deeper than most of us secularists are aware of. The amount of comps or reissues out there tackling it is almost ludicrously small by comparison.

Voices of Faith, Hope and Love: Give Yourself To Jesus
From 7″ (V.F.H.L., 197?)

I’ve been very modestly stockpiling different gospel releases for a while now and this was one I had been meaning to share for the longest. The use of Rhodes on here is so lovely and works perfectly with the overall vibe of the song. And I can guarantee you that this single – which I think is exemplary – is probably considered run of the mill amongst heavy gospel soul fans. Just think on that.


Have a question? Ask us.

THE SIDEBAR 19: AARON COHEN, AUTHOR OF “AMAZING GRACE”


Aaron and I have corresponded through the years – we’re mutual fans of one another’s musical interests – and he was in Los Angeles in late August to screen the (hopefully) forthcoming documentary on Aretha Franklin’s Amazing Grace, her best-selling 1972 gospel album. It’s a topic very close to Aaron’s heart, especially as the author of the new 33.3 book, Amazing Grace, which examines the album through exhaustive historical research and interviews.

Aaron and I chatted in my kitchen about the album, his book and the documentary (plus a bonus podcast of a few of his favorite gospel songs).


The Sidebar #19: Aaron Cohen
 

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Music used in this episode (all songs from Aretha Franklin’s Amazing Grace unless *otherwise indicated):

  • Amazing Grace
  • *Aretha Franklin: Precious Lord (Take My Hand)
  • Mary, Don’t You Weep
  • Give Yourself to Jesus
  • How I Got Over
  • Climbing Higher Mountains
  • Old Landmark
  • Remarks by C.L. Franklin
  • *The Gay Sisters: God Will Take Care of You
  • God Will Take Care of You
  • What a Friend We Have In Jesus
  • Precious Memories
  • Wholy Holy

Bonus beats: Aaron Cohen on a few gospel favorites
 

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Music in the bonus round:

Don’t forget to check out Aaron’s book!