CATCHING UP WITH TRUTH AND SOUL

The spring is shaping up to be a good one for Truth and Soul with the next Lee Fields & the Expressions album on its way but their winter was solid too (and apologies for not getting this out sooner). Their reissue dept. has been busy with a trio of fantastic releases, starting with…

Qunestine Strong: One Hundred Years From Now
From 7″ (Truth and Soul, 2013)

Apart from having one of the more unique names I’ve ever seen, this is one of the few soul singles I can think of out of Phoenix, recorded (I think?) back in 1973. According to the website’s liners, producer Lawrence Carroll had to figure out how to record 16 instruments on a basic 8-track. What you get is this balance between a slightly lo-fi recording and an impressively dense arrangement, all of which creates the sound bed that the aptly named Strong comes in over on and crushes with her vocals. Speaking of lo-fi though:

Beau Williams: I’ll Be Home Soon
From 7″ (Truth and Soul, 2013)

This is fantastic 7″…two unreleased demo tracks recovered from the vaults of Whit Records in 2011. It certainly still sounds like a demo but to me, that’s part of the charm: it’s so damn raw. It also doesn’t hurt that even the demo mix puts the drums up front and center. Both sides are aces. But as good as these two releases are, the release gem is…

Shirely Nanette: Give and Take + Tropic of Love
From Never Coming Back (Satara, 1973)

I wrote about this album nearly two years ago and raved about how it had become an instant favorite. I think it’s fantastic that it’s been reissued so that others can enjoy it. I do wish the liners were a bit more extensive on the reissue; I really want to know more about the recording, especially since Nanette is still around. But that aside, you should get this – such a wondrously diverse album in style and sound. I’m sharing “Give and Take” again as that’s my favorite and this time, I’m including “Tropic of Love” which I didn’t include before.

SHARON JONES AND THE DAP-KINGS: ALWAYS GIVING US WHAT WE WANT

At this point, the story’s been well told. All I’ll add is that like many, I’m very happy to hear that Jones’s cancer is in remission.

Their new album just dropped this week, having been delayed for obvious reasons from last summer. I jawed about it briefly on KPCC on Tuesday and don’t have a ton to add except to say this:

This band is now five albums deep into a career that I doubt many folks would have predicted would have gone this distance. That’s certainly not for any shortcoming in talent on their part, rather it’s the case that their particular style of retro-soul had no useful precedent. Maybe you could imagine one or two albums but back in 2002, when they dropped their debut, it wasn’t like there were examples of similar artists carving out a long-term, successful career. Desco and Soul Fire had both come and gone with what, in hindsight, feels like a ferocious quickness. The Poets of Rhythm were already breaking up after only two albums. Sharon and the Dap-Kings were out there, making the road by walking, as their label mates might say. So to see them, now 14 years and 5 albums later, still doing their thing, kicking it with Ellen and Fallon, with Sharon rocking her bald head like the badmamajama she is? We should all feel so fortunate to enjoy their bounty of music. And we should all count our blessings and send good wishes that albums 6, 7 and 8 are around the corner.

P.S. I have my two LP favorites picked out already: “We Get Along,” which reminds me, ever-so-slightly, of “Follow Your Heart” and “Making Up and Breaking Up” which is as a gorgeous ballad that I’ve ever heard from the group (which is saying a lot).

P.P.S. Valerie June is opening for them on tour this spring. Pencil me in for that show like…yesterday.

2013 REWIND PT. 1 (NEW RELEASES)

I’m not remotely trying to put up an “end of year” best-of that’d be on the level of what my betters have done. I’ve certainly listened to more artists than what’s below…I just didn’t happen to feel strongly enough about them have a longer list. There are albums I liked – the James Hunter Six for example – but I’d still be hesitant to call “one of the year’s best.” What follows would make that list, no hesitation.

Laura Mvula: Sing to the Moon

Love, love, love this album. Easily my favorite LP of the year and such a brilliant, enrapturing effort.

Lady: S/T.

Not just a delightfully fun listen but you gotta love how it brings together two talents enjoying their second act.

Earl Sweatshirt: Doris

My favorite hip-hop release of the year (Yeezus, lose the wheel). I never connected with Tyler, the Creator (not his fault) but for whatever reason, Earl and his album totally got me.

The Internet: Feel Good

Speaking of Odd Future, loved the laid-back grooviness of The Internet’s sophomore album. Vicodin helps but I would have liked it even without the opiate enhancement.

Valerie Stone: Pushin’ Against a Stone

Laura Mvula and her back-up singers created the sound of the year but Valerie might have “voice of the year” on lock.

Songs

Again, this list is purely personal and it’s not based off of singles but simply the songs that I will be bumping well into 2014 and beyond.

Just a name and a number with the means to reach ya.


I don’t like Drake, generally, but this song has burrowed like an ear worm in the worst way.


Let us live, that fantasy.


I’m not sure I get the whole acid rap thing but anything that flips “Clean-Up Woman” in 2013 gets a heavy (head) nod.


Technically, more than a year old but I didn’t come across to it until 2013. Same deal with this track from Revolutionary Rhythm.


Hands down, probably the one song I listened more than anything. A little Lauryn loop goes a long way.

H-TOWN BOOGIE

Heyhipster

Supergrass: Alright
From I Should Coco (Parlophone, 1995)

Fat Pat: Tops Drop
From Ghetto Dreams (Wreckshop, 1998)

Systema Solar: Mi Kolombia
From S/T (Intermundos, 2010)

Ocote Soul Sounds and Adrian Quesada: Tu Fin, Mi Comienzo
From 7″ (Aire Sol, 2013). Also on Coconut Rock

Penny & The Quarters: You and Me (Prince of Ballard remix)
Originally from 7″ (Numero Group, 2011)

Bonus: Icona Pop: I Love It
From This Is… (Atlantic, 2013)

I was recently in Houston and Galveston to DJ a wedding (what up Alex and D’Arcy!) and as I’ve probably said before, one of the things that I like about these kinds of gigs is that I’m inevitably turned onto new songs in the process of prepping. Some of it comes directly as requests from the couple, some come more a bit more serendipitously, but the playlist is ever-evolving and I get to expand my musical horizons as a result.

Case in point: the bride requested the Supergrass song, which sounded vaguely familiar (hello Clueless cameo) but I certainly wasn’t that familiar with. Loved it from jump – those stabbing keys! the bright, defiant optimism! – and it’s the type of tune you can drop next to some early Rolling Stones or Beatles jams and it’ll fit right in.

Case also in point: the groom definitely wanted some H-Town rap in there and asked specifically for the Fat Pat song. Definitely never on my radar back in the late ’90s (too busy writing about Fondle ‘Em 12″s) but any gangsta funk tune reworking Yarbrough and Peoples gets my nod.1

Because the groom’s family is from Colombia, I was introduced to the greatness that is the hora loca and while I was hired partially because I already have love for cumbia (I blame B+), the groom put me up on all kinds of newer cumbia jams, including that Systema Solar cut with its slurring rhythms, cheer-a-long hooks, and rhymes en espanõl that sound like they were written circa 1991. Hype.

Speaking of Latin jams, I’d be remiss to not give a huge shout-out to Martin Perna of Antibalas/Ocote Soul Sounds who’s currently living in Houston and reached out to invite me to hang out while I was in town.2 An incredibly gracious host who not only fed me breakfast but hit me with his personal Google map of Houston record stores (no, you can’t see it), including Cactus Music (where the photo above was shot).3 He also laced me with a brand new 7″ featuring two cuts off Coconut Rock, one of which is a cumbia but “Tu Fin, Mi Comienzo” is a slice of frantic funk that’s not to be denied.

The Penny & the Quarters remix was a request by the groom; “You and Me” was the “first dance” song but he wanted a remixed version for use as the last song of the night. He asked if I had anyone who might be up for it and I automatically thought of the Prince of Ballard and I’m happy to say, it all worked out. Slick remix too – POB does it again!

Last but not least, in prepping for the wedding, DJ Choimatic told me to try out the Icona Pop. This may surprise some of my readers but I – like my 8 year old daughter – am feeling this. I do indeed, love it. The thing is: I never did get around to playing it at this particular wedding – it’s not the sort of tune you just randomly drop in anywhere – but maybe the next one…


Ok, so all that said, one more thing and this is not a goodbye letter. I promise you.

But the fact that the site’s been plagued with tech problems for the last month actually seems quite apropos given how harried and scattered I’ve felt. It goes beyond just a month of server-side woes though; it’s been this whole semester. I’ve always said I’m more productive when I’m busy but I’ve learned – the hard way – that there’s a point that goes beyond “busy” where you start to hate all your commitments and (slightly) hate yourself for having volunteered into those commitments. I can’t say I “hit a wall” this semester but maybe I lightly fender-bendered into one. I have – no lie – at least three different ways of reminding me of shit I have to do.4 And with all that, I still feel like I’m only operating at partial effectiveness; stuff gets dropped off my radar daily and as you’ve likely noticed, Soul Sides has been one of the more frequent casualties of all this.

On the one hand, writing this site has given me more than I could have ever imagined, let alone asked for. I got flown out to Houston to do a freakin’ wedding because I write this site. I’ve gotten both writing and DJ gigs off it. I’ve made comps off it. I’ve done all kinds of good shit. I’m so thankful for all this. For all y’all who read this, whether religiously (in which case, you’ve actually bothered to get to this point of the post) or off-and-on (it’s cool, I still have love for you even if you’re not reading me giving you that love right now).

On the other hand, when everything feels like “work,” a labor of love like this feels like work too and in the midst of feeling resentful at all the things beckoning at me, foregoing something as personal as this (translation: shit I’m not getting paid for) becomes all-too-easy. That’s not an excuse, just merely an explanation.

This is not a goodbye letter. I just need to get some shit off my chest because I feel like I owe it you all (and perhaps the fact I even feel that way might be part of the problem but let’s not go there right now) and because I need to force myself to write this just to prove that I can still write a post here. (Yes, welcome to my self-therapy.)

Normally, this is where I say I have some plan to post more frequently and predictably but I’d rather not jinx things. I’d also rather not prove myself to be a liar in four months when I write this same basic post again then. But hopefully it won’t come to that.

Until then, yours, truly, as always.

–O.W.

  1. Thanks to Sugarland TX’s native son, DJ Phatrick, I put together a short Houston rap set which was fun as hell. I may not have been intimately familiar with most of what I played but the crowd certainly was.
  2. Speaking of gracious-ness, I’d be remiss in not shouting out to Kat at Live Oak Legacies for letting me crash with her and her crew in Galveston. Next time, we need to take the boat out.
  3. I wish there had been more time to run through that store and the rest but I was happy to leave with this for $2.
  4. Just in case you were curious, I’d recommend all of them. First, Workflowy. So simple, so genius. Second, Follow Up Then. Your inbox will hate you for it but it has its utility. Third, using Siri to create Reminders. I probably look like a fucking tool when I do it…and Siri blows the transcription more often than I’d like…but it’s a still killer feature.

IN ROTATION

If you’ll indulge me in a little self-reflexivity…I’m finding it harder to muster the energy for my traditional posts, which tend to discuss single recordings (or thematically connected recordings) but I’m trying to stay in good faith with y’all rather than just hitting you with a bunch of songs with zero context (I mean, maybe some of you would actually prefer that but that’s never been my steez and it never will be).

So as an experiment, I’m plucking a grip of songs out of my current “in rotation” playlist and doing mini-write-ups on each even if there’s no intuitive glue that connects one to another (besides my infatuation with them).1

Badfinger: Baby Blue
From Straight Up (Apple, 1971)

Never listened to any Badfinger besides the one or two songs that might frequent a classic rock station but like the millions who watched the series finale of Breaking Bad, we were treated to this ditty at the end. I don’t really associate the show – broadly – with a heavy dose of pop placements (compare it with Sons of Anarchy which practically ends every single episode with a montage set over some moody song. I like the show but it needs to stop tapping that particular well). However, when they’ve spent some of that AMC money to license a song, it’s always purposeful and the musical supervision taste is pretty impeccable. That includes “Crystal Blue Persuasion” (brilliantly reused by The Simpsons) and as I wrote in a previous post, The Peddlers’ haunting version of “On a Clear Day.”

But dropping “Baby Blue” as the series closer was so perfect on so many levels…obviously thematically but it adds an interesting emotional texture since the content is downbeat yet the feel, to me, is upbeat. And for those who’ve seen the episode and argue over whether it’s ultimately a “happy” ending or not, you could say the song mirrors that ambivalence. I also think it’s a pretty good tune, an example of ’70s era rock that isn’t pure milquetoast (though I’m sure others might disagree). I like a good rock ballad though.

Haim: My Song 5
From Days Are Gone Columbia, 2013)

Power pop ain’t really my bag but this trio is out of L.A. (homer alert) and the production on the album, and especially this song, can be rather stunning. You have those huge, distorted guitars but also a dub-step like synth baselines (put a donk on it!) and then at 1:50? HOLY SHIT, WHAT IS THIS? The song goes so bright and “pretty” (I mean that in the best way possible). In fact, I just realized this bridge only lasts for about 30 seconds and I could care less for the rest of the song but man, it sounds so good for that half minute. (See also: the last minute of Kanye’s “New Slaves” when he gets his Hungarian psych sample on).

Drake: Too Much
From Nothing Was the Same

I was going to write about my favorite song off Drake’s new album but then I realized that would mean I’d be writing about Drake. Ok, moving on.

Lorde: Royals
From Pure Heroine (Cash Money, 2013)

I’m jealous of teenagers who are bumping this and fully embracing the idea that,, “fuck yeah, I dig what she’s saying.” Instead, being my age (and having my professional background), my affection has been partially distracted away by the asinine arguments about the song being racist.2 But for real: I was listening to this song walking down Nanjing Lu, a huge, commercial thoroughfare in Shanghai which is a spectacular monument to consumerism and conspicuous consumption and it was the perfect sonic commentary. Plus, great minimal production, a lovely choral effect on the hook, and Lorde’s singing/rapping cadence. If MIA doesn’t jack this for a mix tape remix, it’s an opportunity lost.3

Dr. Dog: The Truth
From B-Room (Anti, 2013)

I had never heard of Dr. Dog before I heard this song on the radio but I immediately wondered if Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg were mad at him. What struck me was the obvious ’60s influence, especially The Impressions; this feels like the umpteenth song to jack elements of “Keep On Pushing” “I’ve Been Trying” though the atmospheric production reminds me more of any number of contemporary pop/rock acts (Fun, Tame Impala, even a little Black Keys but not as grimy), who, in turn, are just borrowing from ’70s pop production (including a super-heavy dose of late-era Beatles/ELO/Supertramp). God, I’m such a born again baby boomer these days. But still, I ride.

Pusha T: Suicide
From My Name Is My Name (GOOD, 2013)

Can’t say I love the album overall but I am playing the hell out of this song. Vintage Push over a sick, spare track that makes we wonder how the Neptunes went MIA with this whole sound for the better part of the last five+ years. Curious choice to put Ab-Liva at the end; I think it would have been smarter to sandwich him between two Pusha verses. Maybe it’s me, but the moment Ab hits the track, I either hit rewind or fast-forward (usually rewind). Anyway, so many slick quotables on here; when’s the last time a rapper spit “Zoolander” and made it sound ill?

And we out.

  1. Interestingly enough, Jesse Thorn recently graced my sociology of pop culture course at CSULB and in discussing what a good radio program does, was basically arguing against the very model I’m adopting on this post. I think he makes a good point: random collections of songs aren’t really in the service of the audience; they’re ultimately solipsistic. But just work with me on this one. Also, I began this on a trans-Pacific flight, sleep deprived but also vibing off some painkillers so I might be loopier than normal. TMI?
  2. I don’t want to get too deep into a “debate” that I think news sites have cynically exploited for click-thrus but bottom-line, to arrive at that conclusion is to be so analytically incompetent as to question how anyone would possibly take the critique that seriously. It’s also an embarrassing application of critical race theory that pains me as a critical race scholar. The less said, the better. I regret even saying this much.
  3. I do think this song works great on its own but Lorde’s style on an entire album is harder to ride for. See also: Lana Del Ray.

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.

UMCS, CHARLES BRADLEY, AND OTHER QUESTIONS ANSWERED

Question from Nick: “I was wondering if you know what the beat is that the UMC’s freestyle over on Stretch and Bobbito’s radio show. I am pretty sure that Stretch put together beats, so it may be something he created. Regardless its classic case of how good stripped down drums and bass can sound.”

Answer: I don’t recognize it as an instrumental from an existing song from that era though it could certainly have been from a more independent release that would have flown under my radar then. I do think it’s more realistic that it was a Stretch exclusive though.

And yes, I absolutely agree about the how good stripped down drums and bass can sound. To wit, one of my favorites.


Question from Casey: “Just heard Oliver on NPR, but didn’t hear the first names of singers named Hunter & Bradley, I think both from London. Would love to learn more about them. Thanks!”

Answer: Casey is referring to this review of both Charles Bradley and the James Hunter Six. Hunter is from London but Bradley is from the States. Click either name above to go to their respective websites.

Bradley just played the Apollo and *whistle*, sick poster (click on thumbnail for bigger image):


Question from Matt: “”Hi, long time reader, first time emailer. I have a 45 that I cannot seem to find lot of information on and was hoping you might know. It is from the Rocky Mountain Recording label out of Cheyenne, WY. and the name of the group is The Soul Reflections. Track one is “”I Love You Baby”” and the other is “”Reflections’ Walk Groovin’ In The Basement.”” Both tracks feature Carroll Jones. It is also on red vinyl. It’s in pretty rough shape, but was just curious to know more about it and the label. The only other record I have seen from this label is a country and western tune, but I cannot remember the name of the group.”

Answer: Unfortunately, I’m not familiar with this 7″ at all. A quick scan of Popsike shows that there were at least a few releases on RMR (Rocky Mountain Records) attributed to Carroll Jones and the Soul Reflections; this looks like the single you have. I can’t tell if that single is less common or less in demand but the single by the group that sells more often is “Hey Girl” which has this stripped down, almost garage-y ballad on the b-side, “I Need You So Bad.” Good luck. If you turn up more, let us know.


Question from anonymous: “Who else used the melody from El Michels Affair’s “Detroit twice”?”

Answer: I’m not sure which melody you’re asking about specifically. If it’s the one carried on the horns, I have no idea; doesn’t sound familiar. However, the beginning of the song is clearly a riff on this Soul Sides favorite:

The El Michels Affair isn’t carrying the rhythm line in the exact same way, more like a vague interpolation of it. But the four note vocal cry at the beginning clearly nods to Young.


Quesiton from Richard: “Been a minute since I’ve stopped by (sorry, long time Soul Sider) but someone randomly sent me this video on youtube messages. Wanted to know if you were privy to this yet.

Answer: Nope, hadn’t heard this. Not that won over by it. As I try to suggest in that aforementioned review of Bradley and Hunter, there’s a fine line in being able to pull off a good retro-soul sound vs. sounding like you’re pandering. This track seems a little too far on the wrong side of that line. My .02.


Have a question? Ask us.

L-O-V-E’S INSPIRATION

I totally forgot to share this anecdote from the other month. I got an email from DJ Day – if you haven’t copped Land of 1000 Chances yet…what you waiting for? – and he wanted to share this:

I don’t think I ever told you, but the last song on the album (“W-E-L-O-V-E“) is directly related to you. The basis of the song was all from one you played at the Ace that Sunday by the pool many, many moons ago. I ended up tracking the record down because of it and here we are. Just wanted you to know I owe that one to you.

Best –
Day

Suffice to say, that’s a really cool email to receive from an artist you respect. But the funny kicker? I couldn’t remember what song he was talking about. I finally just asked him and he reminded me but also asked I keep it under my hat. So if you know it, congrats! If you don’t, don’t worry: even I forgot it and I own the damn record.