This is insanely fresh; Ubiquity commissioned a special 20th Anniversary Groove Merchant 7″ box, handmade! Peep the “making of” video below:

Making of: Groove Merchant 20 Record Box from Ubiquity Records on Vimeo.

Each box comes with these 7″s:

A. The McCrary – Emerge 3:39
B. Ron Forella – Crystals 4:25 (part 1)

A. Twilight – Straight To My Heart 3:16
B. Numonics – You Lied 4:04

A. Rod Abernethy – Ron and Eddie Blues 5:04
B. April Fulladosa – Sunlit Horizon 3:57

A. Jodesha and Star Ride – The Answer 3:43
B. September – Stump 3:41

A. Lois Johnson – Be Mine 3:39
B. Frankie Gee – Date With The Rain 2:47

A. Round Robin – Our Love Is So True 4:45 (part 1)
B. Round Robin – Our Love Is So True 4:56 (part 2)

A. Arthur Foy – Get up and Dance 3:09
B. Soul Liberation – Who Is Your Friend 4:13

A. Pataphysics – Nick Danger 4:39
B. Longineu Parsons – Funkin’ Around 3:18

A. Mike James Kirkland – Hang On In There 3:45 (part 1)
B. Mike James Kirkand – Hang On In There 5:12 (part 2)

A. Darondo – Legs (part 1) 3:45
B. Darondo – Let My People Go 3:58

Crazy. Interested? Order here. Only 250 were made so don’t sleep.


Freddie Hughes: Send My Baby Back
What Am I Gonna Do Without Your Sweet Lovin’
He’s No Good
From Send My Baby Back (Scepter, 1965). Available from DG and AMZ.

I first saw this LP at Good Records in NYC and since it was on Scepter, I just assumed Hughes was out of New York but when I flipped it around, what caught my eye was that the LP was produced by Lonnie Hewitt, the great Bay Area talent (and founder of Wee Records). When I dug around, I realized that Hughes was out of the Bay – a Berkeley native no less – and his career really blew up on the strength of “Send My Baby Back,” originally a Wee release, then picked up for greater distro on Scepter/Wand.

Hughes has a glorious instrument here – you can certainly hear it on “Send My Baby Back” but it really shines on “What Am I Gonna Do Without Your Sweet Lovin'” which tends to keep the arrangement on the sparser side but Hughes fills in all the pockets of space with that soaring tenor. Not to be crass but he sings the sh– out of this song. (Love the use of accenting horns and background singers too).

What struck me the first time I heard “He’s No Good” is the subtle Latin percussion on here, a nod to Hewitt’s wide range of stylistic skills. The use of guiro is especially good. This is another powerful ballad that keeps the music deceptively simple while Hughes gets to let loose on the vocals.

All said, an astounding soul LP. OG copies are on the pricier side but justifiably so.

The Mighty Marvelows: I Do
I’m Without a Girl
In the Morning
From S/T (ABC, 1968). Available from AMZ.

Picked this one up at the Groove Merchant; if Hewitt’s name caught my eye with Hughes, on this LP, it was the big “arranged and produced by Johnny Pate” tag on the bottom of the group photo that drew my attention. The Marvelows themselves were a relatively short-lived sweet harmony group out of Chicago that had a modest hit with the Northern-y “I Do” but was mostly drawn to the slow jams on the album, especially the feathery beauty of “In the Morning” which has that super-laid back, Sunday night groove made for lowrider cruisin’. When the multi-harmonized falsettos kicks in on the chorus is simply awesome. “In the Morning” is more of the same (Pate really likes the flute on this album!) and to my ears, is classic Chicago sweetness. Seriously, I could listen to tracks like this for hours (and usually do). Sadly, the group disbanded right around the time ABC put this album out.


Marius Cultier: The Way It Should Be
From My Way (Magidisco, 1976)

Grupo Los Yoyi: Banana
Paco La Calle
From S/T (Egrem, 1977)

This is easily one of the most extraordinary albums I’ve come across in a long, long time. Cultier represents one of those ultimate examples of transnational musical mastery – a pianist born in Martinique but recorded in both Canada and France and sounds like he’s from everywhere and nowhere at once. Even though My Way is ostensibly a “jazz” album, it switches styles up with remarkable diversity, ranging from the straight balladry of “Nathalie” (sung in FrenchKreyol), to the unmistakably Cuban sabor of “Ochung” (sung in Spanish), to all that crazy ass moog elsewhere on the album, whether you’re talking about the overly seductive, bossa-like smoothness of “The Way It Should Be,” to the frenzied percussive thunder of “Zouk.” Seriously, what is the moog even doing on here? (and I don’t pose that question in any negative way): it’s just completely bonkers.

(I normally wouldn’t share this many songs off a single album but there’s just no way to capture the insane diversity of what Cultier does here with just a couple of examples.)

This album is so weird in fact, it managed to bump off my previously “most weirdly incredible Afro-Caribbean album, the self-titled LP by Cuba’s Grupo Los Yoyi. The latter has the funk tip on lock, especially with a beautifully groovy disco touch. I posted another song off this same LP a few months back but “Banana” and “Paco La Calle” are probably my two favorite cuts off that album (another Latin funk Grail, btw). The Yoyi LP is the better weapon in a dance-off but it’s hard to imagine too many other albums offering a greater set of musical styles than Cultier’s.

(As always, gotta thank Cool Chris. He was the first one to play me the Los Yoyi LP, about four years ago, now that I think about it and I picked up My Way from the Groove Merchant on my recent trip up to the Bay)


Allen Toussaint: Soul Sister
Fingers and Toes
From Life, Love and Faith (WEA, 1972)

i originally posted this song almost exactly five years ago, albeit under very different circumstances. At the time, it was following the Katrina disaster and I was mentally and emotionally spent and I posted a few of Toussaint’s songs as both homage and salve.

Five years later and I was at the Groove Merchant this past weekend and Cool Chris was playing “Soul Sister” and I remembered how fucking great this song is (pardon mon français). It’s funny because I recently was re-listening to a lot of Erma Franklin (you’ll find out why soon enough) and the opening to “Soul Sister” instantly reminded me of her “Piece of My Heart,” which isn’t too surprising since both use similar approaches to the vaunted I IV V chord progression (which is also why “Soul Sister” bears a resemblance to “The Joker” and a gazillion other songs.

Regardless, the beat is catchy enough but what really sells this are Toussaint’s vocals, the male back-ups and the unexpected female singers who come in to sing, “thank you brother, thank you baby,” immediately followed by that the men, vigorously hollering back, “Hey you!” As a sequence, it’s hellaciously awesome.

I can’t claim that anything else on this album can top “Soul Sister” but if you ever get tired of just putting that tune on repeat (but really, how can you?) you can always flip over to “Fingers and Toes” for a far moodier ballad that’s pretty much the emotional antithesis of “Soul Sister’s” cheery, anything-can-happen vibe. This is a song at the end of love and damn if Toussaint doesn’t even make that sound compelling (a really intriguing hook on this song, btw. Sounds like a chorus written a couple thousand miles north of NOLA even if the rhythm is all Crescent City).


Thee Midnighters: Chicano Power b/w
Never Gonna Give You Up
On 7″ (Whittier, 1968). Also on Thee Complete Midniters.

Lee Williams and the Cymbals: I’ll Be Gone b/w
I Love You More
On 7″ (Carnival, 1966). Also on CD here and here.

The Magic Tones: Let’s Let Our Love Roll On b/w
There Is Nothing Better Than Love
On 7″ (Mah’s, 1960s).

James Young and the House Wreckers: Barkin’ Up the Wrong Tree b/w
Funky Booty
On 7″ (Jetstream, 1960s)

Carrie Cleveland: Make Love To Me b/w
I Need Love
On 7″ (Audio-Ent, 197?)

There is something deeply satisfying about a 7″ with two great sides. I think part of this comes out with the digger’s dilemma of spending so much time sifting through piles of detritus in hopes of coming away with even one decent record and a double-sided single gives you twice as much bang for the buck. Here’s a selection of a few recent arrivals plus two older classics.

I’ve been hunting after that Midnighters’ 7″ for a while. It first appeared on La Raza Records and then was re-released on Whittier, where most of the Midnighters’ singles appeared. It’s more lo-fi than I would have liked but both are winning tunes. “Chicano Power” is a vigorous, mid-tempo instrumental soul workout that predicts some of what El Chicano would be cooking up in the years to come. For me, it’s all about their cover of “Never Gonna Give You Up,” a song that I almost never tire of hearing. (Straight up…I can’t say I love Jerry Butler’s work as a whole but this song is an all-time classique). Thee Midnighters’ cover sounds completely awesome that I wish I could have been in the studio to hear it; I imagine that with better acoustics, this version would be massive.

I first got a taste of Lee Williams and the Cymbals with their “L.C. Funk,” a classic “funk 45 for beginners” title, that De-Lite picked up from Rapda in the early ’70s (but was credited to the New Cymbals). Founded in Harlem, the band always had Williams at helm, regardless of name, and “I’ll Be Gone/I Love You More” was their first recording, done for the Newark label Carnival. “I’ll Be Gone” has an impressively heavy sound to it; I just love this kind of deep soul cut, especially with all the vocal harmonizations. And the flipside is just as good, if not better, especially with that intensely memorable (steel?) guitar line from the beginning. Usually, these kind of singles have a “fast song b/w slow song” but I love that it’s two ballads put back-to-back; works for me.

The Magic Tones were a semi-prolific Detroit group lead by two Tyrones (Douglas and Berkley), Virginia McDonald and a pre-Undisputed Truth Calvin Stephenson. They didn’t seem to have gotten that much national traction throughout their career but they also cut over a dozen records to their name; not too shabby! They recorded quite a bit on Mah’s (and later, Westbound) and this particular 7″ is the best I’ve ever enjoyed by them though maybe that’s because both sides remind me of other artists/song. The A-side is a snappy groover that opens with a killer guitar riff and then slides into a Smokey and the Miracles-type groover. The flipside is a lovely ballad w/ a backbeat (I’m sure there’s a more eloquent name for what I’m describing) that absolutely reminds me of The Intruders’ “Together” without being an actual cover or interpolation.

Speaking of interpolations though, it’s pretty clear to everyone that “Funky Booty” by the excellently named James Young and the House Wreckers is just biting the hell out of of “Mr. Big Stuff,” no? Not that I mind of course but the first time I heard it, halfway through it hit me, “oh wait, they’re just riffing on Jean Knight and Wardell! The A-side has a bit of that Southern flavor too but the heavy funk treatment definitely has a post-JBs edge to it. Altogether, a very solid funk 7″ that I’ve had in the crates since 2002 but only recently realized that I hadn’t bothered to digitize it before.

Similarly, I’ve had this Carrie Cleveland 7” since 2005 when I first bought a copy from Cool Chris at the Groove Merchant. I was reminded of it on a recent trip back to the GM where Chris had a copy for sale, significantly higher than I originally remembered it going for but as it turns out, the single has catapulted in value over the years. There’s an interesting story behind this single…Cleveland is a local Bay Area artist and she recorded the single twice (same songs on each one) but it’s only the *promo* copies of the single that anyone cares about. Apparently, the recording session for the second, commercial release resulted in a far, far inferior set of tunes. Even stranger is that Cleveland herself disliked both singles; she thought they were all embarrassingly bad and was reluctant to have other people listen to even the “good” version. I guess sometimes we’re our own worst critic since I think the promo version is super nice. It’s simple and unadorned and completely lovely with Cleveland’s light voice floating atop the keys, guitar and drums on both sides.


Alzo and Udine: C’mon and Join Us
Something Going
From C’mon and Join Us (Mercury, 1968)

Alzo & Udine were Alzo Fronte and Uddi “Udine” Alinoor, one of those “only in New York” combos of singer/songwriters who only released this one album together in the late ’60s. I’m not even certain where I first heard this LP (probably at the Groove Merchant), but it’s been one of the sleeper albums that I’ll forget about and then rediscover how awesome it is. It’s hard to classify this LP; if I mashed up all the various descriptions of it, it’d be something like “Latin soul hippy folk pop” though I find the Latin elements more subtle compared to the folksy pop touches, especially on the vocals. Basically, this is happy music; it sounds happy and should make you feel happy.

I actually flipped the order here – “C’mon and Join Us” is the LP’s last song while “Something Going” is the first, but I liked how Alzo and Udine took time to introduce themselves before the beginning of the title track. The two songs are really indicative of the overall sound of the album: super-catchy rhythms with almost a flamenco sabor (at least to my ears), that shiny pop feel I just mentioned, and most of all, these killer vocal arrangements that find both singers stretching out their falsetto. Especially on the title track, there’s considerable thought put into how the song unfolds and switches up along the way. My favorite part starts around the one minute mark and builds towards the chorus, as charming a hook as I can imagine. Everybody feel it? Yup, I do!

Likewise, “Something Going” starts one way but then shifts into another and really, almost all the songs on the album follow similar paths. This is a remarkably consistent album in terms of the style of the songs and given that I love that style, I’m good with it picking a lane and then driving the hell out of it.


Pazazz: So Hard To Find
From 7″ reissue (Soulplex, 2009)

Twilight: You’re In Love
From Pains of Love (Ross, 1986)

The folks at Soulflex in Germany were kind enough to hep me to this new reissue they put out of a killer Florida disco single by Pazazz called “So Hard To Find” (an apt name considering how insanely obscure it is). This is the kind of disco I never tire of: a simple but infectious groove, upbeat vocals and a general air of happiness that’s like a mood-enhancing substance minus the substance. I’m sure those who hate disco would hold this up as everything wrong with the genre – its repetitiveness for example – but they’re missing how amazingly awesome a song like this feels on a dancefloor where you want that repetition to keep that feel good vibe going as long as possible. The single also includes a remix by Samurai 7 though personally, I prefer the OG.

As for Twilight, this Vallejo-recorded LP was pushed on me by the Groove Merchant’s Cool Chris and while I’m nowhere near someone who knows much about boogie or even bore the genre any mind until very recently, I was glad Chris encouraged me to open my ears enough to enjoy this. I’ll be honest – I’m bewildered by how boogie (funk/R&B records from the early through mid ’80s) have staged such an intriguing comeback as the latest style hipsters have glommed to. That’s not a diss (well, not exactly) since I believe that people who like boogie actually really do like it. It’s just that this used to be the kind of syrupy, fonky tunes that hip-hop heads would clown as they were getting their fingers dusty but this is all the rage with some of the elders from that crowd. Go figure.

But yeah…Twilight…of all the songs on the album, “You’re In Love” grabbed my attention the most, probably because I love that little squeegee synth that runs throughout (plus that intro bassline is pretty slick).


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

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

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

Speaking of Liquid, Liquid…

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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