DEJA EH


Beyonce feat. Jay-Z: Deja Vu
Upcoming from B’Day (2006)

Uh, suddenly, that Xtina + Primo joint isn’t sounding so bad after all. And what’s up with Jay-Z? How did he go from “Dear Summer” and “Go Crazy” last year to this sh–?

MARK ANTHONY NEAL ON BILLY PRESTON


Billy Preston: Little Girl
From Encouraging Words (Apple, 1970)

(Editor’s Note: Mark had reached out to me about having him write something on Preston for the site but at the time, I didn’t have the sound file for “Little Girl” as per his request so he went ahead and wrote up a short obit on his site. I managed to finally get a copy of the song so I’m just going to reprint what he has from his site over here, now with music. –O.W.)

http://newblackman.blogspot.com/2006/06/billy-preston-goes-home.html

Growing up in New York City in the 1970s and listening to the classic top-pop 40 station WABC-AM, I was exposed to the great hits of Billy Preston. Tracks like “Outta Space”, “Will It Go Round in Circles”, “Space Race” and especially “Nothing from Nothing” were part of the soundtrack of my childhood. At the time I was oblivious to Preston’s status at the 5th Beatle or any of his early Apple recordings. I was finally introduced to the genius of Preston’s early work via Donny Hathaway’s cover of Preston “Little Girl” which appears on Preston 1970 recording Encouraging Words. Most fans likely remember Preston most for his duet “With You I’m Born Again” with the late Syreeta Wright.

Preston was never out of the public eye, often making cameos on recordings of his friends like Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr and Joe Cocker, who made Preston’s composition “You Are So Beautiful” a modern standard. For me, my favorite musical memories of Preston are the Hammond B-3 solo that opens Luther Vandross’s “‘Til My Baby Comes Home” and his stellar backing behind Aretha Franklin during her legendary Fillmore West dates (“play Billy!”, as the Queen would say).

I am sure as I write this, Uncle Ray, Sam Cooke, John Lennon, Donny Hathaway, Mahailia Jackson and Lulu Hardaway are welcoming Billy Preston home. —Mark Anthony Neal.


For more tributes to Billy Preston, please check out Soul Shower, Home of the Groove, Melomaniac and many other sites.

TURNIN IT LOOSE: DOUGLAS WOLK ON JAMES BROWN PRODUCTIONS


Baby Lloyd: I Need Love
From 7″ (Atco, 1960)

Johnnie & Bill: On My Way to School
From 7″ (Federal, 1962)

Bobby Byrd: It’s I Who Love You (Not Him Anymore)
From 7″ (King, 1970)

The Famous Flames: Who Am I
From 7″ (King, 1970)

(Editor’s Note: This special post comes to us from music journalist and fellow bloggateer, Doug Wolk. Doug is a big BIG fan of James Brown productions and rumor has it that he’s collected every single song every produced by Soul Brother #1, no easy feat, lemme tell you. These four here, for example, have never been on CD – as far as we could tell. Doug’s been sharing his thoughts on the JB master collection not just for us, but also Moistworks where he’s just wrapping up part 1 of 3 posts related to his JB collection. Here’s what he put together for Soul Sides. –O.W.)

Most of James Brown’s early singles were actually credited to James Brown and the Famous Flames. Occasionally, people think that the Flames were the band; they were actually the backup singers–although they weren’t always the same group of backup singers. The first recorded Flames were Bobby Byrd (who’s sung with Brown on and off through his entire career), Johnny Terry (who’d done time with JB at Georgia Juvenile Training Institute, and was lucky enough to get co-credited for “Please, Please, Please”), Sylvester Keels and Nashpendle Knox. Various other Flames rotated through the lineup: J.W. Archer, Bill Hollings, Lewis Madison, Eugene “Baby Lloyd” Stallworth, Bobby Bennett.

Occasionally, one of the Famous Flames would get to record something on his own. Bobby Byrd was by far the most prolific; most of his best songs are collected on Bobby Byrd Got Soul, but a few good singles are missing from it. One of them is “It’s I Who Love You (Not Him Anymore),” a “Dark End of the Street” rewrite with tortured syntax, some dubious rhymes, and a mix that fades out in the middle of its final verse. No matter–Byrd sells it, especially the barbed spin in the way he phrases the chorus: “I know he’s had you… hung up…”

Baby Lloyd only got to record a couple of singles–the other one is a version of “There Is Something On Your Mind” that owes essentially everything to Bobby Marchan’s version. “I Need Love” is notable for the fact that, a couple of years later, JB lit a fire under its ass and re-recorded it as “I’ve Got Money.”

I’m not entirely clear on who Johnnie & Bill were–a slightly later single, “This Is My Story,” was credited to Johnny and Bill–and I’m guessing they might have been Johnny Terry and Bill Hollings (if you know otherwise, please correct me). But the voice singing the harmony part on this version of “On My Way to School” is unmistakably James Brown. The other side of the single, incidentally, is “On My Way to School (Teen Age Version),” which updates the beat to what those crazy sock-hoppers were into. And the lyrics are blues common-stock–unusually for JB, the song is credited as “traditional.”

The Famous Flames’ 1970 single “Who Am I” had a writing credit for Johnny Terry; I suspect that’s him singing it, too. A few months later, JB produced an uptempo single version of it sung by Roberta DuBois, and in early 1972, he released his own version on the “There It Is” album. But it’s fitting that what appears to have been the last time the Famous Flames’ name appeared on a record was on a song about pleading for identity. A year later, one of the first singles on People Records was the occasionally anthologized “Stand Up and Be Counted” by the (not-famous) Flames, but it doesn’t seem to have been the same people standing up for the count. –Douglas Wolk

CHRSTINA AGUILERA, BUSTA RHYMES: CAN THEY HOLD A TORCH?


Christina Aguilera: Ain’t No Other Man
From Back to Basics (RCA, August 2006)

Busta Rhymes feat. Q-Tip and Chauncey Black: Can’t Hold a Torch
From A Big Bang (Aftermath, June 2006)

When people heard Xtina was working with Primo, I know many a hip-hop head was like, “huh, what?” It doesn’t really matter to me – the whole concept of the hip-hop sellout is so ’90s at this point, who really gives a f—? The more important question is: will they sound good together? Here’s the deal: I think Xtina has a technically good voice. She’s still not about to take down Mariah, nor is she as good as Whitney in her prime and while she might wish she was Etta James reborn…she’s not and never will be. This said, she does have a great voice but she – like practically 99% of today’s aspiring pop/R&B singers – manages to ruin it by using far, far too much melisma. It’s a goddamn shame every American Idol aspirant feels like they have to copy that same style…seriously, it’s ruining modern pop singing as we know it. Just hit the damn note – you don’t need to be the vocal Charlie Parker to impress people, you know?

With Preem…look, he’s one of my favorite producers of all time but seriously, dude’s been in a rut the last few years, ever since The Ownerz dropped (and I’m sure many Gang Starr fans will say that album was already in rut-mode). So it’s good to see him getting some high-profile work and the beat he does here is…well…it’s fine. It’s not FIIYYYAAAAHHHHH to me but it’s serviceable. Personally, I think this song sounds less like an original track and more like something the Quantic Soul Orchestra would have remixed for a Rebtuz EP. (Note: this is not a bad thing. But it doesn’t sound very Primo-ish…which may or may not be a bad thing). Or something Rich Harrison might have played around with…four years ago. Again, not bad things. Just not mind-blowing.

As for the Busta track…he and Q-Tip have teamed up many a time so for this new album, it’s not a surprise to see them together again (twice no less). This is an interesting song – clearly a throwback of sorts, especially since the track is a reworking of “Lyrics to Go” off of Midnight Marauders. Old dude as I am (aka 33), I’m digging this, especially as it finds two rappers in their 30s speaking from a grown man’s vantage point about “the game.” I don’t know how younger folks are going to react but whatever – the generation gap(s) in hip-hop are nothing new. I like the chorus: “Ayo, what happened?/They ain’t got it in ’em to make a classic/Ayo, what happened?/These n—–s can’t hold a torch so why pass it?” By the way, this is a far better album than I would have predicted (even if Dr. Dre does cosign on it). It’s not an end-to-end burner but Busta is much more mature in his outlook than I might have otherwise given him credit for and he does a good job of reaching older listeners who want to hear something else besides “Touch It” and “I Love My Bitch” (though the latter is rather hot to def).

KING PLEASURE, BETTY HUTTON, ETTA JAMES: MORE THAN A JINGLE


King Pleasure: Moody’s Mood For Love
From Golden Days (HiFiJazz, 1960).

Betty Hutton: Blow a Fuse
From ? (?, 1948). Also on Somebody Loves Me (as “It’s Oh So Quiet”).

Etta James: A Sunday Kind of Love
From At Last (MCA/Chess, 1961)

I’m not to proud to admit that I learn about certain songs by watching television commercials. Of course, this was back before Tivo, before I could 30 second jump my way through everything and thus, miss out on the *cough cough* magic that is modern advertising (oh, all those hee-lay-rious beer commercials I’m probably missing out on). But seriously, ad agencies, on rare occasions, actually hire people who have good taste in music (though I do have to say that weird cover of “Express Yourself” I recently saw on some women’s product ad threw me off a bit).

One of the earliest, vivid memories I have of this was watching a Christmas time ad for the Gap that used what I later discovered to be King Pleasure’s cover of “Moody’s Mood For the Love” (the original “vocalese” recording of the song belongs to Eddie Jefferson and the “Moody” in question here is jazz artist James Moody). I was so taken with it, I actually took a bus (this is before I had a car in the Bay Area) to get to a record store that said they had it on 45. It was well worth the trip. People argue over who has the best version and I’m not trying to make a definitive statement about that here. All I do know is that it is a great song (by King Pleasure or otherwise). I know if you do a google search, Jefferson’s version is credited for the Gap ad but far as I know, I’m pretty it’s this King Pleasure version, from Golden Days. By the way, there is a considerable mystery as to who the woman singing on this version is – she’s not credited on the album itself and so far, Betty Carter and Blossom Dearie have been ruled out.

I’ve always known “Blow a Fuse” as Björk’s “It’s Oh So Quiet” and it wasn’t until I saw promo ads for the final season of Sex and the City that I realized: oh, Björk remade someone else’s song…duh! It turned out to be Betty Hutton’s “Blow a Fuse,” what I presume is a showtune from 1948 though, for the life of me (and Google), I can’t figure out what original album this appears on (might be Dream Girl) but I’m not sure. To make it more confusing, a 2005 compilation of her music lists the song as “It’s Oh So Quiet,” presumably in deference to Björk’s cover. No disrespect to Hutton but much as I like her original (and it is quite good) but Björk does a fine cover and hey, Hutton didn’t have Spike Jonze directing a video for her.

As for the Etta James…ok, so…I learned about that from a Dockers commercial. I’m not sure why I’d be more embarrassed to admit that over, say, Gap or Sex and the City but it’s hard to make Dockers seem that sexy. That said, their San Francisco-based commercials have gotten quite a fan base (even if they make SF look whiter than Salt Lake City). Their “street car” series used Madeleine Peyroux’s “Don’t Wait Too Long” to good effect. The latest (which isn’t quite as visually enticing) uses the James song and admittedly, I had never heard it before (yeah, I know, I should really pick up the At Last album) and I was happy to make its acquaintance. It’s not quite at the level of “At Last” (but then again, what is?) but seriously? It’s as good as anything else I’ve heard of late. The arrangement and James’ vocals are absolutely stellar. By the way, if you want the beejeezus scared out of you, watch a very young Xtina belt this out.

Your favorite songs you learned about from a commercial? (Automatic disqualification for Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon”/VW ad. Too obvious. Bonus points if you can name which ad used Eddie Bo’s “Hook and Sling”).

JULIE DELPY: DANCING AT DUSK


Julie Delpy: An Ocean Apart + A Waltz For a Night
From Julie Delpy (Import, 2003). Also on Before Sunrise/Sunset Soundtrack

Ok, I admit: 1) I didn’t know Julie Delpy sang, 2) I didn’t watch Before Sunset until the other week even though the film came out in 2004, 3) my wife and I actually quite liked the film since it’s about what happens when you grow out of your idealistic, uber-romantic 20s and “real life s—” intrudes and leaves you a little scarred and traumatized by it all.

What’s rather interesting…or perhaps strange is that the songs above came out on Delpy’s album before ending up on the soundtrack of Before Sunset even though these two songs in particular seem to speak to the narrative of both Sunset and Before Sunrise. I wonder if Delpy’s songwriting was influenced by the fact that she may have already begun writing on Before Sunset before her album dropped.

In any case, let’s point out that Delpy doesn’t have that dynamic a voice and her lyrics tend to favor straight-forward sentiment over nuance. But let’s also point out that she has a surprising effective voice for the kind of folk-rock style she’s working in, plus the vocal arrangements are surprisingly interesting and hell, it’s not like unadorned awkwardness is much better or worse than gilded pretentiousness.

If I recall correctly, “An Ocean Apart” opens the film – and quite effectively – it’s lush, sweet and achingly melancholy, setting the tone for the movie itself. “A Waltz For a Night” bookends the film by coming at the very end, where Delpy sings it, with just an acoustic guitar, in her Paris apartment. I actually preferred that version – the soundtrack/album recording is very nice and had I heard it first, I might have a different opinion about it but I found the purely acoustic take to be more nakedly vulnerable in a way I think the song aspires to.

BAY AREA FUNK DEUX


Soft Touch: Plenty of Action
From 7″ (Sundance, 1976)

Project Soul: Ebony
From 7″ (196/7?)

Both available on Bay Area Funk 2.

I meant to post about this weeks ago but lost it in the shuffle. Following up on the excellence of the first Bay Area Funk compilation, the folks at Ubiquity/Luv N’ Haight went out and commissioned a second volume. This new one, in particular, was curated with help from my good friend Justin Torres so I knew the selections would be built on insanely rare – and insanely good – slices of local Yay soulfulness and funkitude.

The Soft Touch was something I had never heard before – love the vocal touch on it by this mid-70s Oakland group. Singles like this always always intrigue me – it’s the only thing the group ever released – you wonder what other potential might have been lurking there.

As for the Project Soul…it’s a crazy Holy Grail 45 in the Bay Area. I first learned about it back in the late ’90s when a friend of mine had found it whilst digging and that set off a lot of interest in tracking down more copies since it’s 1) unfathomably obscure and 2) the high school students (you read that right) playing on it eventually grew up to form ConFunkShun. As good as that back story is, I also enjoyed what Justin told Soulstrut in regards to how he managed to track down his copy:

    “Here’s how I got this record: 1) Went to Vallejo to track down a copy. 2) Tracked group to their Elementary School. 3) Which lead me to the High School that the band attended. 4) Tracked down Felton Pilate’s music teacher. 5) Got mothers phone number from said music teacher and called her. 6) Mother gave me Felton’s cell phone number. 6) Felton doesn’t have record…and the search starts over from the beginning. After a year of research and talking to most of the band members a copy surfaced and landed in my homeboy’s hands. After two weeks of tough trading, the record arrived on my desk at work. Mint, played twice, and now has a home among my other local 45s.”

By the way, for my folks in the Bay – there’s a record release party for the comp tonight at the Elbo Room. Three of my fave DJs: Cool Chris, Vinnie Esparza and Kitty are spinning.

MY PHILOSOPHY

[Note: I was interviewed the other month by one of my favorite writers, Ernest Hardy, about the Soul Sides Vol 1 comp. The interview ran this week in the LA Weekly and I thought it addressed some of the key questions that came up for different folks asking me about the making-of the anthology. – O.W.]

Soul Love
Ten questions with Soul Sides creator — and album curator — Oliver Wang

Written by Ernest Hardy

Oliver “O-Dub” Wang is a hip-hop fanatic, soul-music fiend, pop-culture junkie, ethnic-studies professor, DJ, obsessive blogger, music and cultural critic, husband, and dad. A familiar name to rap-music fans who’ve read his incisive reviews and essays for over a decade now (including his work in the Weekly), Wang will be teaching this fall currently lectures at Cal State Long Beach. (Full disclosure: He also edited the anthology Classic Material: The Hip-Hop Album Guide, to which I contributed.)

Recently, Wang, 33, added yet another title to his hyphenated list of accomplishments: His audioblog, Soul Sides, has made the leap from ether to earth, with a CD compilation of raw, beautiful, old-fashioned soul music. Some of it is familiar if undervalued work — Erma Franklin’s original version of “Piece of My Heart” — and some is the stuff that makes geek collectors puff their chests with crate-digging pride as exhaustive hunts bear fruit.

Then there are the subtextual revelations. Check Joe Bataan’s 1975 gem “Ordinary Guy,” in which he sweetly croons against a lovely, soft-focus salsa backdrop, “I don’t drive a beautiful car and I don’t own an elegant home . . . /I’m just an ordinary, ordinary guy/Afro Filipino, average sort of guy/That’s what I am/[an] ordinary man you left behind . . .” The track is a forerunner of the genre mashup and autobio shout-out to multiracial identity that are now the norm — and a gentle reminder that none of that shit is new.

Soul Sides is also notable, perhaps, as a sign of things to come in musical distribution: It is the second-ever CD comp to be born of an audioblog.
CLICK HERE TO CONTINUE READING…


L.A. WEEKLY: What was the inspiration for making the leap from audioblog to CD?

OLIVER WANG: Kevin Drost at Zealous Records was a fan of the site and offered to let me curate the comp while he’d handle the legal and clearance work. Even if I never made a dime off the comp, it was worth doing just for the opportunity to put out music that I felt strong about.

Given the fetish we as a culture have for new technology and gadgetry, an audioblogger putting out a CD seems almost quaint, like a step backward in the age of downloading and iPods. Is there some deeper statement being made in that choice?

Not at all. But the fact that it’s also being released on double vinyl is definitely a nod to the fact that all these songs originated on vinyl back in the day. The album is available for download from a few sites like Rhapsody and others. Given that its origins go directly back to an MP3 blog, we’re definitely not being Luddites about this. But for me, I still love the physical object of records. I’m glad this is on CD and vinyl just so people can have something they can actually touch and possess. That may not matter to a younger generation raised on digital music, but for me the tactile quality of records will never lose its appeal.

What is it about this music that resonates with you?

I’ve spent the better part of my career as a music critic trying to articulate that ineffable quality about music. I’m sure I’ll spend a lifetime trying to express it, always falling just a little bit short. I think the fact that so much soul comes out of both a blues and gospel tradition has partly to do with it. This was music designed to appeal to the spirit and I think my love for soul and soul-influenced music is responding to those qualities that artists were trying to evoke — the sublime, the transcendent. What Stevie Wonder would call trying to reach that “higher ground,” but in a way which is earthy and of the human heart. Mostly, it just sounds good to me.

Is there a thread, for you, linking this undervalued or overlooked soul music with hip-hop?

Hip-hop was the path through which I was led backwards into soul, funk, jazz — all this music of the past. I don’t know how many people would know about Linda Lyndell’s “What a Man” — which is one of my favorite songs out of the entire Stax catalog — if not for Salt-N-Pepa’s remake/sampling of it. The fact that Lyndell’s original blows the remake out of the water just fuels my interest in finding other songs like it. I appreciate how sampling opens a door into the past, but often what you find is that the original material is far and away better than however the song gets sampled. This said, hip-hop has been a great educator.

Were there any favorite songs for which you couldn’t get clearance?

The only one I was really disappointed to lose was this great Al Green B-side which only ever came out on a 45 single in the ’70s. It was just too expensive to license, but I hope we might still be able to use it for the next volume. Hopefully, the success of this first volume will help in talking to labels the next time around and finding a way to negotiate a reasonable licensing arrangement.

How do you, as a curator, contextualize this music in a way that underscores its power and beauty but sidesteps the hipster fetishism that can sort of flatten it out — as when Moby used field recordings on Play?

Honestly, I never really thought or worried about that. I’ve been a DJ for 13 years, a music critic for 12, a music scholar for 10 . . . My relationship to music, even when “professional,” has always been underscored by a personal passion. You have to be a little crazy to spend the kind of time I have on collecting records and writing about them. So I’ve always just gone where my instincts have led me, including with this comp. I will say one thing, I was never interested in picking songs strictly for the sake of obscurity. A number of the songs on here have been comped before, and that didn’t bother me. I felt like they could still use some shine — like the Lyndell or Erma Franklin tracks. Even a song that I don’t think many people have heard before, like “Keep My Baby Warm,” isn’t necessarily the rarest example of gospel soul out there but it’s a damn good song, and one of my personal favorites. I don’t know if it’s sexy enough for the hipster crowd to give a damn. But if you can’t feel the song, you just can’t feel.

Do you think the means through which we get our music affect our relationship to it? There’s been some theorizing that kids who can just download a song or assemble hundreds of options on an iPod don’t forge the same emotional connection to music that previous generations did — that it’s now much more disposable.

I think the sheer volume of music that exists today is overwhelming for someone like me — and I’m only 33. I definitely grew up on the cusp of the pre-Internet/post-Internet world. The studies I’ve seen suggest that people value music less because it’s so ubiquitous, but what encourages me is the fact that people still want music in their lives — and I definitely think specific songs resonate with people. That’s why I love Ne-Yo’s [current single] “So Sick.” The chorus is all about why love songs are so addictive as he bemoans, “Why can’t I turn off the radio?” He’s a young dude but he gets it. His listeners, I think, get it — especially since the song has topped the charts. We’re not in a world where music has become simply background noise yet. I doubt we ever will, even once the 100-terabyte brain-implant iPods come out.

Are there plans to make this a series or is this a one-off deal?

Kevin Drost just e-mailed me the other day and asked, “So, should we start thinking about Volume 2?” We haven’t mapped anything out yet, but for Volume 2 I’d either want to do jazz songs, both vocal and instrumental, or a personal love of mine: cover songs. I put out a mix CD of cover songs, on my own, a few years back and I obsessively collect soul, jazz, reggae, calypso, psych, etc., albums with interesting covers. A recent acquisition is a Polish-language rock album with a cover of Bill Withers’ “Kissin’ My Love.” Crazy.
[Note: at this point, we’re actually thinking about a third concept entirely. But more on that in the months to come.]

What’s your favorite song on the compilation, and why?

Ha, that’s like asking me which of my kids I love the best, though, uh, I only have one. It’s a close tie. “Keep My Baby Warm” was the first song I knew I absolutely, positively wanted on this comp. It just had to be on there. I want as many people to hear it as possible. But my favorite from-the-gut song is probably “Piece of My Heart” by Erma Franklin. When I first heard it and then learned how Erma’s original was always overshadowed by Janis Joplin’s cover, it just made the heart-wrenching power of the song so much more poignant. It’s so beautiful yet absolutely devastating.

Ernest Hardy’s collection of criticism, Blood Beats Vol. 1: Demos, Remixes and Extended Versions, published by Red Bone Books, comes out this week.