Monday, September 14, 2009

posted by O.W.

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

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

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

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

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Sunday, February 08, 2009

posted by O.W.

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

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

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

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

(Originally written for Side Dishes)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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posted by O.W.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe: Beams of Heaven + Ain't No Grave Hold My Body Down
Both available on The Original Soul Sister.

For your reading pleasure: Shout, Sister, Shout: The Untold Story of Rock-And-Roll Trailblazer Sister Rosetta Tharpe

Update 2/8/09: Tharpe has a grave marker now! Long overdue but better late than....

I came from a talk at USC on Friday given by one of my favorite music scholars, Gayle Wald of George Washington Univ. Wald was there to talk about her new book, a biography of gospel/blues/rock n' roll/R&B great Sister Rosetta Tharpe.

A gospel powerhouse (overshadowed by Mahalia Jackson) and rock n' roll pioneer ("borrowed from" by Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry), Tharpe transcended easy genre categorizations; perhaps one reason why her legacy hasn't been as widely recognized or cherished as other contemporaries. I think she's a fascinating icon of cultural liminality - someone who never fit cleanly in any one category and as a result, was often too ahead of their time to earn the recognition that, in hindsight, we pay people like her, Betty Davis, Joe Bataan, etc. During the talk, Eric Weisbard suggested during the Q&A that perhaps Tharpe could be better understood as a pioneering pop star - not in terms of her musical sound but because she was so literate in different musical styles and this helped propel her to superstardom in both the U.S. and Europe. (Wald talked about Tharpe's third wedding, a huge public event in Washington D.C., held at a baseball stadium. She was doing arena rock before the term became known!)

There were some interesting parallels between her life and that of blues giant Bessie Smith: both were these larger-than-life musical figures, Black women (and bisexual) who ended up being buried in Philadelphia, in an unmarked grave. Wald is starting to organize a campaign to buy a gravestone for Tharpe; if you're interested in contributing, go here. (See above)

Of the two songs I included, both are available on one of the recent boxsets that have been devoted to Tharpe. One of the songs is "Beams of Heaven," a song that also features Tharpe's long-time musical partner Marie Knight (and Wald selected this as as one of her two favorite Tharpe songs). As for the other...I figure the title is self-explanatory, a statement on the power of Tharpe's presence and legacy. Can't stop, won't stop.

For a great bonus, check out this 1960s video of Tharpe performing "Up Above My Head" on a gospel t.v. show. It's one of the few surviving films of her performing. Dig that guitar solo in the middle! You can see how striking a performer she was, especially in an era where most Black women were seen as torch singers or maybe stands Tharpe with an electric guitar, with a raspy, piercing voice, perfectly comfortable seizing center stage.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

posted by O.W.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Skye: Ain't No Need (Unity Mix)
From 7" (Ananda, 1976)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

posted by O.W.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, November 03, 2008

posted by O.W.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, June 20, 2008

posted by O.W.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wine-O-Meter: 7

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

Wine-O-Meter: 3

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

Wine-O-Meter: 9

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

P.S. Peep when Terrell drops: "let this girl tear the world up" - loving it!

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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

posted by O.W.

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

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

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

posted by O.W.

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

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

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

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

Here are two songs that came to mind for me:

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

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

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

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

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Sunday, February 10, 2008

posted by O.W.

The Exciters: Yo, Que Nada Tengo + Let Your Self Go
From S/T (Tamayo, late '60s?)

Margie Joseph: I Can't Move No Mountains + The Same Love That Made Me Laugh
From Margie (Atlantic, 1975)

I was thinking of something Murphy's Law wrote a few weeks back: "THE DEEPER YOU GET, THE DEEPER THE MUSIC GET. There is more ill music out there than you and I can wrap our sorry little heads around."

To me, the second statement actually refutes the former because really, there's an incredibly, unfathomable amount of "ill music out there" on the surface that you don't always need to "go deep" in order to find it.

That isn't to say that "going deep" doesn't have its own rewards. But rarity and quality are not commensurate. The relative quality of my best $10 albums probably kick the ass of other records I own that go from 10-20 times that. The main difference is that Al Green and James Brown albums were pressed in the millions. West Coast Revival...not so much.

Ultimately, it's about searching for the sublime and to a certain extent, whether that manifests in the form of a $1 bin cut-out record or a $300 private press LP off Atomic's wall, if you have the means, either is worth acquiring. Of course, rarity is a quality in and of itself...not because it's better but often it is...quirkier. I'm generalizing of course but for those who don't believe that popularity is determined by marketing alone, songs/albums that catch fire usually do so because they appeal to a wide swath of people. The albums that end up with runs smaller than batting averages - those are the ones that never caught on with anyone. Maybe they were ahead of their time. Maybe they were just too weird. Maybe someone was broke. Regardless, the higher up the record chain (or deeper if you prefer), it's more likely you're going to find something that's just a bit "off." And that may not always equate to sublime in the way, say, Willie Mitchell's production is sublime. But it can equal "something you haven't heard before." (Secret translation: "interesting enough that you just mortgaged your daughter's college fund for it.")[1]

This post mixes it up both ways. I start with The Exciters' self-titled album on the Panamaian imprint Tamayo. Like most, I learned about the group through the excellent Panama comp that my man Beto worked on and luckily, when he had a copy for sale, I decided to take the plunge on it. It is, to be sure, a very quirky album, which befits the unique Panamanian geography of sound.

You can literally throw a dart at the tracklisting (preferably not however) and each song will come from a vastly different genre. My favorite song is actually the "Exciters Theme" (but you'll have to cop the CD to enjoy it in full) but there's also a nice merengue tipico track, "Ese Muerto No Lo Cargo Yo," for the dancefloor. There's also several American covers, none more mesmerizing than the Spanish language cover of "I, Who Have Nothing", "Yo, Que Nada Tengo." I don't know how they're processing those guitars at the beginning, but it almost sounds like a steel guitar...played underwater.

No less surprising is the cover of James Brown's "Let Yourself Go" - a modest 1967 hit. The version doesn't hold up against the original (though the Exciters' guitarist should do Jimmy Nolen proud) but I do always love hearing Brown covered outside of the U.S.

Ok - so that's the money record. Here's the bargain bin gem: I first heard "I Can't Move No Mountains" when Hua and I did our Redwood gig and he dropped this Joseph track on 45. It sounded amazing played out loud - the kind of disco cut you wish people would think of when they hear of the word "disco" instead of crap like this. (For starters, it all but annihilates the original. I seriously can't get enough of this song and best of all - it's off an album that rarely goes for very much at all (at least on vinyl. The only CD version that's been readily avail was on Japanese import but it looks like it's finally getting a domestic release next month). It's a proverbial steal.

Plus, besides that song, you also get a very nice cover of Bill Withers' "The Same Love That Made Me Laugh." Sweet.

The moral is that there's so much great music out there to discover and whether it costs you $1 or $100 or even $1000, the experience of hearing a great song for the first time is [wait for it]...priceless.

[1] Here's a little secret: I almost never share songs from the latter, "top shelf" albums or 45s. This is likely a generational thing - I'm young enough to enjoy - really enjoy - blogging about music but I'm still part of an older school of collecting that keeps certain cards close to the chest. I know other bloggers/collectors don't feel the same way (hence the rash of album-oriented audioblogs that post up stuff like, well, like that West Coast Revival album that I spent a pretty penny on only to see it posted up two weeks later. %*#)@!) and I respect their generosity, especially since it helps expose me to other records. That said, my holy grails and white whales tend only to get shared at the club or on a mixtape but I never felt Soul Sides suffered for it since, as noted, the amount of great - common - records out there is unbelievably deep that it's not like anyone's lacking because they haven't heard that Filipino version of "Tango Goo Bonk" I keep squirreled away.

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Monday, January 28, 2008

posted by O.W.

Erykah Badu: Honey

(thanks to HHH)

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

posted by O.W.

Candi Staton: Too Hurt To Cry
From Stand By Your Man (Fame, 1971). Also on Candi Staton: The Fame Years.

Holly Golightly: My Love Is
From Slowly But Surely (Damaged Goods/Revolver, 2004)

Amy Winehouse: Love Is A Losing Game (Truth and Soul Remix)
From 12" (Universal, 2007)

*This is my first post that will be cross-posted over at Captain's Crate as part of our Soul Crates experiment in content sharing.

I talked about Candi Staton's Fame output the other month and that got me back into listening more of her songs and came upon this great one from her Stand By Your Man album. Love the tinkle of piano that begins this and really, Rick Hall produces this beautiful, with such a rich, soulful quality that Staton plays against wonderfully.

With the Holly Golightly...I was trying to find the original version of "My Love Is," done by Little Willie John, after watching Lonestar again for the upteenth time but alas, it's a hard song to track down digitally speaking. But lo and behold, I found this cover by Golightly and despite my initial reservations, she's actually rather perfect for the song. Her light, almost ethereal voice goes with the song's dreamy, haunting qualities; this is what you'd want to hear playing on the cheap jukebox in some coffee and pie diner off a decaying highway.

Speaking of decaying - snap! - Amy Winehouse might be the biggest pop train wreck not named Britney of the last year or so but we're still enamored with her musically. Plus, when the folks at Truth and Soul get the nod to remix "Love is a Losing Game" (one of our favorite songs off the last album), then we perk up and listen. And smile. Great remix, really strips this ballad down and remakes it with a minimalist but mesmerizing melody (I didn't plan that alliteration, seriously). We likee.

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

posted by O.W.

Ben Westbeech: So Good Today
From Welcome to the Best Days Of Your Life (Brownswood, 2007)

Candi Staton: I'm Just a Prisoner
From I'm Just a Prisoner (Fame, 1970). Also on Candi Staton: The Early Years.

Timmy NcNealy: I Am So Glad You're Mine (snippet)
From 7" (Shawn/Truth and Soul, 1972/2007)

Hank Ballard: With Your Sweet, Lovin' Self
From 7" (King, 1969)

Bronx River Parkway and Candela All-Stars: Aqua Con Sal (snippet)
From 7" (From Truth and Soul, 2007)

The Three Souls: Herby's Tune
From 7" (All-Indy, 196?)

Donny Hathaway: Lord Help Me
From 7" (ATCO, 1972) Also on Extension of a Man.

UGK: One Day
From Ridin' Dirty (Jive, 199)

Here's an irony for you: I switched to audioblogging after doing 10 years of radio because, frankly, I found radio a bit exhausting. But nowadays, with teaching and family, blogging (at times mind you, only at times) feels like the burden. So instead of doing a few mini-posts, I'm back to cooking up mini-sets. I'd appreciate any feedback people have, namely over whether or not these 20+ minute mixes are more to their liking than single-song files. Personally, I like it better since I think music should be listened to in a sequence rather than bits of free-floating atomic units (I'm old school like that).

Anyway - here's the latest mega-post.

I have to thank Soul Sides reader, Ronnie Reese, who put me up on my current heavy-rotation player - "So Good Today" by the UK's Ben Westbeech. I'm a little surprised I didn't catch wind of this sooner, only because Westbeech is signed to Gilles Peterson's Brownswood label and I tend to follow Peterson's music. In any case, Reese was trying to put me up on the Dap-Kings mix of the song but I have to say: I rather prefer the original version. Sure, it's sugary sweet and probably only a touch less hippy-happy than, say, "Young Folks ," but to me, this is the perfect "start-your-day" song. Much better than waking up to that "ENH! ENH! ENH! ENH!" of the typical clock-radio. Dig the video too.

The Candi Staton is very, very overdue. I should have blogged about this a couple years ago, when Astralwerks put out that amazing Candi Staton: The Early Years anthology, featuring some of her best songs with Rick Hall's famous Fame studio in Muscle Shoals. I was reminded of this, pulling out songs for that recent Sharon Jones gig, and reminded about how insanely awesome "I'm Just a Prisoner" is. Seriously, it's G.O.A.T. status and I don't mean Capra aegagrus hircus. You gotta love how the song builds in intensity; it's not far past 3 minutes yet it sounds absolutely epic.

I follow that with one of the best reissues I've heard in a while; a cover of Al Green's "I'm So Glad You're Mine" done by the great Timothy McNealy, and re-released by our valued colleagues over at Truth and South in Brooklyn. This one is mega-mega rare, originally appearing on Shawn and what I appreciate about it is how McNealy strips down an already stripped-down's lo-fi but in this affecting, acoustic, intimate way. I only hooked up a snippet: cop the entire thing (hopefully, T&S will get a digital sales system set up soon).

The Hank Ballard side comes from a stack of 45s my man Justin Torres broke me off with a few years back but I had misfiled a bunch of them and only recently rediscovered them. This was part of a batch of James Brown-produced singles and the deeper I get with that catalog, the more impressed you get at just how many songs from the '60s, including a song like this Ballard cut, managed to carry that signature JB sound without having to smash you ever the head with it, ala "Think" or "More Peas" (so we're clear: I like being smashed in the head by JB-production). Sweet funk like this makes my day.

Back to Truth and Soul, just wanted to hit ya'll with a quick blast of Latin funk from their Bronx River Parkway recordings (I believe a full-length is imminent). As usual, a solid dancefloor cooker that's a good transition song for the Latin newcomers but doesn't dumb it down for the real heads either.

The Three Souls jazz tune is off another 45 I re-discovered from Torres' batch. This is an interesting single out of Indianapolis, given that the A-side, recorded with a vocalist named Aretta is a soul cut whereas this, the flipside, is obviously a straight-ahead jazz track and my, my, my...what a nice one at that. Much as I appreciate the soul jazz era of the late '60s/early '70s, it's "soulful" straight-ahead jazz like this which I never get tired of listening to. If anyone else has recommendations for albums in a similar sounding vein, let me know.

The Donny Hathaway is something I originally posted back in February and I was under the mistaken impression that it had been a previously unreleased cut, put onto the Extension of a Man CD. As it turns out, it had come out...but only on 45. Given that I just reacquired the single, I wanted to put it up again especially since it is, hands-down, one of my favorite Hathaway songs (which is saying a lot). So sublime and socially conscious to boot.

Lastly, I end with a song that was suggested to me by Soul Sides reader Laughlin Siceloff as part as a two-song, Pimp C dedication. I thought it'd actually work nicely as a coda here, in the memory of a rapper who passed far, far before his time. R.I.P.

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

posted by O.W.

First of all, thanks to everyone who came out and said "hi" to me this evening. I was genuinely touched by all the love. I don't do this for props (but props are nice!)

Second all, standing ovation for Sharon Jones and the Dap-kings for putting on a hellafied show that exceeded expectations. Part of me does kind of wish I could go back to the last time I saw them - at the tiny Elbo Room in S.F. - but seeing them rock a sold out El Rey was outstanding in its own way too. With apologies to Virginia Slim: they've come a long way, baby.

Top 5 Moments (in chrono order)
1) Playing "Behind the Blue Curtains" by the El Michels Affair, having someone walk up to me, say, "nice selections" and add, "I co-wrote this song."

2) Playing "Make the Road By Walking" by the Menahan Street Band without realizing that the guy who wrote and recorded it was standing six feet behind me. He came up, noted, "I wrote this in my bedroom" (or was it bathroom?) and then was telling me how he had to go down to meet Jay-Z and "approve the lyrics" in order for them to sample the song. When he gets off tour, Tom Brenneck's going to give me the full scoop, which I'll bring back to here.

3) Getting love from the staff. It's one thing to make the audience happy but props from the soundmen and security is who I'm always glad to please.

4) Hearing my name called from stage with applause from the full house. Again, I don't do this for props (but props are was getting paid even though I didn't ask to be).

5) Watching Sharon Jones "do the boogaloo" as part of her encore. She really is simply incredible live.

Bottom 3 Moments (in chrono order)
1) Discovering that the second turntable had a busted left channel. The upside was that the sound guys managed to rig up a way to play it, without losing volume, in mono instead. Saved my keister.

2) Dropping my MD recorder after nearly 2 hours of taping my set. The battery cover came loose and that negated everything I had taped until then. I love digital recording technology but I also hate how fragile it can be. You don't lose the recording when you drop a tape Walkman! Sheesh.

3) Standing for over five hours, much of it spent hunched over. Oof.

So check it out...after the show, I was asked to keep playing for about half an hour and that I managed to tape. All slow jams, fit for the end of a long evening.

I might "do" something with this in the upcoming weeks, maybe as a bonus recording for my next mix-CD. However, I'm offering it, as a digital download, to anyone who was actually at the show and came up to say hi. If that sounds like you, simply email me and tell me what I was wearing. That's all!

BTW: R.I.P to Pimp C. A terrible day for hip-hop fans.

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Friday, November 30, 2007

posted by O.W.

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings were on Fresh Air the other day. About time!

The show at the El Rey is sold out so I hope L.A. folks got their tickets. I'll be spinning from 8 to 10pm that evening, all soul (maybe a little Latin too). Should be fun.

In honor, here's one cut from Sharon Jones' "distant" past. It was originally released on the Desco label, back in the late '90s (when Desco disbanded, Daptones rose to fill its place, featuring many of the same, key personnel). It's a testament to the quality of these retro-soul singles that, these day, they sell as much as vintage 45s!

Sharon Jones: Hook and Sling Meets the Funky Superfly (Part 1)
From 7" (Desco, 199?). Also available on Spike's Choice.

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Saturday, October 06, 2007

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings: Long Time Coming
posted by O.W.

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings: Answer Me
From 100 Days, 100 Nights (Daptone, 2007)

I know - I'm a little late compared to all the other sites who've written about the album but hey, I was too busy writing about the group for the L.A. Times.

I don't have much to add to that, especially since I've written a lot about Sharon and the Dap-Kings over the last year. I'll add this:

1) I hope they have a fantastic night tonight at the Apollo. Sold out, if I'm not mistaken!

2) The new album is really, really, really great. Not copping one is not an option.

3) I love "Answer Me" not just because it's a great song but because it really reflects something about Sharon, her personality and her gospel roots.

4) It's about time this crew is getting the shine they deserve.

BTW, I'm working on a few copies to giveaway. I'll let you know about that when I can.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

posted by O.W.

Rita Wright: Touch Me, Take Me
From 7" (Jet, 1976)

Soul Survivors: City of Brotherly Love
From S/T (TSOP, 1975)

Both from The Wants List.

Masterplan: Clinton Park
From 7" (De-Lite, 1974)

Sly, Slick and Wicked: Sho' Nuff
From 7" (People, 1973)

Both from Soulful Thangs Vol. 1.

San Francisco TKOs: Ooh Baby Baby
From 7" (Golden Soul, 1971)

Emulations: These Are the Things (snippet)
From 7" (Emulate, 1970s)

Both from Big Bad Bay Area Vol. 1.

It's not easy to put together a good compilation (believe me!) since song selection can both be a blessing and a curse. On one hand, a hardliner could claim that a comp is only as good as its weakest song but I also find that, personally, I'm willing to forgive more mediocre inclusions if there's some stunning material on there to help balance things out. But the most important factor for me is whether or not a comp has songs that are so good, it makes me want to go out and hunt down the original (of course, some folks would just be content with having a mastered version on the song off the comp...alas, my vinyl affliction does not allow for such easy satiation).

Keep in mind: it's not always about rarity/obscurity. Case in point, The Wants List is something I originally picked up because I was looking for a copy of Rita Wright's "Touch Me, Take Me." It's a mid-70s female funk groover whose intro drums sound a great deal like Barry White's "I'm Gonna Love You Just A Little Bit More" (note: this is a good thing) and is rare as hen's teeth. Not that I actually know how rare hen's teeth actually are. But the original single is not easy to come by.

In getting the comp though, I realized that many of the other songs on there weren't, per se, rare...but they were very good and in some cases, turned me onto songs that I hadn't known about or had slept on. For example, there's a Carl Carlton song, produced by Leon Haywood, called "This Feeling's X-tra Rated" which is off the same LP as "She's a Bad Mama Jama" - you can find this LP in dollar bins - but I had never bothered to peep it before. However, to me, what I really enjoyed discovering was the Soul Survivors' "City of Brotherly Love." It's not a heavy soul piece by any means but it's also an obvious album that modern soul folks look for (unlike, say, Collins and Collins). The whole LP (which I promptly sought out) is excellent - classic Philly soul sound production (much of the album is produced by Holland-Dozier). This song, in particular, lays down a sweet groove for the waning days of summer.

Soulful Thangs is part of a large series (at least 7 volumes) that focuses on sweet, harmony soul - think AM radio in the droptop, after sunset songs. The consistency in the series is very, very good overall - you may not love everything, but there's much more that's likely to appeal to folks who are into sweet soul (and really - who isn't into it?) This comp is how I first heard the Masterplan's "Clinton Park," a song about a girl who lives in the Clinton Park housing projects in Oakland, CA. I like songs with geographic identities attached to them - gives you a better sense of time and place and besides, I just like how Masterplan sings (they did "Only You" which I posted back in January).

Soulful Thangs Vol. 1 also features "Sho' Nuff," a James Brown-produced sweet soul tune by the Sly, Slick and Wicked though it should be noted, this is not the same Sly, Slick and Wicked as these guys (who bill themselves as the "Original Sly Slick and Wicked" these days), nor should people get confused with the song, "Sly, Slick and Wicked" by the Lost Generation.This group is from Cleveland, Ohio (thus explaining their connection to James Brown's People imprint). Great little number and one of those People releases that I've probably let pass under the radar for too long.

Big Bad Bay Area is from the same label (Latin Soul Recordings) and is, as you might guess, a Bay Area-centric compilation of similar sweet/harmony soul recordings. They get even more deep on here though, with a few songs that are truly tough to find, like the Emulations' sublime "These Are the Things." I got hepped to this through a friend earlier in the year and apparently, it's one of those 45s that were pressed so poorly on styrene that playing it even once effectively destroys it (even on the CD, which was clearly mastered from the vinyl and not original tapes, you can hear a touch of cue burn).

This comp also has a great version of "Ooh Baby Baby," done by the San Francisco T.K.O.s, one of those local groups who never made a huge splash yet have become legendary on the collector's circuit. This is actually the b-side of "Herm," a slick little funk number previous comped on the Bay Area Funk album from a few years back. Not often you find a 2-sider 45 of this quality (read: I need this.)

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Jackson 5 + Inell Young: Olde Soul
posted by O.W.

Jackson 5: Big Boy
From 7" (Steeltown, 1968). Also available on First Recordings.

Inell Young: What Do You See In Her
From 7" (Libra, 196?).

The gig at the Casanova Lounge (aka the Bay Area SSV2 party) was proper. Thanks to my old friends Vinnie Esparza and Josh Bea for the invite.

Turnout was solid and I met quite a few cool Soul Siders, including a DJ from Dalva who walked down the block - during his own gig - to say hi and buy an LP. I'm seriously appreciative of that kind of love and support.

During the course of the evening - during which I dropped all covers, including a few pieces from what I hope to be the Deep Covers sequel, one of the other DJs, Geoff, threw on a few 45s at the end of the evening that had me rapt. Enough so that I compulsively rushed out the next day to track 'em down (not the actual vinyl...not yet anyways).

The Jackson 5's "Big Boy" was their very first single (I think), for a small, local label called Steeltown. This was before they signed to Motown and I don't want to even think about how old MJ was at this time, especially in listening to him croon about how "I'm a big boy." When one thinks about Michael Jackson BITD...and the MJ of's hard to believe we're talking about the same person, you know? That moment of intellectual perturbation aside though, it's definitely a cool little sweet soul single.

The Inell Young is on some whole 'nother level though. I had "heard" this before, meaning that I had given it a passing ear lean and that was about the extent of it, but that night, I really sat there and listened to it, especially as Geoff was breaking down the backstory. (Some of this might be apocryphal but even so it's still a good story).

Apparently, Young was involved with famed NOLA producer Eddie Bo - he produced her first two singles - but for this third recording, which was to be Young's last, she worked with another producer (Gus Lewis). The tale is that the person she's talking about in the song was actually Eddie as she was being two-timed by him for some other woman ("nothing but a playgirl...all the boys know her name").Ok, so Geoff actually wrote in to clear some stuff up:
    "From what people say, Inell, Mary Jane Hooper & ??? were the Explosions, backup singers of Gold Cup fame. Some say they were in high school chorus and Eddie told someone to go down to the school & get some girls for backup on Hip Drop. Anyway, Eddie worked with Inell for a few tracks on Big 9 and Busy B, and sometime around then she fell heavily into drug use (heroin). Her and Eddie weren't lovers (at least to my knowledge, I believe he was still married to Dolores Johnson around that time), but had a working relationship. Inell and Mary were supposedly best friends, but after Inell hit the junk hard, Eddie refused to work with her until she cleaned up her act and continued working with Mary Jane Hooper. From what the people say, "what do you see in her" was her response to this, and reportedly about Eddie and Mary."
Young supposedly died of an overdose soon thereafter, though it's not clear if this was accidental or purposeful.

Again - this might all be mythology but as far as back stories go, it certainly gives what would otherwise be a likable - but not extraordinary - bittersweet love song much added resonance.

Beyond that though, there's a few things, musically, that really stand out here, beginning with how Young introduces herself on the song with that unexpected, four-note whateveryoucallit (I really need to get some basic musicological training at some point); it's almost like bird call and it's definitely attention-getting. From there, I like how the arrangement holds back the guitar accompaniment until after the first A portion of Young's verses (after "I'm lost in misery"). Suddenly, what was a minimalist funk tune stretches into something much more dynamic. And lastly, you have to love how Young sings the chorus, "what do you seeeeeeee, in herrrrrr." It's a good melodic progression, not what you'd necessarily anticipate, and from that point forward, anyone listening will find themselves singing along.

By the way, I'd say "Happy July 4th" or some nonsense like that if there were actually anything to celebrate but not this week. Not this year. (Read: not this president). The real independence day is whenever the long reign of King George ends. You know the anthem:

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Friday, June 15, 2007

Renee Geyer: Soul Down Under
posted by O.W.

Renee Geyer: Do Right Man
From Renee Geyer (RCA, 1973)

Renee Geyer: Do Your Thing
From It's a Man's, Man's World (RCA, 1974)

I first came upon Geyer through her 1976 live album, Really Really Love You. I was taken by how this Australian chanteuse would not only cover a lesser-known Johnny "Guitar" Watson song, but would do it convincingly as a blue-eyed soul singer somewhere between the light touch of Dusty Springfield and heavy edge of Janis Joplin. Maybe it's something in the water but Geyer clearly had an affinity for Black soul of the era as she covered any number of R&B songs in her first few albums for RCA. I pulled out a couple for your listening pleasure.

On "Do Right Man," Geyer takes on the Queen of Soul herself, Aretha Franklin, by covering one of Aretha's first big Atlantic hits, "Do Right Man" and what I like here is how she gives it more of a country feel rather than attempting a straight cover. But regardless of the genre-switching, Geyer's voice proves itself to be an admirable instrument, able to convey a lot of grit and warmth at once.

Word of caution: there's two, eponymous albums by Geyer but for whatever reason, the self-titled album I have is not listed in her discography and even more strange: most of the songs on this album (which includes versions of "Moon Dance," "Lean On Me," and "Them Changes" do not appear anywhere in her own discography (though a couple of songs are on that other self-titled album). Not sure how to explain that though I'm guessing it's some weird RCA thing).

Geyer's version of Isaac Hayes' "Do Your Thing" appears on It's a Man's Man's World (one of the few of the early RCA albums to get reissued, though this comp covers some of that ground. Again, is it better than Hayes? No. Is it a cool cover? Absolutely. (I'm trying to think if any other women have covered this song...I'm only familiar with male versions of it).

At some point, someone really needs to compile Geyer's "best of" soul collection. (Ahem, RCA Victor - holla me!)

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Sunday, June 10, 2007

Nicole Willis + Marc Broussard: More Shades of Soul
posted by O.W.

Nicole Willis: Sunday Nite + You Better Change
From Be It (Sahko/Puu, 2004)

Marc Broussard: Kissing My Love + Come In From the Cold
From S.O.S.: Save Our Soul (Vanguard, 2007)

Given that I'm such a fan of the last Nicole Willis album, I was curious as to what her album before that, released in 2004, sounded like. Those expecting a more proto-version of Keep Reachin' Up will find instead that Be It is far less retro-soul and far more neo-soul. I wouldn't say these two songs from Be It will clarify that difference though "Sunday Nite" certainly fits into this kind of throwback disco vibe that I always associated with folks like the Brand New Heavies and Dee-Lite whereas "You Better Change," the lone cut off this LP recorded with the Soul Investigators definitely has that retro-funk groove going for it, ala Sharon Jones.

At the very least, Be It is an interesting peek into Willis' evolution between the two styles. Personally, while her voice is solid in whatever sub-genre, I definitely think her and the Soul Investigators really made it happen on Keep Reachin' Up in a way merely hinted at on Be It.

As for Broussard, this Louisana singer/songwriter (and son of guitarist Ted Broussard) is now on his third album and though he's always dabbled in R&B/soul influences before, S.O.S. is his most obviously soul-influenced recording to date. I'll say this much, dude looks like a young Dr. John and has some of the best vocals I've heard on a blue-eyed soul artist. As with my chit-chatter regarding Amy Winehouse, I do find it fascinating that it seems like the vanguard of those keeping classic Black soul and funk in rotation are White these days. With Broussard, I'm not familiar with his older albums but in listening to S.O.S., I feel like this is a well-intenioned homage that doesn't quite gel for me. Most of the album are covers - "Yes We Can" by Allen Toussaint/Pointer Sisters, Marvin Gaye's "Inner City Blues," the Staple Singers' "Respect Yourself," etc. and most of them are too loyal to the original that comparisons are impossible to avoid and Broussard and his producers simply don't bring enough to the table to compete.

To rip off American Idol-speak - if you're going to cut a cover, you better find a way to make it your own; fail that and the best you can have is a well-executed revue band tune. It's for that reason, I couldn't really get into "Inner City Blues" or especially Al Green's "Love and Happiness." Both are such signature songs that really, they're best left alone unless you're going to invent them and Broussard doesn't do enough with either to approach that level.

I did like his cover of Bill Withers' "Kissing My Love," but then again, I like almost every cover of "Kissing My Love" I've heard. There's something to Withers' songs that make them easier to remake, probably partially because his voice - while beautiful in its own way - lacked the distinctive, gospel-tinged nuance of other soul vocalists like Green or Retting.

However, I really liked Broussard's "Come In From the Cold" which I initially thought might have been a Joni Mitchell-cover but is, I think, his own composition and it's here, where Broussard isn't trying to live up to anyone else's potential but his own, that he sounds great. So good in fact that John Legend is probably wondering why he didn't cut this song. It's a lovely, lovely ballad.

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Sunday, June 03, 2007

Betty Davis Contest Winner
posted by O.W.

Congrats to Tom M. for winning the Betty Davis CD contest . Andrew and Mike J. were runner-ups.

I'm a little disappointed in the Soul Sides massive for lack of a greater participation but hey, maybe ya'll are camera shy or something.

I was going through my old Betty Davis notes and thought I'd post this up as a bonus:

It's an interview with Betty done by Al Gee, a DJ with an Army Reserves radio program in the mid 1970s. Really great piece of archival recording. Thanks to Joost Burger for digging up this gem.


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Betty Davis: The Wait Is Over
posted by O.W.

Betty Davis: S/T (Just Sunshine, 1973)

Betty Davis: They Say I'm Different (Just Sunshine, 1974)

One of the main extracurricular projects I've worked on this past year was to research and write the liner notes to Betty Davis' two reissue CDs, just released by Light in the Attic.

This is a big deal and I don't mean just for myself. Even though Betty isn't exactly the secret she's been in the past (I, among others, have written about her for a while), this is the first time her two Just Sunshine albums have been made available legally on reissue and Light in the Attic went all out in terms of packaging and extras. As such, this has also been the first time that Betty has made herself available to interviews in over 20 years. I spoke with her last spring and summer and since then, a few select journalists have also had access to the legendary recluse, including Jeff Chang for the SF Chronicle.

For my part, I spoke to around a dozen different people connected to Betty - some of my favorite interviews included Greg Errico, the former Sly and the Family Stone drummer who produced Betty's first album; Michael Carabello, Santana percussionist and Betty's ex-flame; and Fred Mills, one of Betty's studio and tour players for her third and fourth albums. Given that Betty doesn't really have much to say for herself ('tis true), it was only through interviewing others that one gets a sense of who she was and what her music was about.

I wish I had something more poignant to say about working on the project...or my thoughts on Betty (you can check here for some of that) but really, most of what I had to say is all in the liner notes - all gazillion words of it (it's long, very long).

In other words: buy these albums. At the very least, it finally puts some money back in Betty's pocket - this after years of her work being illegally bootlegged and sampled.

For the Soul Sides massive though, I have a few copies to give away.
    Grand prize: both Betty Davis CDs (signed!) + SSV2 + Deep Covers.

    2 Runner-ups: each person will receive one of the Betty Davis CDs

    To enter, all you need to do is this: send me a photo that incorporates you and your copy of Soul Sides Vol. 1. The composition of the photo is up to you so long as both you and the album are somewhere visible in frame. Those wishing to use proxies may not use household pets but I will accept the substitution of small children (presumably yours). Out of the bunch, I'll pick a winner plus the runner-ups.

    Note: I reserve the right to post any and all images you send my way unless you specifically request that I not.

    Deadline: June 1st. Send entries to:

I was totally derelict in forgetting to mention one of the best pieces you can read about Betty Davis - John Ballon's amazing cover story for Wax Poetics. It is absolutely essential, as much as my liners.

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Honey & The Bees: How Sweet They Were
posted by O.W.

Honey & The Bees: Together Forever
From 7" (Arctic, 1969). Also on Dynamite!.

Honey & The Bees: Come Get It
From 7" (Josie, 1970). Also on Come Get It: The Complete Josie Recordings.

Thanks for everyone's patience - as noted last post, I've been doing a lot of traveling the past month and it's strange how even short two day trips are momentum-killers. I guess I'm not as flexible as I thought in terms of dealing with changes to my weekly routines. In fact, just to make this completely ironic - I'm literally writing this post on an airplane right now (god bless US Airways for having laptop power outlets in their coach seats). Hey, get in where you fit in, right?

I first came upon Honey & The Bees off of someone's soul mix and was so struck by their sound, the first thing I did was procure their Dynamite! anthology. I haven't done as much homework on the group as I'd like but here's the basics:

H&TB were a female soul group out of Philadelphia, originally named the Yum Yums, and comprised of Nadine Felder White, Cassandra Ann Wooten, Jean Davis and Gwen Oliver. They changed their name to Honey & the Bees before signing with Arctic (the great soul imprint that was also home to the Soul Ambassadors). The group recorded around five sides with Arctic, including a few choice and expensive Northern soul pieces. (Dynamite! compiles all those singles, plus what I can only assume to be a few bonus tracks from the vault).

In 1970, Honey & The Bees went over to Josie (best known as the home of the Meters' first three albums) and knocked out an LP for them plus another half dozen or so singles. I'm not entirely clear on this, but it seems that with both labels, the group had the backing of Gamble-Huff players including Thom Bell, Leon Huff, Ron Baker and others. As such, though the Supremes are an obvious point of comparison, Honey & The Bees had far better production that the vast majority of girl group aspirants from the same era.

The group was strong enough to end up touring with James Brown for a spell in the early 1970s (Fred Wesley would woo and eventually marry Gwen Oliver as a consequence) though their headstrong, take-no-b.s. attitude eventually came into conflict with Brown's own strong-armed control over his players and he had Wesley remove the group off tour.

"Together Forever" is probably my favorite track from the group's Arctic years (though the fiery "Baby, Do That Thing" is nothing to sneeze at either) - love the string arrangement, the group harmony that opens the song and the general lushness of it all.

"Come Get It" shares many of the same qualities and I especially dig that bass chord sequence that opens the song and powers the chorus. And as with all their songs, the vocals are phenomenal, especially for anyone who is into female soul as much as I am.

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Sunday, April 15, 2007

Mark Ronson: Gettin' It Covered
posted by O.W.

Mark Ronson: Valerie (feat. Amy Winehouse) + Just (feat. Phantom Planet)
From Version (Columbia, 2007)

Version is already available in the UK (as of last week) but won't be coming state-side for a couple of months. The conceit of the album is very simple: take a smattering of mostly UK (and a few American) alt-rock songs and give it Ronson's customized retro-funk/soul twist. As someone who's all into covers (obviously), I take special interest in a project like this since it's both all about covers and moreover, an interesting experiment in pop music making for someone with Ronson's current cache amongst the musically hip (*cough cough* soulful and soulless alike).

I'll be writing a formal review of the album down the road so I'll spare the same approach here except to say, for an album of covers, the source material is hardly obvious to anyone outside the world of UK/US alt-rock. This doesn't inherently hurt the album - the songs can stand on their own, especially as "Valerie" attests too - without one knowing what the O.G. sounds like but it does raise a question of who the intended audience is here. Do Radiohead or Kaiser Chief fans want to hear familiar songs remade as if by Fred Wesley and the Horny Horns? Or likewise, do QSO/Daptone fans want to hear that sound applied to the Smiths with Daniel Merryweather singing? (To answer the latter - probably not. The song is pretty horrid on both levels).

For what works, I have to say - Winehouse's version of "Valerie" is an instant winner. She's already performed this during her recent mini-tour and there's an acoustic version that folks have been circulating. The song's genealogy is under some dispute - the song is mostly associated with the Zutons (if you just asked, "who are the Zutons?" you're not alone) but others claim the song originally was on a demo by the Jam but not got released. As my wife said, "it sounds very Paul Weller," (upon which my friend quipped, "except bad." Ouch). History aside, it's a very catchy song and if you already like Amy (as clearly, many of my readers do), you'll like this and if you don't know her, it's not a bad introduction to Ms. Winehouse's style.

"Just" appeared earlier on an album of all Radiohead covers and I can't say I'm mad at this at all (same goes for that Cuban remake of "High and Dry" from last year). The production is a bit overcooked here for my tastes - it's fun but could have stood to be stripped down more - but I can't say I'm resistant to its charms.

As for the cover of Britney Spears' "Toxic" on here by Ol Dirty Bastard and Tiggers...uh,'s just that one alone. Very, very alone.

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Monday, April 02, 2007

Retro Soul: A Basic (and we mean basic) Primer
posted by O.W.

Amy Winehouse: He Can Only Hold Her (Live)
From a live recording from The Astoria, London (2/19/07)

Amy Winehouse: Rehab (Desert Eagle Remix)
From label (Universal Republic, 2007)

The Poets of Rhythm: It Came Over Me
From Practice What You Preach (Soulciety/Daptone, 1993/2006)

Sharon Jones: You Better Thing Twice
From 45 (Desco, 1998). Also available on Spike's Choice.

The Poets of Rhythm: Smilin'
From Discern/Define (Quannum, 2001)

Lee Fields feat. the Expressions: Honey Dove
From 7" (Truth and Soul, 2005). Also on Fallin' Off the Reels.

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings: All Over Again
From Naturally (Daptone, 2005)

Alice Russell: High Up On The Hook
From My Favorite Letters (Tru Thoughts, 2005)

Breakestra: Hiding (QSO Remix)
From Stand Up EP (Ubiquity, 2006)

Nicole Willis and the Soul Investigators: A Perfect Kind of Love
From Keep Reachin' Up (Timmion, 2005)

Bonus: Nellie McKay: Won't U Please B Nice?
From Get Away From Me (Sony, 2004)

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings: What Have You Done For Me Lately?
From Dap Dippin' (Daptone, 2002)

The Retro Soul Primer Master Mix (all 12 songs in one).

Ok, I promised this post a few weeks ago and here it is.[1]

Note: this is NOT meant to be an end-all, be-all, definitive guide to "retro soul" (which I'll define in a moment). It's merely a primer to sketch out a combination of what I think are the key recordings in the lineage as well as a few personal favorites. The idea was indeed inspired by Amy Winehouse's new Back to Black since I see her, thus far, as the most visible face on this "movement" (if one wants to call it that) and I thought it'd be a good way to celebrate both her success as well as point out the larger community of artists that she's now fallen in with.

I start with Amy herself, beginning with "He Can Only Hold Her," a song that's on the album and that she also has been performing in concert. Even though the version here was recorded in London, whereas I saw her in Hollywood, she did the same set (more or less) at both shows. In both, she and her back-up singers - as you can hear here - slide into a rendition of "Doo Wop (That Thing)" by Lauryn Hill at the end of the song. I thought it was a cool moment, especially since (as you can hear) the crowd gets into it but it's a little funny too since Winehouse sounds a lot like Hill (not that there's anything wrong with that but it needs to be noted).

The second Winehouse song is something I downloaded directly through Universal Republic, the "Desert Eagle" remix of "Rehab" which uses, at the beginning, an interpolation of the same beat once used by Pudgee for his song, "Think Big" (which is better known for a cameo by Biggie as well as Lord Tariq).

Ok - now this is where the history lesson begins. First of all, retro soul. This is a term that I think is useful is distinguishing this style of soul from the more commonly heard "neo soul". The latter - exemplified by Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, D'Angelo, Angie Stone, etc. - is contemporary R&B that's clearly influenced by classic soul aesthetics but, for the most part, would never be confused with a vintage Motown or Stax song.

In contrast, retro soul deliberately plays with the listener's sense of time and era by crafting music that replicates the production style of vintage soul; in some cases, enough so that you may not have a sense of when the recording was actually made. At one point, the more "authentic" a song can sound as if it were from the past, the closer it achieved its ambitions. However, in more recent years, I think this has evolved to where complete duplication isn't as necessary, especially as artists want more leeway to move in, but there's still that unmistakable "sound" of the music which clearly is built off the styles of the past.

The great grand-daddy of this movement is likely Germany's - yes, Germany's - Poets of Rhythm who, all the way back in 1993, put out a retro soul/funk album, Practice What You Preach that has since become a collector's item in its own right (it's been reissued twice which says a lot about its popularity). The album was mostly funk-oriented (like most of retro soul up until more recently) but "It Came Over Me" as one of the few soul ballads that found its way onto the album. To me, it's just fascinating that in 1993, there was already enough of a nostalgia/yearning for the '60s/'70s era of R&B that these kind of songs were already being crafted.

However, the main push in retro soul began a few years later with the founding of Desco Records (now defunct) which made a major effort to press up 45s and LPs for artists like Lee Fields, Joseph Henry, the Soul Providers and Sharon Jones - the first lady of retro soul. "You Better Thing Twice" (and no, that's not a typo) wasn't her very first single for Desco but was part of that early batch of releases. Desco held it down for a number of years and upon its dissolution, it gave birth to two labels: Soul Fire and Daptone.

I've posted the Lee Fields before but it bears a second run; it's so damn buttery. Fields was another former Desco artist who now records with Truth and Soul and this version of "Honey Dove," recorded with the Expressions, is an update on the original version which appeared on Fields' 2002 Problems album. It's such a great song and it shows how retro soul has the potential to create these "new classics" by artists who never had their chance back in the day but who've found the career starts later in life.

Sharon Jones is back (and now we've moved up to her Daptone era), this time with my favorite song off her Naturally album from a couple years back: "All Over Again." I liked it so much, in fact, I comped it for Soul Sides Vol. 1 (but ya'll already knew that, right?). Most of her earlier material was in the vein of funky divas like Marva Whitney and Lyn Collins but "All Over Again" shows that she's equally adept at cutting a powerful ballad and I hope this means she'll be doing more. It's worth also noting that by this time in her career, it's Jones and the Dap-Kings together (they come as a unit, more or less) and for those who forgot, the Dap-Kings are also Winehouse's touring band and some of their members were part of Amy's studio band as well.

The Alice Russell is also from a few years back - I had known about her based on her collaborations with the Quantic Soul Orchestra but I had never heard her solo material and I thought this song, with Spector-esque production (check those drums!), was a great example of some of the directions and diversity that retro soul is now inclusive of. (Notably, Russell is often lauded as one of those "White-singers-who-sound-Black," a some what dubiously framed honor but it's meant as a compliment).

Breakestra deserves a mention on the list for a few reasons, not the least of which is that their "Getcho Soul Together" 45 from 199* was one of the few West Coast offerings in the retro soul tradition and they've long helped anchor the Los Angeles side of this community. I also thought it'd be good here to give the Quantic Soul Orchestra a chance to show their thing since they're definitely part of this movement too and they give Breakestra's "Hiding" a catchy, snappy touch.

Lastly, we end on my favorite retro soul album thus far - Nicole Willis and the Soul Investigators' Keep Reachin' Up. I've written about this album in the past and don't want to restate too much again but what I will say is that this song, in particular, illuminates how broad and beautifully these newer bands are able to execute a sound that obviously nods to vintage styles but doesn't sound like a complete carbon copy either. Mostly, it's just phenomenal sounding soul and that's good enough.

There are, of course, many other groups/artists that could have been mentioned here. If you like what you hear above, I suggest investing in many of those artists' catalogs deeper or you can also check out anthologies like Up From the Vaults and The Majestic Collection.

As for the bonus tracks, the Nellie McKay isn't retro soul (retro cabaret perhaps) but her ability to work with a throwback style and more importantly, her irreverent songwriting, made me think of her first when I first listened to Amy Winehouse. The two are hardly twins but there's something about their sensibility which reminds me of one another (especially for those who've listened to Winehouse's first album, Frank).

And I wanted to include one more Sharon Jones/Dap-Kings song, this one from their debut album and it's a very cool cover of Janet Jackson's "What Have You Done For Me Lately?" The song keeps Janet's lyrics but musically, is quite different, given the song a whole new feel. Pity I didn't remember this earlier - it would have made a fine inclusion on SSV2. Oops.

[1] I made the decision to divshare all these songs, partially because it's such a long post, I didn't want to push the bandwidth too far, partially as an experiment to see how well it would work. I know folks prefer direct MP3 hosting (as do I) but these alternatives are proving tempting to use, especially given how they reduce server load as well as allow for tracking, something I was never able to do before.

To make up for the potential annoyance of not having direct downloads, I made that master mix of all the songs strung together into one. I don't plan to make this a habit unless people prefer that I do master mixes in lieu of separate tracks (in other words, I wouldn't make both available except in extraordinary circumstances like these). My guess is that most would prefer separate tracks but I'll wait and see how feedback is.

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