Tuesday, March 09, 2010

posted by O.W.

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

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

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

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

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Monday, March 08, 2010

posted by O.W.

I've had a few individual songs that I've been meaning to post up and usually, I wait for some kind of thematic opportunity but I realize this is an inefficient way to go about things and instead, I just took ten of these stragglers, whipped up a quick sequence for them and if you download them in order, you'll have yourself a half-hour mix.

Paul Kelly: Only Your Love
From 7" (Dial, 1965)

This single (backed with "Chills & Fevers") originally came out on Lloyd but turned out to be enough of a hit that Dial picked it up for distribution and, strangely, Atlantic UK also issued it (but not until the late '70s). My man Brendan first played this for me and while "Chills and Fevers" was the big hit, it was always the flipside ballad that captured my attention. I could be crazy but this definitely sounds influenced by Sam Cooke's "Change Gonna Come" - the arrangements seem remarkably similar though not a copy. But like Cooke, you have this impassioned delivery and the kind of deep, deep soul track I simply can't get enough of.

Marvin Gaye: It's Love I Need
From I Heard It Through the Grapevine (Tamla, 1968)

Confession: much as I recognize the greatness that was Marvin, I actually own very few of his albums besides a few anthologies. I basically missed out on buying a lot of classic Motown-era LPs (I'm starting to make up for it though) and it wasn't until the other month that I finally picked up one of his biggest selling albums of the '60s, I Heard It Through the Grapevine. Besides the now-ubiquitous title track though, I really liked listening to what some might call the "filler", LP-only songs because you will always find little gems tucked away. Motown knew what the f--- they were doing in that era and even the non-hits sound like potential hits. This track in particular has a nice, funky twang to it, anchored by fatback drums. Reminds me a little of this, an absolute favorite of mine from Tammi Terrell's catalog.

Great Pride: She's a Lady
From 7" (MGM, 1974)

I originally heard this back in 2003 when I got booted on a strange, one-off 12". Even then, I remember it being some really crazy stuff but I had forgotten about it for years until recently, when I grabbed an OG copy of the 7". It's such a fantastically quirky song that mashes up some funky white dude rock, lush orchestral production and crazy psychedelic vocals. Call me crazy but didn't the moment where the strings and beat come together at :15 remind you of this? Far as I can tell, this was the only release this 7-man band ever put out; pity - I would have loved to hear what an entire LP's worth of material sounded like from these guys.

The Victors: Magnificent Sanctuary Band
From 7" (Clarion, 197?)

This cover of Donny Hathaway's tune retains the opening drum break and a mostly loyal arrangement that isn't necessarily superior to the OG but it's a fun listen and nice to have on 7".

The Detroit City Limits: 98 Cents Plus Tax
From Play 98 Cents Plus Tax and Other Hits (Okeh, 1968)

Ironically, even though this album was mostly covering other people's hits, as one of the sole original compositions by this short-lived group, "98 Cents Plus Tax" was the group's biggest hit: a squawking monster of an instrumental cooker that's been a favorite of DJs for years.

Big City: Love Dance
From 7" (20th Century, 1974)

This excellent, mid-70s proto-disco jam is a real enigma. If you've ever heard "Mud Wind" by the South Side Movement, you'll notice that "Love Dance" = "Mud Wind" - a minute + vocals. Does that mean Big City is actually South Side Movement? That's my assumption only because I've never seen another Big City single but apparently, this isn't the first time a tune on Wand ended up being re-released on 20th Century (see The Groove: "Love, It's Getting Better").

Juan Diaz: Hit and Run
From Thematic Music (New World, 197?)

This comes from one of the many NY-based New World library music records. New World isn't anywhere near the level of KPM/DeWolfe library respectability but like most library series, there's good tracks to be found if you're willing to sift through. This is one of the better cuts I've found on a New World LP - a slick, disco-y instrumental that rides a nice little groove.

Willie West and High Society Brothers: The Devil Gives Me Everything
From 7" (Timmion, 2009)

Finland's finest teamed up with legendary NOLA soul man for this single that sort of flew under people's radars from last year. Whether intentional or not, there's just something slightly "off" about this deep soul recording but whatever that element is, it works for me.

Myron and E: It's a Shame
From 7" (Timmion, 2010)

And staying on the Timmion tip is the latest single from Oakland's Myron and E who made a strong splash with "Cold Game." This is their follow-up 7" and hopefully paves the way for the duo's long-awaited debut LP with the Soul Investigators. This one's real catchy (but it's not a cover of the Spinners' song in case you were wondering).

Bitty McClean: Tell Me (remix)
From 7" (Sir Peckings, 2007)

Straight up, McClean's "Tell Me" and "Walk Away From Love" are two of my favorite reggae songs that I've discovered in years. I didn't even realize "Tell Me" got a remix 7" treatment but had to cop. This doesn't change the song dramatically; it basically keeps the original rocksteady arrangement but then remakes it over with some heavy dub elements, basically stripping it down and letting McClean's vocals echo out.

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Saturday, March 06, 2010

posted by O.W.

This one really bums me out. Such a pioneering guy in the history of Chicano rock/jazz/soul. Wish I had gotten the chance to talk to him before he passed at only 60.

Felix Contreras has a great memorial piece up at NPR about him.

Here's a 2009 interview with him by Jesus Velo of Los Illegals.

And here's a killer clip of El Chicano performing their big hit, "Viva Tirado" from 1971:

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Thursday, March 04, 2010

posted by O.W.

Lamont Dozier: Going Back To My Roots
From Peddlin' Music On The Side (WB, 1977)

Richie Havens: Going Back To My Roots
From Connections (Elektra, 1980)

One of my best moments in a club came back in the '00s when I was at APT during a night that Chairman Mao was spinning. I had never heard Lamont Dozier's "Going Back To My Roots" before and I was just marveling at now just how good the song was, but that incredible change in the arrangement that drops around the 6:30 mark. It was so unexpected and sublime, one of those songs that really only could work as well as it does when you give it time to unfold on a dancefloor. Simply incredible.

Not surprisingly, it drew the attention of other artists. The best known cover is by Odyssey but...I don't know...I think I found the vocals to be too disco-cliché. Richie Havens' version however won me over with that intro piano (I'm a sucker for good piano intros) and though Havens has a rougher voice than Dozier's it works well here. The "reprise" section is missing but otherwise, I find this almost as pleasing to play out.

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posted by O.W.

Junior Parker: Lover to Friend
Your Love's All Over Me
From Honey-Drippin' Blues (Blue Rock/Mercury, 1969)

Bluesman Parker is already responsible for one of the funkiest blues tunes I know, his cover of the Beatles' "Taxman." However, I had totally forgotten about this '69 album until my recent move and I was reacquainted with two of its outstanding cuts. What I like about both of these songs, especially "Your Love's All Over Me," is how they lean more to the R&B side than being traditional blues tunes and both open with waiting-to-be-looped basslines (any producers out there looking to mess with either of these, holler and I'll send you a higher quality version. This might be a tad too simple though; your call).


posted by O.W.

Banks is the middle man, literally

I'd be remiss in not noting the sad passing of the Dramatics' Ron Banks. At this point, most of the original founders have all died in the last ten years and I don't think a single one of them made it 60.

I don't have a long post to write here - I can't say I really knew the Dramatics' catalog as deeply as that of other groups though obviously, I'm up on their big hits. I did find it fascinating that they were a Detroit group yet signed to the star of the South: Stax/Volt. Wonder if Gordy ever got pissed about that though by the early '70s, he probably had his hands busy with moving Motown to L.A. anyway. In any case, here's two songs I picked out in memmoriam: one being the Dramatics' first hit (and one of their most enduring), "Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get" and I decided to pair that with a killer reggae cover of one of their other songwriting gems, "In the Rain," done by the Debonaires (thanks to Hua for putting me up on that single).

RIP, Ron.

The Dramatics: Whatcha See is Whatcha Get
From Whatcha See is Whatcha Get (Volt, 1972). Also on The Best Of.

The Debonaires: In the Rain
From 7" (Tobin, 197?)

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Wednesday, March 03, 2010

posted by O.W.

Religious Souls: The Condition the World Is In
Rich Man
From Sinner Man (Artist's Recording, 197?)

Religious Souls: Jesus People
Life Is A Vapor
From Change Me Lord (JCL, 197?)

The Kingcannon Family: Jesus Is Mine
Our Father's Children
From Unity (Arroyo, 1985)

I've been meaning to write up the Religious Souls for about 4.5 years and the only reason I took this long was partially because I was hoping (now and then) to find a way to reissue their records (alas, I'm poorly equipped and a couple of the labels I initially approached took pass). But should tell you how much I think this group is fascinating. Song for song, the Religious Souls (aka the Kingcannon family) are, in my book, one of the best gospel soul groups to have ever been recorded. It's not like other gospel albums where there's one or two soul or funk songs interspersed with more traditional gospel styles; every cut on their albums is seeped in R&B/funk aesthetics, with incredibly rich arrangements and a real gift for falsetto vocals. If it wasn't for the relatively poor recording/engineering quality (and obscurity) of their first two albums, I have no doubt these would be stone-cold classics. As it is, they're barely known about as it is (though apparently, my man Lyrics Born knows about 'em).

I had the great privilege to interview Bishop Reggie Kingcannon, who was one of the core of the group and got some of the story behind the group. They began originally in the late '60s and early '70s, one of the many groups likely inspired by the success of the Jackson 5 (though they rocked seven in their clan). However, before they had a chance to record, David Kingcannon (who played guitar) had a "calling" to join the ministry, seemingly ending their record ambitions.

Though not originally from the Colorado area, they ended up Denver when patriarch Rev. Earl Kingcannon took over as pastor of the Pentecostal Faith Temple Church of God In Christ in Denver and when the family performed in concert there, they came to the attention of Brother Al, self-billed "America's #1 Gospel DJ" who broadcast on at least four stations: KBRN (Denver), WSUM (Cleveland), WHKK (Cincinnati) and WPFB (Middleton, OH) and he convinced the group to let him exec produce their debut album, Sinner Man.

9 of the 10 songs on their debut were written by members of the Kingcannon family and they recorded the LP at Music Plant Studios in Denver and I'm assuming Brother Al took it back to Cincinnati where he had it pressed at the custom plant, Artist's Recording Company. As you can hear on the two songs I picked off, the arrangements and vocals are superlative; their content might have been gospel but at their musical core, this was a soul group, through and through. According to Reggie Kingcannon, the group's drummer, it was the family's matriarch, Willa, who did much of the music, with daughter Sarah handling the female lead and sons Reggie and David handling male leads (plus sister Lavern on the bass guitar and I'm assuming the 7th family member, Betty, was on background).

Somewhere in that midst, they recorded their second album, Change Me Lord, this time for JCL (Jesus Christ is Lord) Records, in Henderson, TN, home to Clyde Beavers' Beaverwood Studios. Unfortunately, their second album suffers from two distinct problems. First of all, the engineering was terrible; you can tell from how the vocals are mic-ed and how unbalanced the mix is (if you listen hard, you can hear the organ in the back of "Life Is a Vapor" and I can't believe they intended to bury it that far back in the mix). Second, the pressing was also low, which means that in order to get the recording loud enough to listen to, you have crank the volume up and that bring its own problems, especially when digitizing from vinyl. Yet, despite all that, the same musical strengths of their first album are still all here.

Unity came out in the mid-80s, by which time, the group had decided to ditch the Religious Souls' moniker and instead just record under their own name. They had at least one album during this era, Unity, much of which is kind of schlocky '80s pop/rock but the first two songs on the album still had some of that old magic, just updated with more "modern" production.

Should have shared this with ya'll years ago but better late than never. Enjoy.

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Saturday, February 27, 2010

posted by O.W.

Eddie Robinson: God's Love Song
Absolutely Beautiful
From You In My Life (Ren Unlimited, 197?)

It's not all about the funk. This Eddie Robinson LP is a stunningly smooth, mellow and soulful gospel album, filled with electric piano and Robinson's own dulcet croons (oh yeah baby, let's get down and...pray). And then there's this very simple edit I put together:

The Art Reynolds Singers: Down Here Lord/How Did It Feel?
From Tellin' It LIke It Is (Capitol, 1966)

This album - a hit on the gospel circuit in its day - is best known for "Jesus Is Just Alright" but the two songs that drew my attention were the slower, dramatic "Down Here Lord" and the more upbeat, uptempo "How Did It Feel?" both of which benefitted from that strong choral presence. However, something about the arrangement in both songs sound so much alike that I figured I'd just combine them into one and the end result, in my humble opinion, works quite well.

On a similar tip is this tune:

Sterling Glass and the Metropolitan Singers: Thank You Lord
From Jesus Never Fail (Glori, 1973)

Straight out of Waterbury, CT, Glass and the Metropolitan Singers offer up a beautifully arranged and executed song here. That pianist is straight killing it (uh, in a spiritual way). Interestingly, this album got reissued in the mid-80s on Nashboro; I wonder if it was a decent seller in its time.


I just wrote up the 3 Titans' "College" as a Song of the Day for NPR.

And my latest blog post for Fania is on Ricardo Ray's "Lookie Lookie" and the origins of Latin boogaloo.

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Friday, February 26, 2010

posted by O.W.

The Violinaires: Groovin' With Jesus
Put Your Hand in the Hand
From Groovin' With Jesus (197?)

One of the best known gospel funk songs out there is the appropriate titled "Groovin' With Jesus" by the venerable Violinaires. This Detroit-founded group has a long, deep history - Wilson Pickett was once a member and the Rolling Stones apparently wrote for them. This comes out of their early '70s catalog (and if you've ever perused the gospel section at a record store, you know how prolific they could be) and they're very clearly experimenting with some secular flavor. Frankly, I have yet a hear anything even remotely on this level, at least in terms of how well it kicks that '70s funk sound. Humble Pie and the Lifesavas knew the real.

I included a second song off the same album...one that you would have assumed might kick a little break based on experience but no. Yet, this is probably one of the best versions of the song I've ever heard. Despite the opening drum break on other versions, they tend to slide in campy country rock and the Violinaires keep their version quite soulful throughout.

Rev. Carlton Coleman: Rockgospeltime Pt. 2
From Rock Gospel Time (Brunswick, 1970)

Coleman is probably best known in soul circles for having worked with James Brown on the novelty cut, "The Boo Boo Song". By 1970, Coleman...no longer "King Coleman" but Rev. Carlton Coleman, was on Brunswick and recorded one of the more eclectic albums for that label (which is saying a lot). That LP was a mix of long (and I do mean long) monologues about Coleman's unique "Rock Gospel Time" philosophies with a few really funky cuts, among them "Share It" and this mostly instrumental jam, "Rockgospeltime Pt. 2"

The William Singers: He Lifted Me
From He Lifted Me (Checker, 1973)

Thought I'd finish off with another Checker release (the studio seemed to be encouraging these kind of gospel-meets-funk fusions), this one from the William Singers. I think it's safe to say this cut, in particular, borrows heavily from Chicago's dense music scene with a classic funky blues riff powering the cut.

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posted by O.W.

For the longest time, I've been meaning to write a series of posts on gospel soul but for whatever reason, I kept putting it off. Then, a few weeks ago, I was asked to review two new gospel anthologies for NPR:

  • Fire In My Bones
  • Born Again Funk

    The review ran yesterday afternoon.

    With it, I figured, damn, I can't keep putting this off any longer so I'm going to use them as a prompt to finally get my stuff together and knock these posts out.

    Let me start by saying that I'm a completely secular guy so gospel's appeal to me has nothing to do with theology. However, I've long respected gospel's important, formative influence on R&B ("gospel soul" almost sounds redundant) but more than that, I appreciate the depth of emotion that comes into gospel. You can't really compose a song meant to praise an entity like God and come half-assed about it. That commitment? That is the essence of soul.

    My favorite song off of Numero Group's second in the Good God series is what I tried to end my review with but given the length of the piece, they had to cut it off pretty quickly:

    The Inspiration Gospel Singers: The Same Thing It Took
    From Good God!: Born Again Funk (Numero Group, 2010)

    This song is so perfect on every level - the bassline, the lead vocalist, the back-up vocalists, the hook... It kills me that this is also insanely rare ("a handful of known copies" according to the compiler), with many copies having been destroyed in a warehouse fire. All the more reason I'm thankful it got comped here.

    One song that I'm frankly amazed hasn't made a gospel soul comp is this one:

    Robert Vanderbilt and the Foundations of Soul: A Message Especially From God
    From 7" (Sensational, 196?)

    It's an Illinois record (and I just have to think TNG thought about comping this at some point but I don't really know) and I swear to god it sounds like they're using the instrumental track from another song but I can't for the life of me remember which one. Either way, this rolls deep, especially with those guitars and the faint swirl of...(I have no idea what's creating those swirling notes except for some weird reverb off the bass). It's a pity that it came out on styrene. I have what looks like a mint stock copy but there's just the slightest, annoying touch of cue burn on it so I'm borrowing my rip here from a JBX mix. I don't know anyone who's ever heard this and not been floored.

    Alright, let this be the first post of several over the next few days (or hours, if I get around to it) to highlight some of my favorite picks out of my small (but hopefully growing) gospel crates.

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  • Wednesday, February 24, 2010

    posted by O.W.

    Sebastian: Living In Depression
    From 7" (Brown Dog, 1975)

    Sebastian's "Living in a Depression" highlights a different kind of "cover" (even though it's technically not): the recording of a new vocal track over a pre-existing instrumental. This happens in R&B more often than some may remember - "Light My Fire," by Young Hold Unlimited, Jackie Wilson AND Erma Franklin being one of the better known examples. However, it wasn't until last year that I even realized that "Living In a Depression" existed even if its instrumental track - Little Royal and the Swingmasters' "Razor Blade" is pretty much a common but classic funk 45.

    Here's the thing: I don't think this song works well. Partly, the mix sounds way off; you can barely even hear, let alone comprehend, what Sebastian is singing. But even if the song had better engineering, Little Royal's original arrangement just doesn't sound like it was meant to have vocals on it. Trying to fit "Living in depression/what you gonna do?" over that opening horn line feels forced and awkward. Yet, I like the 7" because it is so off, as if this was some bad studio cut that was meant to be thrown out but was released by accident. (Thanks to Soul Marcosa for turning me onto this song).

    I also recently got this single from Spain that seems to fall under the same category:

    Charly and the Bourbon Family: Boogachi
    From 7" (Poplandia, 1971)

    Charly is clear riffing on "Look-a-py-py" by The Meters (uncredited as it may be). A perfectly awesome funk instrument which Charly and the Bourbon Family then proceed to get all CCR over with their vocals. Interstingly, though this appeared on a Spanish label, Charly and the Bourbon Band (aka The Diamonds, aka the Untouchables) were a German band who cut their teeth in the various American G.I. clubs throughout Europe. They also, apparently, do covers of Hugh Maekela's "Grazing in the Grass" and Cliff Nobles' "The Horse" both those are formal covers unlike this, an "unauthorized" re-versioning of "Look-a-py-py." (I have an even more bizarre European 7" out of Sweden which puts vocals over the Mohawks' "Champ" but that will have to wait until another time).

    In terms of another example of this phenom that I unqualifiably enjoy, that'd have to be this:

    Leon Austin: Steal Away
    From 7" (King, 1970)

    This is a "double" cover of sorts. For one, it's a legitimate cover of Jimmy Hughes' 1964 hit, "Steal Away" but James Brown (who produced the single) also threw the vocals over the instrumental track "Nose Job". And unlike the ill-fit with Sebastian/Little Royal, Leon Austin sounds great over the "Nose Job" riddim. (Thanks to Mao for turning me onto this song).

    P.S. Speaking of covers, here's a real one. I write up the awesome Mexican cover of the Joe Cuba Sextet's "El Pito" for Super Sonido.

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    Wednesday, February 10, 2010

    posted by O.W.

  • T.R.O.Y. has Cypress Hill's demo tape. Seriously - this demo tells me that whoever A&R/exec. produced their debut deserves massive credit for improving the band's final product. The demo is cool as a curiosity but more rough than diamonds, if you follow me.

  • Just Matter and Roger Jao team up for a fun and impressively executed mix called Still Diggin' Disco, featuring the best in electro country house. (Ok, actually, it's all disco).

  • Late pass (#1) on my part but Jay Electronica's Victory mix-CD is a must-to-bump. Can I just marvel, for a moment at how good this sounds to me?
    Jay Electronica feat. Talib Kweli, Jay Cole and Mos Def: Just Begun

    I've read elsewhere this is actually a Reflection Eternal cut feat. Jay E, Jay Cole and Mos. That's less relevant than just appreciating how this is a real flash back to the turn of the 90s/00s, when people still presumably carried about a bunch of "dope" MCs "dropping" "hot lines" over a "cool beat." F--- if you can't feel this.

    Weiss still has the mix.

  • Speaking of the Passion of Weiss site, DJ Sach has put together a Winter Mixtape, a concept I've been wanting to create for a long time but thankfully, someone got around to doing it first. Everyone needs a Winter mixtape.

  • Late pass (#2): DJ Numark live at the Do Over. This dude stays mad underrated but is still one of the most party rockin' DJs out there. And not just because he plays mooged out covers of the Mohawks. (It does not hurt though).

  • Funky16corners brings you their Forbidden City Organs. If you can't get enough of a fiery, funky bunch of organ vamps, this is for you. B3 me!

  • Last but not least, I probably should write a full post about this at some point but I'm hella behind on a ton of stuff and I'd hate to overlook at least saying a lil' something...Souljazz Orchestra are a Canadian ensemble who, true to their name, have kept the soul-jazz sound of the '60s and '70s alive and well. The album is heavily Afro-beat influenced but the cut that really stood out to me is more in the vein of Black Jazz than EMI Nigeria:

    Souljazz Orchestra: Lotus Flower
    From Rising Sun (Strut, 2010)

    Loving the smooth, cool flavor here; absolutely takes me back about a dozen years to when I was trying to grip Strata East, Black Jazz and Prestige titles with the quickness. This drops in the next couple; sleep not.

    The group also has a video for another song off the album:

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  • Friday, February 05, 2010

    posted by O.W.

    Very nice - Mingering Mike created the cover art for the upcoming, debut album for Kings Go Forth, the Milwaukee-based soul band who've gotten an incredible response for their 7"s and are finally dropping a full-length on April 20th.

    (Thanks to Shore Fire Media)

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    Tuesday, February 02, 2010

    posted by O.W.

    Little Ann: Deep Shadows
    From Deep Shadows (Timmion, 2009)

    Stop whatever the f--- you are doing, right now.

    Play this, preferably at a loud enough volume without shattering eardrums.

    Soak in it.

    Get mind blown.

    Sorry for the terseness of the post but in this moment, I don't have much to add except to say that (even though this is from last year), I've had my first sublime musical experience of 2010.

    Currently, this is only on vinyl and if that doesn't encourage you to go right out and get a turntable, I'm not sure what will.

    *Correction: you can get it on CD too, as part of Dave Hamilton's Detroit Dancers series. (But still, get a turntable anyway).


    Monday, February 01, 2010

    posted by O.W.

    As my dwindling finances can attest to, snapping up records with cover songs is bad habit sickness passion that I can't/won't shake. I'm sure there will be a Deep Covers 3 in the offering at some point in the near future but in the meanwhile, here's a few highlights from the last few months.

    The Power Pack: I Got You
    From Soul Cure (Polydor, 1969)

    Generation Gap: Family Affair
    From Plays Shaft (RCA, 1972)

    These both come from instrumental exploitation LPs, jacking contemporary hits of the time and giving them makeovers that, in most cases, are laughably weak. Occasionally though, you cross a few tracks that at least can hold your attention (though I would never suggest that either of these two are superior to their inspirations).

    The Power Pack seems to have been a session band overseen by Nick Ingram, one of the better known UK library composers and this very much sounds in the vein of KPM or similar library labels. The UK Polydor version of this album goes for far more money than really makes sense to me but personally, I prefer the Canadian Polydor issue for having the superior cover art. In any case, their cover of James Brown's "I Got You" has some slick, Hammond flavor to it and most of all, a strong drummer holding it down (albeit a bit "squarely").

    Generation Gap were American (presumably) and tackled R&B hits of the early '70s, including a few blaxploitation tracks as the title suggests, but I thought their take on Sly and the Family Stone's "Family Affair" was decent as far as instrumental flips go. Nice opening break and the sax is surprisingly uncheesy.

    Byron Lee and the Dragonaires: Get Out of My Life, Woman
    From People Get Ready, This Is Rock-Steady '67 (Dynamic, 1967)

    Derrick Harriott: Let It Whip
    From Acid Rock (Crystal, 1982)

    On the reggae tip, I pulled one off one of the Byron Lee albums I only recently got around to copping - the quite excellent Rock-Steady '67 which I learned about from my man Michael Barnes. "Soul Ska" (as Michael noted) is the jam on here but it's always fun to come across yet another cover of "Get Out of My Life, Woman," especially one given a ska rhythm makeover.

    Fast-forwarding about 15 years, we arrive at Derrick Harriot doing a surprisingly groovy cover of The Dazz Band's classic "Let It Whip." For real - I don't think I really ever want to hear the actual original again but this reggae remake is totally working for me.

    La Lupe: Bring It On Home to Me
    From The Queen Does Her Thing (Tico, 1969)

    The Exciters: Bring It Home To Me
    From 7" (Loyola, 196?)

    I know La Lupe has quite the posse behind her and I can't say I've listened to a ton of stuff from her outside of a handful of songs but everytime her shrill, cackling voice rings through on an English-language song, I think, "for the so-called Queen of Latin Soul, she mostly sounds like a novelty act." And let me be serious for a sec here - part of why La Lupe can lay claim to the title is because there's so little competition. The Latin soul scene had very very few women singers involved (unfortunately) so I suppose someone like La Lupe had a better shot at the title than, say, Noraida or the enigmatic duo behind Dianne and Carole and the Latin Whatchamacallits.

    In any case, her singing on "Bring It On Home To Me" veers close to cringe-inducement (especially on her higher notes) but the fact that the song still manages to work is a testament to how good the source material is. Not that I'd want to hear it but I bet the Chipmunks could do a version of this and it'd still sound pretty good; the original arrangement and songwriting is so good, it can easily forgive less than stellar attempts at working with it.

    I couldn't close with this though and I decided instead to bust out a cover of the same song that I absolutely, unqualifiably adore - Los Exciters' cover, all the way from Panama. Sure, no one in the group is touching Sam Cooke (and that pretty much applies to everyone in the world not Sam Cooke) but I thought their take on this song was done beautifully, especially the vocal harmonies. I have a few heavyweight pieces from this group but this 7" b-side is easily the favorite thing of theirs I have.

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    Sunday, January 31, 2010

    posted by O.W.

    I finally got around to catching up on my blog reading and noticed that Super Sonido recently wrote up Mon Rivera's "Lluvia Con Nieve." This salsa classic was introduced to me by Murphy's Law and I consider it one of my Top 3 go-to, never-fail salsa cuts to get an audience moving (Willie Colon holds down the other two with his "La Murga De Panama" and "Che Che Cole"). "Lluvia Con Nieve" fits right between those two - more aggressive and forceful than "Che Che Cole" though, for my money, nothing can ace the horn opening to "La Murga" but that "Lluvia" comes pretty damn close. Trust a trombonist to know how to use some brass to get feet to slide.

    Super Sonido included Rivera's original plus a cover by Lucho Macedo on Virrey which I had never heard before (good stuff Frank!) and that made me think of this:

    Carlos Pickling: Lluvia Con Nieve-El Molestoso
    From Suplemento Dominical (MAG, 1970s)

    Can't say I know much about this Peruvian organist except that he's, um, Peruvian and an organist. I picked this Mag LP up a while back, mostly on the strength of this medley/cover of "Lluvia Con Nieve" that segues nicely into "El Molestoso," a pachanga (Eddie Palmieri's?). The use of organ is what sells this cover for me, just adding enough of a touch of difference to stick in the ear.

    Meanwhile, over at Philaflava's TROY blog, he's got the latest post in his "Who Flipped It Better" series up, focusing on samplings of Five Stairsteps' "Danger, She's a Stranger." It reminded me that I hadn't done an installment of my own, similar series in well over a year and as it was, in going back over some key Willie Mitchell productions, I forgot how many folks had flipped Al Green's "I Wish You Were Here."

    Al Green: I Wish You Were Here
    From Al Green Is Love (Hi, 1975)

    Nas: Shootouts
    From It Was Written (Columbia, 1996)

    The Lootpack: Wanna Test
    From Soundpieces: Da Antidote (Stones Throw, 1999)

    Consequence feat. Kanye West: The Good, The Bad, the Ugly
    From Don't Quit Your Day Job (Good, 2007)

    Wu-Tang (Ghostface Killah + Tre Williams): I Wish You Were Here
    From Chamber Music (E1, 2009)

    I find it rather remarkable that this song has been such a popular sample over the years if only because it's just not what I associate with Green's core canon. Doesn't mean it isn't a great song and in particular, such a classic Willie Mitchell sound. On that note, it's rather amazing that no one in the Wu seemed to mess with this until last year given that it sounds pitch-perfect for the Wu's well-known affections for the Hi catalog.

    However, it was Nas who seemed to have been the first to flip this (Poke and Tone of the Trackmasters to be more exact), back with "Shootouts" from It Was Written. Call me crazy but listening back to this, some 14 years later, doesn't one get the sense that Poke and Tone were listening to some of Rza's beats and thinking, "yo, we need to get on this steez?" In any case, I admire how they didn't opt for a straight loop but chop it up instead (Jesse "Fiyah!" West style!) Madlib's flip on the same sample for The Lootpack's "Wanna Test" doesn't cut things up as much, opting instead to filter parts of the main, opening loop to add some dissonance. Fast-forward to 2007 and it's an interesting contrast with how Kanye uses more of the original sample in its "pure" sonic form to open, but then chops it up a bit (w/ Green's vocals sped-up and attached) for the main parts of the song. Honestly, I think I gotta give it up to the Trackmasters for the best flip of this sample - it just has the most edge and appealing sound of the bunch.

    Continuing my "songs I thought of while reading other people's posts" - Earfuzz has the new Kings Go Forth's single, "One Day" and that reminded me that I'm behind on posting this:

    The One & Nines: Something On Your Mind
    From The One & Nines EP (2009)

    This soul band out of New Jersey (no Jersey Shore jokes, please) contacted me over winter break and I really dug this one song off their new EP. Reminds me of that Noisettes song I posted last year in general sound but sans the rock elements. The arrangement here is done with smart subtly - the song doesn't try to force an overly aggressive crescendo; it's content with maintaining a slow burn that sparks towards the end without ever departing too far from the core, Southern Soul aesthetics that make this such an appealing tune. (Excellent use of back-up singers too - this isn't nearly as acknowledged as it should be.)

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    Saturday, January 30, 2010

    posted by O.W.

    Because I was in the middle of moving/unpacking/new house hell, I really missed out on being able to say something meaningful about the passing of Memphis legend Willie Mitchell or slow jam king Teddy Pendergrass.

    As it turns out though, Matthew Africa said everything I could/would have about Mitchell AND followed that up with an essential mix of Mitchell's greatest moments. And Breath of Life came through with an equally great post about the life and times of Teddy.

    Fabulous posts and absolutely a recommended reads/listens.

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    Friday, January 29, 2010

    posted by O.W.

    Here's a quintet of stuff I've been listening to lately...

    Cumbias En Moog: Cumbia Del Sol
    From 7" (Peerless, 197/8?)

    Cumbia, done in moog. Awesome idea, marvelously executed here by the outfit, appropriately named, Cumbias En Moog. I'm betting there's a lot more of this out there, probably collecting dust somewhere between Colombia and Mexico City. Holler at me with that! This came out of a batch of cumbia 7"s I picked up the other month; money well-spent! Really solid stuff all around (the A-side of this 7", for example, has a surprisingly good, bossa-flavored cumbia). I'll share another one:

    Pedro Beltran y Orquesta: Cumbia De Lucy
    From 7" (Aries, 1970s)

    Killer intro; sounds like a marching band bass drum being pounded there, intercut with chattering percussion and then what sounds like an Indian flute creeps in (I'm assuming it's some Peruvian woodwindaccording to commenter Alejandro, it's a Colombian instrument called a "gaita".). The whole package is an incredibly mesmerizing rhythm. Lyrically, I can only assume the song is a riff on Lucille Ball given that the vocalist (Beltran?) sings "Lucy! Luck!" Ricky Ricardo style.

    The Sonics: Have Love Will Travel
    From Here Are the Sonics (Etiquette, 1965)

    One of my favorite songs to DJ with over the last year or so has been the Lefties Soul Connection's cover of "Have Love Will Travel." The song was originally recorded by Richard Berry in 1959 but like several of Berry's influential compositions ("Louie Louie" being the most obvious), it would actually be later artists who'd record the more definitive version. In the case of "Have Love Will Travel," the version the Lefties are riffing on isn't Berry's original but the 1965 cover by the garage rockers, The Sonics. With the fuzzed out guitar and screaming intro, their version rocks in a way that Berry's never really did and it's easy to see why it's been such a compelling cover to cover since then. Check out Thee Headcoat(ees) cover for the femme makeover.

    Chikaramanga feat. Droop Capone: A Life Like This (snippet)
    From 12" (Tres, 2010)

    Droop Capone aka Dr. Oop is one of my favorite West Coast rappers from the indie hip-hop heyday; he had such a distinctive flow and a knack for choosing good beats to rhyme over. In 2010, he hasn't slipped on that front, teaming with Japan's Chikaramanga for this upcoming single on Tres Records. Call it nostalgist in me but I like any song that a shout out to the Good Life on the chorus. Cop this.

    Professor Longhair: Big Chief Pt. 2
    From 7" (Watch, 19640). Part 1 + 2 version here.

    This is a classic of NOLA music though I didn't get around to grabbing the OG 7" until recently. If you want to understand the roots of funk polyrhythm, you'd do well to just pay attention to what's going on this song in terms of what Smokey Johnson (second line ya'll!) is doing with the drums and how it plays off against the rest of the layers of the song. Longhair's piano work here is sparkling and I went with the lesser played Pt. 2 of the 7" because I like it makes the Royal Dukes of Rhythm horn section more prominent plus you get actual vocals (from Earl King) instead of only whistling. (Home of the Groove has an excellent primer on this single).

    In other news...people may also be interested in:

  • Part 3 of my overview of the Latin soul label, Speed, on Fania.com
  • An essay for NPR.org about who usually wins the Grammy's R&B Female Performance award.

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  • Wednesday, January 27, 2010

    posted by O.W.

    Kiddie raps + MSB tracks = a winning combo? You tell me.


    Friday, January 22, 2010

    posted by O.W.

    Richard's People: Yo Yo (O-Dub's Extended Intro Edit)
    From 7" (Tuba, 1968)

    When Doc Delay came through to spin the other month, he dropped this in the middle of a funk mix and trainspotter as I am, I craned my neck over to ask: "wtf is this?" It sounded like the unruly love child of a Midwestern funkateer backed by an East Harlem band and as I dug around for more info on its background, turned out I was more or less on point.

    While the 7" came out of Detroit (rumor is, the vocalist was a janitor at Tuba Records), the backing track originated in New York which probably explains why the dip into the shing-a-ling has a distinctive Nuyorican sabor on it. Boogaloo fiend as I am, I love where Latin boogaloo comes back to the Midwest (where the booglaoo was born). It's very post-modern before anyone was talking about post-modernity(ok, I'm hella nerding out right now) but all you need to know is that "Yo Yo" rocks. Sure, it's a derivative track in terms of being a "new dance" that also borrows from any number of hit songs from the same era such as the "Cool Jerk" and "Here Comes the Judge." (Again, pastiche! Collage!) Plus, all that and a breakbeat intro? Oh hells yes. (Personally, I'd love to see how the "Yo Yo" is done; sounds like fun.)

    (See also Funky16Corners' excellent exploration of the single's history).

    This is jarring gear shift but I'd be remiss in not taking the time to mourn the passing of Teddy Pendergrass, gone far before this time (which is about 99% of the great ones, no?).

    Teddy Pendergrass: Love TKO
    From TP (Philly Int'l, 1980)

    All-time, end of night, slow jam, red light classic (though I suppose "Close the Door" is the king seduction song even more).

    King Kong: The Love I Lost
    From Funky Reggae (MFP, 1970s)

    Just played this out last night and cotdamn was this Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes (feat. Teddy) such an incredible jam, made all the more enticing in this reggae-fied remake.

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    Thursday, January 21, 2010

    posted by O.W.

    Donnie and Joe Emerson: Good Time
    Give Me the Chance
    From Dreamin' Wild (Enterprise and Co, 1979)

    This is one of those LPs that helps one understand why people bother to even look for records to begin with.

    The cover screams bargain bin. Actually, it screams "so bad it's good" that even bloggers show it love for being so bad.

    But here's the crazy thing...the actual album sounds nothing like you'd expect it to. Had the album had two loner, folk rock types, you could better understand how the Emerson brothers put together such a heady mix of psych and soul on here but you'd be forgiven if you assumed it was some schlocky power pop instead.

    "Good Time" opens the album and already you realize: "oh wait, this is going to be some crazy sh--, isn't it?" The mix of fuzzed out guitars with a unmistakably bright melody is already worth noting but then the vocals come in and everything hits some next level you would never have guessed possible.

    I don't mean to overstate it; his is not an amazing voice. Donnie (I think it's Donnie?) has a tendency to swallow his lines rather than pushing them out but still, there's something simple and innocent about the performance and you can imagine the young Emersons, with their big hair, jamming this one out in the basement, visions of arena tours dancing in their heads.

    Those into funky psych will no doubt gravitate to the dark, smoky "Give Me the Chance." In listening to this, I'm reminded of any number of '70s rock bands who had a similar vocal style but a little before the 1:30 mark, the song falls deep off into a crevice of crazy synthesizer effects (I imagine Edan going nuts over this kind of stuff).

    But seriously: it is all about "Baby." This is easily one of the best things I've heard in a long time (I'd easily put it ahead of anything on that Sly, Slick and Wicked LP and that's a great album). I'm not even entirely sure what he's singing besides "Baby" but it doesn't matter; just the way he croons, "oooh ooooh baby/yes, oh, baby" melts me like hot butter on (what?) the popcorn. Someone on Soulstrut described this song, "as if Shuggie Otis and Roy Orbison had a baby together" and that exactly nails it. I want to get lost inside this shaggy beanbag of a song, slipping into its cushy folds and dream wild like Donnie and Joe.

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    Monday, January 18, 2010

    posted by O.W.

    Sly, Slick and Wicked: You Got to Funkafize
    Confessin' a Feeling
    The World Is a Ghetto
    From Get Down Live (Bad Boys, 197?)

    This is my first official post-move post (finally!). Me and the fam just relocated from the Westside of L.A. to the San Gabriel Valley. I grew up out here in the 1980s but I haven't lived her in nearly 20 years. Coming back has been weirdly comfortable (or is that comfortably weird?) now that I'm an adult with my own family.

    It only seems proper then that the very first album that I've found since moving out here was actually recorded in the SGV, almost 7 miles due south of where I am, at 800 Garfield, in Montebello.

    It's easy to be confused when you talk about the Sly, Slick and Wicked. This local L.A. outfit is often confused with the Young Generation who had a decent sized hit in the same '60s/'70s era as SSW called "Sly, Slick and Wicked" and then there's the Ohio group also called the Sly, Slick and Wicked who recorded with James Brown (and ended up, I believe, in a bit of a copyright tussle with the L.A. group over their shared name). The original SSW (as they describe themselves) got their start out of the fertile East L.A. rock scene of the '60s (think Thee Midniters, El Chicano, etc.)

    They're best known for their single "Confessin' a Feeling" b/w a personal favorite - a cover of the Persuaders' "Love's Gonna Pack Up."

    The single was a local release (on the Bad Boys imprint) and evidently sold well enough that it's not a pricey single to come by (though it's not overly common either). However, as I learned from Cool Chris a few years back, the group's live album, Get Down is a far more obscure release but no less well-regarded. I've been looking for a copy of this since then but wasn't ready to pull the trigger to buy it at market-rate.

    As it turns out, a local seller for mostly A/V equipment got in a stock of records that they were selling in lots and while I missed their eBay auction, I saw that the LP was included in one of the lots and no one had bid on it. On a whim, I tried calling their warehouse and to make a long story short, I drove out 10 miles to Glendale and after a few anxious minutes just assuming that someone had beat me to it, left with a stack of 10 LPs, most of them dollar bin material, but including one very well-kept copy of Get Down Live, all for $20.

    These days, it's not often that I have great come-ups since I don't do enough digging in physical stores so I felt extremely fortunate to have come by this local LP having just moved back to the locale. It all seemed quite serendipitous.

    But enough of "O-Dub's dusty fingers tales"... Get Down Live has everything you'd want out of a great live album - it's not only about the music, it's also about the small nuances that come through on a live recording, such as when someone accidentally bumps into a mic during one of the quieter parts of a song or listening to the band and audience interaction. The actual fidelity of the recording is quite impressive; it does have "big room" acoustics but it's not remotely lo-fi.

    I decided to open "big" by starting with "You Got to Funkafize," a classically '70s funk jam which comes halfway through the A-side. That slides into the live version of "Confessin' A Feeling", offered here to provide some contrast with the original. I've been so enamored with "Love's Gonna Pack Up" that I never gave this song it's proper due but now that I'm listening to it in both versions, I can appreciate why it's such a lowrider classic for folks in So Cal. Lastly, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to include the group's cover of another Southern Californian classic - "The World is a Ghetto" by Long Beach's WAR. I like how stripped down SSW's take is on the song, distilling it down to a strong vocal performance ever-so-lightly dressed in the familiar melodic strains of the original. SSW manage to make the song sound even more melancholy than War's version.

    So there it is, the first post for 2010, coming to you live from the brand-spanking new Soul Sides Central. Here's a belated shout out to the new year and hopefully more good music (and posts!) to come.

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    Wednesday, December 23, 2009

    2009 REWIND
    posted by O.W.

    Besides being able to share music, the other great joy of working on Soul-Sides.com is the process of discovery for myself. I have this big crate of "songs I mean to post about" but inevitably, these get pushed out of the way based on "stuff I just discovered" and it's almost always the case that my year-end review of my favorite songs are comprised by songs that I found-along-the-way; 2009 was no different.

    Irma Thomas: Hurt's All Gone
    From 7" (Imperial, 1966). Also on The Jerry Ragovoy Story -- Time Is On My Side

    The path to how I heard this song actually begins with a different song written/produced by Jerry Ragavoy - "Stay With Me, Baby" by Lorraine Ellison which I first heard after watching The Boat That Rocked/Pirate Radio. I think Matthew Africa then recommended the Ragavoy anthology, on which I discovered the Irma Thoamas song and promptly fell in love.

    Carlos Niño & Miguel Atwood-Ferguson: Find a Way
    From Suite for Ma Dukes (Mochilla, 2009)

    The more I've sat with this, the more I admire the subtle ways in which Niño and Atwood-Ferguson capture the melancholy beauty of Jay Dee's production. As I originally wrote, I was concerned this could come off as kind of corny but instead, what they compose here isn't remotely cloying but moving and magical.

    Otis Redding: Papa's Got a Brand New Bag
    From In Person at the Whiskey A Go-Go (ATCO, 1968)

    The Emotions: As Long As I've Got You
    From Songs of Innocence and Experience (Stax, unreleased from 1972)

    Gotta show love to Funky Sole's Clifton; I think he's the one who played the Redding single at an early spring party and instantly turned it into a staple for me. Otis and his band just murder this cover in the best ways possible.

    And I have both Hua and Mao to thank for turning me onto the Emotions song. It's hard to outdo the Charmels' original and I think the Emotions do an incredible job here of understanding what worked about their version and then found ways to put their own signature on it. The fact that this was never released in the 1970s is astounding.

    Laura Nyro w/ Labelle: The Bells
    From Gonna Take a Miracle (Warner Bros, 1971)

    At least at this moment, if I had to pick my favorite song I heard in 2009, it'd be this one. Surprisingly, I never posted about it originally, opting instead for the livelier "Jimmy Mack," but over the course of the year, "The Bells" keep (you knew this was coming, right?) ringing in my head over and over. Sublime.

    Johnny and the Expressions: Now That You're Mine
    From 7" (Josie, 1966)

    Mayer Hawthorne: I Wish It Would Rain
    From A Strange Arrangement (Stonesthrow, 2009)

    There's quite a few other similar singles that I considered plugging in here, including the Mandells' awesome "Now That I Know" (and I still need to write up the Falcons' "Standing On Guard") but this song is such a perfect mix of deep and sweet soul, it deserves to be heard again. And again. And again.

    And since we're on the slow jam tip, I have to give a nod to Mayer Hawthorne's excellent "I Wish It Would Rain" - easily my favorite song by him behind "Just Ain't Gonna Work Out". I wouldn't think too many songs would want to risk confusion with the Temptations song (since Mayer's isn't a cover) but he puts down a strong claim to that name with this superlative effort.

    Ohio Players: Ecstasy
    From Ecstasy (Westbound, 1973)

    Technically, I heard this song before but I didn't pay enough attention to it until this year. Once I did, it now makes me wanna go, "uh huh huh."

    Spinnerty feat. EP and Czar Absolute: Feels Like Rain
    From 7" (Trazmick, 2008)

    I don't have much to add to what I said before except to re-emphasize. This is really really really good. Oh wait, I did say that before. You catch my drift though.

    Bitty McLean: Walk Away From Love
    From On Bond Street (Peckings, 2005)

    Johnny Holiday: Nobody Loves Me But My Mama
    From 7" (Bold, 196?)

    I was about to sing the praises of these again (and they definitely are two of my favorite of the year) but I'd rather talk about each artist's other songs from the same releases (see the forthcoming part 2).

    The Noisettes: Never Forget You
    From Wild Young Hearts (2009)

    I admit, I did kind of tire of this after keeping it in heavy rotation but here's what I know: I'll go a year without hearing this and then hear it again...and it will still sound incredible.

    Michael Jackson: We Got a Good Thing Goin'
    From Stripped Mixes (Universal, 2009)

    I can't find much more to say than I already have; Michael Jackson's untimely death is one of the defining musical moments of the decade, in my opinion, in terms of how much it compelled me to reexamine his catalog and learn to appreciate his work in a whole new light. It seems apropos to offer up this deconstructed version of one song I only really discovered this year - "We Got a Good Thing Goin'" - that appeared on the suspiciously well-timed Stripped Mixes album. I didn't think all the stripped down versions worked but it was perfect on this one, especially in honing things down to all the best parts of the original's melancholy mood and charm. It's not meant to be an elegy but I can't but help but hear it as one.

    The 2010 Rewind songs.

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    posted by O.W.

    A few weeks ago, I put forward a challenge to folks to try their hand at remixing Bobby Reed's "Time Is Right For Love" and so far, we've had three folks step up.

    These are all "works in progress" so be nice with your comments/feedback but so far, I like where it's all heading.

    Bobby Reed: Time Is Right (Choplogic Remix)

    Bobby Reed: Time Is Right (Prince of Ballard Remix)

    Bobby Reed: Time Is Right (Flip Edit)

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    Sunday, December 20, 2009

    posted by O.W.

    I was on WNYC's Soundcheck again last Friday, talking about hip hop in the '00s. Part of what I was asked to do, ahead of time, was submit my 3 top hip hop albums of 2009 and I'm not going to lie: I couldn't come up with three actual albums. In fact, none of the three I submitted were, technically, albums.

    To be sure, I can't remotely claim to have heard much of what was released this year and the stuff I did hear just didn't move me to really admire them as albums. Sure, I liked some of Only Built 4 Cuban Linx 2 but overall, I found the album overly long and kind of anemic for it. I admired Jay's Blueprint 3 but more for its calculated choices than anything inherently pleasurable about the CD as a listening experience. I jumped in and listened to about 50 Gucci Mane songs in a row (his Cold War mixtape series + the new album) just to see what the deal was and while I get his appeal, I'd rather re-listen to individual songs rather than trying to sit through any of the mix-CDs/albums as a whole. I'm not going to put this on hip-hop (well, not entirely). I could do a lot more to "stay current" but now that my writing has become more personally-driven (what I like) vs. professionally-driven (what I should be writing about), I just don't find much about today's hip-hop that speaks to me. People in my demographic aren't really who today's young rappers are aiming at. Either way, I've learned to catch my pleasures when I can, usually in single-servings, and I've learned to moderate my expectations as I recognize that the older I get, the distance between contemporary hip-hop and my tastes grow.

    But for all that, I still leave myself open to crave those moments when a song will absolutely knock me on my f---ing ass, demand my attention and compel me to keep coming back to it. If you had told me that would be Jay Electronica, with a radio rip that skips, I would have laughed you out of the room but that's before I actually heard the song and once I did, all I could think was, "wait, this is that same dude who made this?" I was never checking for him before this song but after it? I'm thinking "Third Coming".

    So yeah, this made my Top 3 even though it wasn't an album because frankly, I found the experience of listening to this more profound than most of the albums I actually did hear this year. And who knows - maybe his album (if it ever comes out) won't live up to this moment but I actually want to hear what he has to bring and that sense of anticipation is like water to the desert of my expectations.

    So what's so good here?

    Begin with the fact that it's the first unqualifiably incredible Just Blaze production I've heard in at least two years. There's the loop itself of course (more on this in a moment) but listen past just the actual sample. The added string arrangements don't just play off the main melody but they're also used to build tension as a second set of strings tick upward in a crescendo effect - all in key - so that by the peak moment, everything is aflame...only to start all over again for another 10 bar cycle (the 10 bar loop is also unusual since it plays against where you'd normally expect the progression to go). Pure intensity.

    And yeah, Just was brilliant in playing with this Billy Stewart song:

    Billy Stewart: Cross My Heart
    From 7" (Chess, 1967). Also on The Best Of...

    I confess that I had never heard this before but damn, what a great Stewart song, no? It opens like "Sitting In the Park" (I mean, exactly alike) but then when you get to hook - "lord, why don't you, send her to me?" is some magic, especially when followed by, "this fat boy is gonna love her!" Not a lyric you hear every day.

    And speaking of lyrics - maybe it's just the acrobatics of it, but I can easily say that Jay's "call me Jay Electronica, f--- that, call me..." verse is probably the most jaw-dropping thing I've heard all year (except maybe for that Tiger Woods' voice mail message) and what leads up to there is pretty damn good too (loved the verse that immediately precedes it - it's not often you can hear Run DMC, Marcus Garvey and Nikola Tesla name-checked within three seconds of one another and it all makes sense.

    Now where's the damn album?

    As for my other favorite hip-hop moments of 2009, here's a sampling of Top 10 in reverse chronological order):

    Jay Electronica: Exhibit C
    Edan: Echo Party
    Big Boi feat. Gucci Mane: Shine Blockas
    Lupe Fiasco: Fire
    Lil Wayne: Death of Autotune freestyle
    MOP: Bang Time
    Raekwon feat. Method Man and Ghostface: New Wu
    The Cool Kids: Popcorn
    Bambu: 2 Dope Boyz
    Young Jeezy feat. Jay-Z: My President Is Black (remix)

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    Tuesday, December 15, 2009

    posted by O.W.

    Smokey Robinson and the Miracles: Get Ready
    From Pocket Full of Miracles (Motown, 1970)

    Smokey Robinson and the MIracles: Get Ready (O-Dub Edit)

    Controller 7: Get Ready for the Young Folks
    From 7" & 12" (Token Recluse, 2007)

    Of the classic '60s Motown catalog, few songs are as guaranteed dancefloor gold as The Temptations' "Get Ready" - the horn/bassline openeing already pushes you into motion before the drum roll even comes in and once the whole thing kicks into gear, you'd have to be catatonic to resist its charms. For over the last year, I've been very fond of playing out Little Eva Harris' incredible medley/cover of the song (last written about in Nov '08). I was spinning with DJ Soul Marcosa earlier this fall when he dropped the Smokey and the Miracles version on me and I couldn't believe 1) how frickin' good it was and 2) that I had never heard it before despite it being from the Miracles (notably, Pocket Full of Miracles doesn't seem readily available on CD (if it ever was).

    If Harris blended together "Get Ready' with Stevie Wonder's "Uptight," the Miracles instead choose to throw in some licks of "Sunshine Of Your Love," which goes together brilliantly here. There's also the matter of a short but sweet little breakbeat that comes in after two bars and this whole thing clearly embraces the funk aesthetics resonant at the time. Personally, I wanted to create a version of the song that was just a bit more DJ friendly and noticing that the song's breakbeat was panned in the left channel, and using some super amateur editing skills (thank you Sound Studio!), I isolated and extended that break into four bars, following by two more with the "Sunshine" riff moved underneath before cutting back into the song. I played it for a friend who thought he could imagine the strains of Can's "Vitamin C" coming in here but the more I listened to it, what I kept imagining was Kool and the Gang's "Hustlers Convention" theme popping in (intrepid re-remixers, take note).

    Lastly, if I'm going to write about blends involving "Get Ready," I have to show some love to Controller 7 who, two years ago, put out this slick mash-up of the original "Get Ready" accapella over Peter, Bjorn and John's "Young Folks." It is eerie how well the arrangements line up with one another (coincidence or not?).
    (BTW: If any digi-DJs out there want a higher quality version of my "Get Ready" edit, drop me an email)

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    posted by O.W.

    As promised, my Aretha Tribute Mix is now up for download. DJ Phatrick's link already hit its limit so I just decided to host it as a podcast instead.

    Here's the tracklist.


    To listen:

    Option 1: Direct link/download
    Option 2: Soulcast Feed (click here, then click on "Subscribe With iTunes" or just copy and paste this link into iTunes --> Advanced --> Subscribe to Podcast)

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    Thursday, December 10, 2009

    posted by O.W.

    Benny Johnson: Visions of Paradise
    I Just Got To Know
    Give It Up
    From Visions of Paradise (Today, 1973)

    Apologies for the slow down, between end-of-the-semester grading and the fact that I'm packing up to move at month's end, stuff is just a little busy right now. And heck, this post is about two years over due!

    I first came upon the 7" of Benny Johnson's "Visions of Paradise" a few years back. I instantly was taken with that great horn intro on the song and when Johnson's vocals come swooping in, he comes with this powerful, "clean" tone (reminds me a lot of Jerry Butler) that wasn't like the lot of the more post-Otis soul singing I was used to. When I started digging deeper, I learned about the LP the song is named for. Like Matthew Africa, who just wrote about it the other month, I never quite understood why this LP sells for $100+ but lucked into a less expensive copy. Having sat with it, I can say that the LP is far from a one-tracker and while I'm still not sure what makes it as $ as it can be, it's certainly worth having if you can get it on the cheap.

    I don't know a ton about Johnson - this is the only album I know him being connected to but looking over the credits, I realized partly why this album sounds as good as it does is thanks to Julius Brockington and his United Chair - the album's main producer. Brockington's an interesting guy; I've been up on his records for a minute (this 7" being a favorite) and I'm sure there's a longer post to be dedicated to him somewhere.

    Back to Johnson though - I wanted to include "I Just Got To Know," a deceptively simple mid-tempo cut that, to me at least, grew with each passing listen. Again, Johnson really sells me on his vocals here even though I'm not inclined to love his timbre but he knows how to work it well. For contrast, I also wanted to include one of the album's slow jams (featuring some nicely used female back-up vocals) with "Give It Up." Love the deep + sweet notes layered in here.


    Wednesday, December 02, 2009

    posted by O.W.

    Revelation Funk: Elastic Lover
    From 7" (Gold Plate, 197?)

    The Mighty Lovers: Ain't Gonna Run No More
    From 7" (Soul Hawk, 196?)

    As I learned from the omniscient Dante Carfanga, Revelation Funk was an Ohio outfit that, among other things, was where James Ingram got his start back in the early 1970s. "Elastic Lover," the b-side of "Bear Funk" is supposed to be their "common" 7" though let me tell you, after looking for it for over a year, it certainly doesn't show up as one might expect a common single to. This is all besides the point.

    I first heard "Elastic Lover" on a now-infamous Jared Boxx mix-CD from a few years back and partially because it's early in the mix, partially because it is so striking, it went high onto my want list. Once I actually got it and listened to it, it hasn't lost its magic except that I have to say: the hook/chorus is amazing on this song but wow, the songwriting is otherwise terrible. I mean, c'mon:

    "tell me why you want to be so plastic/when you know your love for me has to be made out of elastic"

    I don't know if that's as bad as rhyming "crouton" with "futon" but it's somewhere in the ballpark. But, that all said, once you hit that chorus, with that multi-part harmony and the way everyone is stretching out the title...they could be singing off a cereal box and I'd forgive 'em.

    I had a similar reaction listening - really listening - to the Mighty Lovers' "Ain't Gonna Run No More," which comes Soul Hawk, the same Detroit label that gave us the New Holidays (note: my daughter has gotten into singing the hook for this song too but alas, no sound file for you...yet). I first heard the ML song when Mayer Hawthorne spun a guest set at my weekly last January and it is a totally catchy song - awesome arrangement/production by Popcorn Wylie - and it has a great, great hook (hence why my 4.5 year old can rock it).

    But when I actually sat with it, I realized: "wow, this song is all about how he's getting bullied around but now he's got a girlfriend and he's trying to stand up for himself..." Maybe it's just me, but as far as narratives go, it's rice paper thin. It's just hard to get all that excited for someone trying to shore up their manhood just because they're trying not to get punked in front of their girlfriend (unless your name is McFly). But the hook, the hook...the hook. "Ah ah, no no, I ain't gonna run no more." Try it. You'll like it.

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    Tuesday, December 01, 2009

    posted by O.W.

    Harvey Averne Barrio Band: Let's Get It Together For Christmas
    The Black On White Affair: Auld Lang Syne (snippets)
    From In the Christmas Groove (Strut, 2009)

    It's post-Thanksgiving which means that in the last few days, every time I step into a retail store, I hear %#U*()! Christmas music. Don't get me wrong; I like "Christmas Time Is Here" as much as the next Peanuts fan but if I have to wait through another rendition of "Jingle Bells," I might have to go all bull in a china shop.

    Thankfully, the good folks at Strut Records have come with an excellent Xmas-themed funk comp called In The Christmas Groove which - for cover art alone - would deserve props. The tracklisting is aces, including a few rare classics like Milly and Silly's "Gettin' Down for Xmas" and J.D. McDonald's "Boogaloo Santa Claus." I picked out two songs I hadn't heard before, including one I probably should have - Harvey Averne's "Let's Get It Together For Christmas," a random, 45 only track on Fania that is vintage Averne in its funky production style. Makes me wonder if Fania ever cut a dedicated holiday album; which would have seemed like a good idea.

    The other song is a really incredible version of "Auld Lang Syne" brought down from the Pacific Northwest by the Black On White Affair. I only included part of the song but it's mostly an instrumental that builds and builds, hitting a highpoint as it shifts into vocals but you really have to soak in the entire song to appreciate its majesty.


    Monday, November 30, 2009

    posted by O.W.

    Bobby Reed: Time Is Right
    From 7" (Bell, 196?)

    Tek and Steele: We Came Up (Crystal Stair) (feat. Talib Kweli)
    From Reloaded (Duck Down, 2005)

    Tek and Steele: We Came Up (Bobby Reed Section)

    My man Hua hepped me to this Smif N Wessun cut from 2005 that missed my radar and the first thing I noted was, "oh schnap, they're looping up Bobby Reed's "Time Is Right For Love," aka "one of the few records I'd current break the $300 mark to cop".

    I can't believe I didn't already write about Reed for the site (I got brief mention before but never a dedicated thread.) Best. Thing. Ever. Seriously. This song is one of the best two minutes you'll ever enjoy. It's so good I'm not even going to try to explain why it's so good, lest I tarnish its greatness with my descriptive inadequacies.

    Now - I'm not saying, at all, that this song needs a remix. But listening to "We Came Up" made me think, "ok, this is cool but honestly - I think someone could do a better job with it." I isolated the end of the song, where it's really just Reed's OG with a beat behind it so you can get a sense of how they play with it. (And yes, yes, I know, Saint Etienne already messed with this but I'm not really feeling their take either. And if you want to truly hear an abomination, check this.)

    So heck, I know a few Soul Sides readers mess with production so I thought I'd put out a high-quality copy of the Reed to see what folks might come up with if anyone is so inclined. If anyone actually messes around with this, please send me a copy to peep.

    Wait, did I already mention that the Reed original is one of the best things ever? And that I cannot believe I haven't written about it until now even though it's quite possibly my favorite record of the last two years?

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    Sunday, November 15, 2009

    7 x 7 + 12
    posted by O.W.

    Johnny Holiday: Nobody Loves Me But My Mama
    From 7" (Bold, 196?)

    The Combinations: Bump Ball
    From 7" (RCA Victor, 196?)

    Fruko: Langaruto
    From 7" (Fuentes, 197?)

    Orquesta Zodiac: Tremendo Problema
    From 7" (Costeño, 1972)

    Jimmy and Eddie: Stop and Think It Over
    From 7" (One Way, 196?)

    Mandells: Now I Know
    From 7" (Hour Glass, 196?)

    Family Affair: I Had a Friend
    From 7" (Authentic, 197?)

    Bonus: Frankie Nieves: True Love (English + Spanish Version)
    From 12" (Disco Int'l, 1979)

    A few 7" single songs to share with ya'll...

    First up, I've been hunting down a copy of this Johnny Holiday single for years now. It could very well be one of the roughest things I've ever heard - sounds like a funk garage band with a flutist sitting in and Holiday just raging on the mic like he's mad at the world. Holiday has cut other singles, including for Bold, but none of them sound like this; I don't know if the studio was having recording problems that day (the flipside is also a monster but the mix is completely f---ed up, burying his vocals over a crushing, blues-influenced funk number) but whatever happened - god bless. I love grimy cuts like this. Thanks to Records L.A. who sold me their last stock copy.

    The Combinations 7" is something I bought on a lark; I was already buying another 45 from the same seller and decided to take a chance on this despite minimal awareness of the group. As I dug deeper, I was surprised to learn that the group originally began as a garage band from Easton PA; mostly white save for a lone Black member. They described their sound as "a blend of white rock under black soul." What's funny is that they somehow managed to record "Bump Ball," a funky R&B boogaloo, in conjunction with the release of Milton-Bradley's Bump Ball. I'm not clear if the 7" I have was the one actually included with the game (as some sites have reported). There was also a Bump Ball album (but it's not clear if the Combinations recorded all the songs on here or just the title track, which was credited to "The Bumpers"). Interesting history but all that aside - I like the track. It, uh, bumps.

    Moving into some Latin, this Fruko cut is a 7" only song as far as I know (w/ "Bang Bang" on the flip but not Joe Cuba's well-known boogaloo hit). "Langaruto" shows off the strong piano work of (I think?) Hernán Gutiérrez who really is the secret weapon for all the best Fruko y sus Tesos tracks. This song, in particular, has that massive salsa dura sound that manages to be distinctly Colombian in a way I still haven't been able to put my finger on - it opens like a guajira before switching things up to a quicker son montuno about half a minute in (again, I think. Corrections welcome!). So fierce.

    Puerto Rico's Orquesta Zodiac drops the other Latin cut in this set, another strong '70s slice of salsa. I really like the use of organ on here; it's subtle but it adds that spritz of sonic lime to flavor up the rest of the track. I'm also feeling the vocal interplay between the lead and background singers - great call and response.

    The Jimmy and Eddie is a strong funky soul cut I nabbed at Big City Records in NYC earlier this year; the mix sounds just a tad off here but in favor of the rhythm section and especially the bassist and drummer. Their team-up really brings this whole tune together - it pushes along nicely and the drums are mic-ed just right to lend that extra oomph.

    Give the rhythm section some love on this Mandells' single too. The group perfectly blend some Chicago-style sweet soul vocals with that deep, deep bass, the chicha-chicha of the hi-hat patterns...with a string arrangement to book? Are you kidding me? Best thing - this 7" is usually found for $10 or less - an incredible value given how good the music is.

    Last on the 7" tip is one of the straight up strangest 45s I've come across of late. I could have sworn I originally heard this on Matthew Africa's blog but I can't seem to find it there again. Nonetheless, it really pays to listen to this beyond just thinking, "ooooh, nice groove." I mean, it's a great groove - so soulful with what I think of as subtle disco edge. And then the sweet, falsetto vocals drop in and you're thinking, "man, this is so butter." But then you start listening and you realize, "uh, ok, this is not setting things up well, with the singer talking about, 'I had a friend who had everything'" since you always know how those stories end. I won't spoil it for you but just wait until you pass the two minute mark. I feel like there should be a sound effect inserted here, just to hammer the point home. An otherwise beautiful tune.

    Bonus cut is the special bilingual disco 12" edit of Frankie Nieves' finest work for Speed, "True Love" (which, as you can figure out in one bar, interpolates "Soulful Strut.") I am super curious to know who ran Disco International; they seemed to specialize in (I'm assuming) unlicensed disco edits of many a great Latin jam, including Al Gonzalez' "El Rumbon" and this one. In the case of "True Love," Disco Int'l took the English A and Spanish B-side of Nieves' Speed 7" (which, by the way, came out 10 years prior) and then edited them together into a single, 6+ minute track (the B-side is a 6+ minute long Spanish-only edit). To be frank(ie), the edit does get a bit repetitive after a while but then again, it is one effective groove (Young Holt Unlimited knew what the f--- they were doing back in the day).

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