Posts Tagged ‘Funk’

Dennis Coffey: Hot Coffey in the D – Burnin’ at Morey Baker’s Showplace Lounge

Friday, January 13th, 2017

A Motown funk brother plays out live in 1968

Guitarist Dennis Coffey may be most familiar from his 1971 instrumental hit “Scorpio” and its follow-up “Taurus.” But astute liner note readers will recognize Coffey as one of Motown’s Funk Brothers, and the player who introduced harder-edged guitar sounds into Norman Whitfield’s productions, including “Ball of Confusion” and “Psychedelic Shack.” Like many of his Motown colleagues, Coffey also played out live in Detroit clubs, and this 1968 date from Morey Baker’s Showplace Lounge finds him in a trio with Lyman Woodard on Hammond B3 and Melvin Davis on drums. The group played under Woodard’s name, but Coffey’s guitar took most of the leads.

The group’s repertoire included soul, pop and jazz covers, as well as original material, the latter including Coffey’s opening showcase, “Fuzz.” The sounds encompass soul, rock, funk and jazz in equal parts, as Woodard vamped deep and low, Davis provided the groove, and Coffey took the lead lines. Coffey’s guitar is edgy even when he’s picking an upbeat take on the MOR classic “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” or playing slinky lines on “The Look of Love.” The band played from chord charts without rehearsal, fueling their performances with lively, jazz-styled improvisations. Herbie Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage” and Ramsey Lewis’ “Wade in the Water” remain close to their roots, but even here, the trio finds original ground to jam.

Professionally recorded on a half-inch four-track (courtesy of the then-nearby Tera Shirma studio at which Coffey worked with his partner Mike Theodore), the tapes are a world away from the hobbyist recordings one often hears from club settings. The performances are lively, and the results were good enough to score the trio a contract, which resulted in 1969’s Hair and Thangs. Woodard continued on as music director for Martha Reeves and as a jazz leader, Coffey and Davis eventually found their studio gigs drying up and signed on to day jobs. Now retired from the Ford Motor Company, Coffey is gigging weekly at the Northern Lights Lounge, and Davis has released albums on his own Rock Mill label.

In addition to the music, this archival find sheds light on the symbioses that formed between Detroit’s clubs and record labels. The clubs provided a second income stream to the musicians, but also space for players to fully express themselves. What you hear in this performance are some of the musical hearts and souls that fed Motown and other Detroit labels. The 56-page booklet includes archival photos, liner notes from producers Kevin Goins and Zev Feldman, cover art by illustrator Bill Morrison, and interviews with Coffey, Davis, Theodore and Detroit legends Bettye LaVette and Clarence Avant. There are several excellent albums of Coffey’s material, including an out-of-print Best Of, but this previously unreleased live set adds a funky new dimension to his catalog. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Dennis Coffey’s Home Page

Tim Buckley: Wings – The Complete Singles 1966-1974

Monday, January 2nd, 2017

timbuckley_wingsthecompletesinglesThe singles of an album artist

Though singer-songwriter Tim Buckley flourished in an era in which singles – and the radio exposure they attracted – often led albums onto the charts, he was never a singles artist. His label dutifully released singles from all nine of his albums, placing none of them on the charts, and, at best, only distracting free-form FM stations from the albums they were more likely to play. So unlike artists feted with collections of the original mono singles that listeners remember from the radio (see, for example, recent sets by The Turtles and Buck Owens), the motivation for a collection of Tim Buckley’s singles is more obscure.

Which isn’t to suggest the music is less than magnificent, or the collection unworthy of your attention, but other than the previously anthologized “Once Upon a Time” and its previously unreleased B-side “Lady, Give Me Your Key,” most of these tracks are likely already in the collections of Tim Buckley fans. What the set does offer is a read on the label’s attempt to sell Buckley commercially, both in the US and UK, and a quick read of his nine year arc as a recording artist. It also provides rare mono single mixes for tracks 1-9, improved sound (courtesy of Michael Graves), and an interview with Buckley’s longtime collaborator, Larry Beckett.

Five of the singles turn up on the retrospective Best Of, suggesting that the label (or Buckley himself) had good ears. But with no hits, one’s left to wonder whether the label hadn’t the will to push Buckley on singles-oriented radio, or if his music was simply that of an album-oriented artist. The set’s 16-page booklet includes Beckett’s detailed reminiscences about collaborating with Buckley and the genesis of their songs. That commentary and the unreleased single are the catnip, but the whole set is an interesting view of an artist whose work was too complex to fit between a DJ’s talk up and the next jingle. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

The Tim Buckley Archives

The Blind Boys of Alabama: Go Tell It on the Mountain

Monday, November 21st, 2016

blindboysofalabama_gotellitonthemountainExpanded reissue of guest-filled 2003 Christmas album

Founded in 1939 and turned into a professional group six years later, it took more than fifty years for these gospel legends to record a Christmas album. Released in 2003, the album was third in a string of four Grammy-winning albums in four years, including Spirit of the Century, Higher Ground and There Will Be a Light. The album includes guests leading every track but the first and last, ranging from soul singer Solomon Burke, singer-songwriters Tom Waits and Shelby Lynne, to jazz vocalist Les McCann and funkmaster George Clinton. The wide range of guests lends the album a lot of variety, though in a few spots, such as Chrissie Hynde and Richard Thompson’s “In the Bleak Midwinter,” it mostly obscures title group.

There’s no losing sight of the group as they provide Aaron Neville an intricate a cappella backing for “Joy to the World,” provide harmony backing to Meshell Ndegeocello’s “Oh Come All Ye Faithful,” and add lively interplay to Mavis Staples’ “Born in Bethlehem.” One might lament how the cavalcade of guest stars cuts into the Blind Boys’ opportunities to sing lead, but the selection of guests and their interaction with the group and house band (John Medeski on keyboards, Duke Robillard on guitar, Danny Thompson on bass and Michael Jerome on drums) yields some nice moments. If you’re expecting a Blind Boys gospel Christmas album, you’ll be disappointed, but if you take this album as part of the group’s Grammy era artistic expansion, there’s much to like.

Omnivore’s 2016 reissue retains the a cappella rendition of “My Lord What a Morning” that was recorded for the 2004 CD reissue, and adds a pair of live tracks drawn from a contemporaneous holiday concert at New York’s Beacon Theater. The latter includes the title track and a closing rendition of “Amazing Grace” sung (as it was on Higher Ground) to the melody of “House of the Rising Sun.” The 12-page booklet includes photos and musicians’ credits, and Davin Seay’s liner notes add career context for the album and anecdotes about how the group, their guests and producers worked together in the studio. The album’s soulful productions and gospel backings will complement any holiday gathering and raise everyone’s spirits! [©2016 Hyperbolium]

The Blind Boys of Alabama’s Home Page

Bobby Rush: Porcupine Meat

Saturday, October 22nd, 2016

bobbyrush_porcupinemeatOctogenarian blues master remains vital, funky and blue

Your should hope to have this much life force at the age of 82. Sixty years into his career, and still logging more than two-hundred live dates each year, bluesman Bobby Rush sounds as vital as he did in his twenties. Born in Louisiana and musically schooled in Chicago clubs, he finally broke out as a solo artist in the early 1970s, adding soul and funk sounds to a blues base as he released a long string of albums and singles. This first release for Rounder teams him with producer Scott Billington and a slate of New Orleans musicians who double-down on Rush’s funky brand of the blue grooves. Rush’s voice is strong and his harmonica says as much as his lyrics.

At turns he’s ornery, defiant and stalwart in his own defense; he’s lived long enough to know what he wants, and what he doesn’t, but he’s not immune to the world’s irresistible forces. He’s a victim of circumstance, accused of crimes he didn’t commit and hamstrung by the siren’s call of mistreating women. The slow, spare blues of “Got Me Accused” provides the perfect space for a moving vocal and a deeply felt harmonica solo, and a horn section adds snap to the “Polk Salad Annie”-styled funk of “Catfish Stew.” Guests include Vasti Jackson, Dave Alvin, Joe Bonamassa and Keb’ Mo’, the latter adding his slide guitar to “Nighttime Gardener.” But Rush is the star of the show, and one who’s still shining bright and blue. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

Bobby Rush’s Home Page

Various Artists: Afterschool Special – The 123s of Kid Soul

Wednesday, October 12th, 2016

various_afterschoolspecialthe123sofkidsoulInfectious collection of 1970s kid soul

In the same way that “A Hard Day’s Night” launched a thousand rock bands, the Jackson Five launched a wave of family and kid bands that rolled on for decades. A few – including the Osmonds, DeFrancos and New Edition – found fame, but many more issued obscure records that have become crate diggers’ rarest finds. The archival Numero Group label has pulled together a collection of this delicious bubblegum soul, packed tightly around the seminal kid soul year of 1973. The track list reaches back to 1970 for the Folkways-released “James Brown” (CD/LP only) and the topical “I’m Free, No Dope For Me,” hits its choreographed stride with Magical Connection’s 1972 “Girl Why Do You Want to Take My Heart,” and is fully consumed by 1973.

Jimi HillIronically, just as the Jackson Five’s chart results were fading, their influence was blooming in charming, adolescent lead vocals and propulsive soul backings on obscure indie labels. Among the jewels are the Scott Three’s “Runnin’ Wild (Ain’t Gonna Help You)” and Next Movement’s “Every Where You Go,” but you can also hear the Jacksons’ impact in Jimi Hill’s Memphis-tinged “Guessing Games” and Leonard (Lil’ Man) Kaigler’s frantic “You Got Me Believing.” The sounds of the Dells and Dramatics and some harder funk backings are also here, but the kid vocals always bring your ears back to Michael Jackson in his early prime. By the mid-70s you can hear the beat of disco in “I Love You Still” and jazz-funk in “Love Got a Piece of Your Mind,” but it’s still sweet as candy.

Greer BrothersThere are a few actual hitmakers here. Chicago’s Brighter Side of Darkness reached the Top 20 with “Love Jones,” appeared on Soul Train and released a full album on the 20th Century Fox label (coincidentally, also the home of the DeFranco Family). But their follow-up indie single “Because I Love You” failed to click and the group quickly faded. The Next Movement never hit the top of the charts, but after a scattering of singles in the ‘70s and ‘80s they landed in Las Vegas where they continue to perform to this day. Numero Group has put together a brilliant collection (including a terrifically potent cover of Gil Scott-Heron’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” and the original protest song “We Don’t Dig No Busing”) and magnified it with detailed liner notes, rare photos and label reproductions. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

Dr. John: The Atco/Atlantic Singles 1968-1974

Saturday, November 21st, 2015

DrJohn_TheAtcoAtlanticSinglesThe singles that led to Dr. John’s brief mainstream fame

As an artist primarily known for albums and live performance, it’s hard to imagine anyone but the most ardent Dr. John record collectors being able to name more than two or three of his singles. “Right Place Wrong Time” comes easily to the mind of anyone who was around for its original run up the chart to #9. But other than that, what? Well, it turns out that several of Dr. John’s iconic album tracks – “Iko Iko” from 1972’s Gumbo and “Such a Night” from 1973’s In the Right Place – were also released as singles, though neither had the chart success of “Right Place Wrong Time.” So that’s three. And yet, during Dr. John’s stay on Atco and Atlantic, he actually released a half-dozen more singles, all of which are collected here – A’s, B’s and alternate flips, along with several UK- and promo-only sides.

One has to wonder who Atlantic thought was going to play these singles; particularly since they didn’t often differ greatly from the album cuts prefered by FM. “Iko Iko” was trimmed by a minute, “I Walk on Gilded Splinters” was trimmed and split into two parts, and “Wang Dang Doodle” was excised from the Mar Y Sol concert album, but the rest seem closely aligned with the albums. Of interest to collectors will be a few rarities offered here, highlighted by “The Patriotic Flag Waver.” On this 1968 single, presented in the long mono promo cut, Dr. John manages to combine a children’s chorus, “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” “America the Beautiful,” social commentary and New Orleans funk. Even more rare is Dr. John’s guest appearance, alongside Eric Clapton, on the original 1972 single version of labelmate Buddy Guy’s “A Man of Many Words.

The collection pulls together Dr. John’s singles, EP and promo-only sides, and both B sides of “Oh, What a Night,” which featured “Cold Cold Cold in the U.S. and “Life” in the U.K. Presented in roughly (though not strictly) chronological order, the singles tell the story of Dr. John’s early years as the Night Tripper, his ex-pat Los Angeles edition of New Orleans soul, and his brief intersection with mainstream fame. It’s an unusual lens to place on the career of an artist better known for albums and live performances, but as a quick look at his seven years on Atco, it’s surprisingly good. The albums are out there to be had, but hearing the years compressed into a generous 71 minutes is a worthwhile trip. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

Dr. John’s Home Page

RIP: Allen Toussaint

Tuesday, November 10th, 2015

Allen Toussaint, 1938-2015

Have you ever noticed southern skies?
Its precious beauty lies just beyond the eye
It goes running through your soul
Like the stories told of old

Various Artists: Groove & Grind – Rare Soul ‘63-’73

Friday, September 18th, 2015

Various_GrooveAndGrindRareSoulAstonishing collection of rare soul singles

Those who miss the tactile pleasure of holding an album cover, or even reading the relatively microscopic copy of CD booklets, are likely to break out in a wide smile when they first heft this collection. The four discs are housed in a hard-bound 127-page book that’s stuffed with striking artist photos, label reproductions and detailed song notes by author and journalist Bill Dahl. And all of that is in service of an expertly-curated collection of rare soul sides that stretch from 1963 through 1973. Collections of this magnitude can be as exhausting as they are exhilarating, but by gathering singles from a variety of labels, and organizing them into four themed discs, the programs flow more like a crowd-pleasing jukebox than the well-curated anthology at the set’s heart. Even better, by mating obscurity with quality, every track becomes both a surprise and a delight.

These discs are stuffed, clocking in at nearly five hours of music. Disc 1 surveys urban soul from the major markets of New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit and Los Angeles. Disc 2 focuses on vocal groups, disc 3 on southern soul, and disc 4 on funkier sounds. The roster mixes well-known and obscure artists, but even in the case of famous names, the sides are not likely the ones you know. Betty LaVette’s “Almost,” Ike & Tina’s “You Can’t Miss Nothing That You Never Had,” Kenny Gamble’s “Hard to Find the Right Girl,” Candi Staton’s “Now You’ve Got the Upper Hand,” Betty Wright’s “Mr. Lucky,” Eddie Floyd’s “Hey Now,” Carla Thomas’ “Every Ounce of Strength,” and Margie Joseph’s “Show Me” all suffered the same lack of circulation and chart renown as their more obscure set-mates. Even the familiar “Love on a Two-Way Street” is rendered here in the obscure Lezli Valentine All Platinum B-side that marked the song’s debut.

Finding these singles is impressive, but documenting them in such detail is a task only the most devoted fans would undertake. The material came from the collections of rare-records dealer Victor Pearlin, musician Billy Vera and the set’s producer James Austin; the audio restoration was performed by Jerry Peterson. The results are good, though the original productions weren’t often as refined as those from Stax, Atlantic or Motown. There’s occasional vinyl patina, but that’s part of the show when you dig this deep, and it never gets in the way of the songs or performances. This anthology is a tremendous gift to the crate diggers of soul music, filling in gaps they didn’t even realize were in their collections. Casual fans will dig these sides as well, even without dirt-laden fingertips from a thousand record swaps, back rooms and thrift store racks. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

Nicolette Larson: Lotta Love – The Very Best Of

Saturday, September 12th, 2015

NicoletteLarson_LottaLoveTheVeryBestOfSolid overview of Larson’s pop years

Nicolette Larson’s first and biggest hit, 1978’s “Lotta Love,” is surprisingly unrevealing of her bona fides. Produced by Ted Templeman, it’s smooth, contemporary pop that evidences none of the roots music that had been Larson’s metier as a backing and duet vocalist. Her work with Commander Cody, Emmylou Harris, Guy Clark, Rodney Crowell, Billy Joe Shaver and Neil Young didn’t portend the horns, strings and flute of “Lotta Love.” Most pop radio listeners probably didn’t even realize that the single had been written by Young (and released on Comes a Time), or were aware of Larson’s earthier contributions to other artists’ records.

The album’s second single, Jesse Winchester’s “Rhumba Girl,” added a touch of funk, with crisp drums and horns, electric piano and flavorful percussion, but the third single, “Give a Little,” veered again to the middle of the road. The album held some deeper charms, including a stellar cover of the Louvin Brothers’ “Angels Rejoice” and a sweet, if somewhat sedate take on Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me.” Her second album, In the Nick of Time, leaned almost completely on the crystalline production sounds of the late ‘70s, highlighted by a duet with Michael McDonald on “Let Me Go, Love,” the upbeat “Dancin’ Jones,” and the mid-tempo Karla Bonoff-penned “Isn’t It Always Love.”

And so went her next two albums, with synthesizers added to the title track of 1981’s Radioland, Linda Ronstadt adding harmonies on Annie McLoone’s “Ooo-eee,” and Larson finding a deep groove on Allen Toussaint’s “Tears, Tears and More Tears.” 1982’s All Dressed Up & No Place to Go capped Larson’s pop career (as well as her time with Warner Brothers), after which she shifted to contemporary country music. Backed in large part by Andrew Gold (as was Linda Ronstadt on several of her most iconic works), Larson’s cover of “I Only Want to Be With You” gained some radio play (charting at #53), and Lowell George’s “Two Trains” gave her another funky pocket in which to sing.

Varese’s sixteen track set samples all four of Larson’s Warner Brothers albums, including charting singles and well-selected album tracks. Also featured are duets with Emmylou Harris (an absolutely stellar version of the Carter Family’s “Hello Stranger” from Harris’ Luxury Liner) and Steve Goodman (“The One That Got Away” from his High and Outside), and Larson’s contribution to the Arthur soundtrack. “Fool Me Again.” It’s a fair sample of Larson’s pop career, but necessarily missing some strong album tracks, particularly from her debut, and reputation-minting contributions to other artist’s albums. This is a good introduction, but new fans should follow-up with Nicolette and Neil Young’s Comes a Time. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

Ohio Players: Observations in Time

Monday, January 5th, 2015

OhioPlayers_ObservationsInTimeThe ‘60s Stax-styled soul of a ‘70s funk powerhouse

Before they conquered the charts with the heavy ‘70s funk of “Skin Tight,” “Fire” and “Love Rollercoaster,” Ohio Players were a band whose 1968 debut for Capitol resounded more with the soul sounds of Memphis than the hard-funk of Detroit. Dating back to the late ‘50s (as the Ohio Untouchables), the band backed the legendary doo-wop group The Falcons, and landed briefly in New York in the late ‘60s, where they recorded singles on Compass and this album for Capitol. The group offered new twists on Allen Toussaint’s “Mother-in-Law” and the Gershwins’ “Summertime,” turning the former’s New Orleans groove into Sam and Dave-styled soul, and stretching the latter into an eight minute jam of gritty blues and forceful jazz. The instrumental “Find Someone to Love” gives some indication of the sounds the Players would make in the ‘70s, but the majority of their original tunes, filled with soulful rhythm guitar, deep bass lines and punchy horn charts, could easily be mistaken for prime Stax sides. Originally reissued on CD by the Edsel label in 2002 (and subsequently dropped from their catalog), this set has been reissued for digital download by Capitol. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

Ohio Players’ Home Page