Posts Tagged ‘Funk’

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

The Rimshots: 7-6-5-4-3-2-1 Blow Your Whistle

Monday, January 5th, 2015

Rimshots_7654321BlowYourWhistleHot ’70s soul (train) and disco from Sylvia Robinson’s house band

The Rimshots were the house band for Joe and Sylvia Robinson’s All Platinum label and its subsidiary, Stang. Sylvia Robinson had previously found success as a performer, teaming with Mickey Baker for “Love is Strange” and charting solo with “Pillow Talk,” but it was as producers and label executives that the husband-and-wife duo made their longest-lasting impact. In addition to All Platinum, the Robinson’s founded Sugar Hill and launched rap music into popular consciousness. But before that, in the early ’70s, the Robinson’s were producing funk and soul records, and various incarnations of the Rimshots got a chance to step into the spotlight.

The band’s most widely heard U.S. side was their reworking of King Curtis’ “Hot Potato (Piping Hot),” which had been used as the original theme song for TV’s Soul Train. The Rimshots recording was released on the subsidary A-I label as “Soultrain Part 1” b/w “Soultrain Part 2.” The group’s 1972 debut album, titled after the single, was a masterpiece of two- and three-minute ’70s soul jams, with hot percussion, funky rhythm and lead guitar, deep bass and a variety of keyboard sounds. In the UK, the group became best known for their hit cover of Gary Toms Empire’s, “7-6-5-4-3-2-1 (Blow Your Whistle),” which itself was a reworking of Blue Mink’s “Get Up.” The 1976 album released under this later single’s title shows the band to have moved towards a glitzier disco sound.

Sequel’s twenty-one track compilation collects both of the band’s albums, and augments the lineup with four non-album tracks, including the popular 1974 instrumental “Who’s Got the Monster.” Though the latter single still has a punchy beat and fuzz guitar, you can hear the group’s sound turning towards disco – a trend upon which the band doubled down for 1976’s “Super Disco,” it’s flip side, “Groove Bus,” and the post-LP single “We’ve Got You Singing.” Those looking for early ’70s soul might want to bail out halfway through the disc, but even the group’s disco manages to dig some worthy grooves. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

Malo: Malo

Sunday, January 4th, 2015

Malo_Malo1972 debut of a Latin rock and soul powerhouse

Coming in the wake of Santana’s 1969 breakthrough debut, and led by Carlos Santana’s guitar-slinging brother, Jorge, there’s no getting away from comparing this group to their Latin-soul brethren. Malo trawled a similar groove of rock, soul, funk and Latin jams, though with a larger aggregation of musicians, a heftier dose of percussion and a tight horn section. This 1972 debut, the only album recorded by the group’s early lineup, includes their lone chart hit, “Suavecito” (presented here in its original six-minute album mix and its three-minute single edit). This is a hard-driving album that’s a great deal more energetic than the summertime vibe of the single. The album has been available part of Rhino Handmade’s limited edition Celebracion box set; fans can now get Malo’s debut as a standalone with a four-panel booklet that includes liner notes by A. Scott Galloway. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

Swamp Dogg: The White Man Made Me Do It

Saturday, January 3rd, 2015

SwampDogg_TheWhiteManMadeMeDoItNew album from outspoken soul music legend

Though Alive has recently reissued several of Swamp Dogg’s classic albums (including Total Destruction to Your Mind, Rat On and Gag a Maggot), as well as his work with Irma Thomas and Sandra Phillips, this is their first opportunity to release new material. And forty years after the landmark Total Destruction, Swamp Dogg’s brand of humorous social commentary remains as potently entertaining and educational as ever. That’s because the social, racial and gender issues of the 1970s haven’t gone away, and Swamp Dogg’s eyes and tongue are still sharp.

The title track lays down James Brown styled funk, but Soul Brother No. 1 never laid down a philosophical position as direct, quirkily self-reflective and far-reaching as “The White Man Made Me Do It.” Swamp Dogg manages to simultaneously curse slavery and celebrate the heroes that emerged in its wake, all to a catchy chorus chant and deep dance groove. The groove turns to Family Stone-styled soul (complete with a brief “listen to the voices” breakdown) for “Where is Sly” and low-down for a strutting cover of Leiber and Stoller’s “Smokey Joe’s Cafe.”

At 72, Swamp Dogg still has an ambivalent relationship with women, serenading on “Hey Renae” and a cover of Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me,” castigating on “Lying, Lying, Lying Woman,” and humorously apologizing to his stepdaughters in the liner notes. But contradictions, or perhaps more accurately, colorful positions on complex subjects, have always been part of Swamp Dogg’s charm. Swamp Dogg sings side by side of a satisfied life (“I’m So Happy”) and ruminates on “What Lonesome Is,” showing that every coin in his pocket has at least two sides.

On balance, Swamp Dogg seems happy with the life he’s led. He may joke about his lack of popular acclaim, but where there might be bitterness you’ll find belief. Belief in his music, belief in his principles, and despite the social ills he’s cataloged over the years, belief that things have, can and will improve. “America’s sick, and it needs a doctor quick,” he sings in “Light a Candle… Ring a Bell,” but his roll call of the housing crisis’ bad actors is both an outpouring of frustration and a call to more responsible behavior. Swamp Dogg’s been calling it like he sees it since his 1970 debut, and in 2014 he still finds plenty to call.

Release note: The U.S. edition of this title is a 14-track single disc on Swamp Dogg’s S.D.E.G. label. Outside the U.S. this title includes a bonus disc of Swamp Dogg performances (including the landmark “Synthetic World”) and productions, featuring cuts by Sandra Phillips (“Rescue Me”), Lightning Slim (“Good Morning Heartaches”), Irma Thomas (“In Between Tears”), Charlie “Raw Spitt” Whitehead (“Read Between the Lines”), Z.Z. Hill (“It Ain’t No Use”), Doris Duke (“To the Other Woman (I’m the Other Woman)”) and Wolfmoon (“What is Heaven For”). The two CD edition (in a tri-fold digipack) can be found domestically on the Bomp website. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

Swamp Dogg’s Home Page

Dee Dee Warwick: The Complete ATCO Recordings

Thursday, November 13th, 2014

DeeDeeWarwick_TheCompleteAtcoRecordingsThe early ’70s recordings of a talented soul sister

Dionne Warwick’s younger sister, Dee Dee, may have had less commercial success, but in many ways, she was the stronger singer. Coming from an extended family that also included gospel singing aunt Cissy Houston and superstar cousin Whitney Houston, Warwick’s lack of hits is especially confounding when weighed against the wealth of music industry heavyweights that tried to help her break out. Her older sister succeeded in large part through the creation of a unique place in pop music; Dee Dee, on the other hand, sang more straightforward soul that put her in direct competition with the stars of Atlantic, and the attention of her label.

Warwick recorded for Jubilee (where she waxed the original version of “You’re No Good“), Leiber and Stoller’s Tiger, Hurd, Mercury and its subsidiary Blue Rock throughout the 1960s. She landed in the R&B Top 20 several times, and crossed over to the pop charts with 1966’s “I Want to Be With You.” But in 1970 she was lured to the Atlantic subsidiary ATCO by the label group’s president, Jerry Wexler. By that point, ATCO had been quite successful in the rock marketplace, but hadn’t penetrated the soul and R&B markets its parent label had helped define. Wexler paired Warwick with producer Ed Townend (with whom she’d worked at Mercury), but shelved the four excellent tracks that lead off this collection, including Townsend’s dynamic “You Tore My Wall Down.”

Next up were sessions at Miami’s famed Criteria Studios with the Dixie Flyers as the backing band and the Sweet Inspirations as backing vocalists. This resulted in the 1970 album Turning Around, which spawned two singles, including the R&B hit “She Didn’t Know (She Kept on Talking).” The album drew material from soul writers Charles Whitehead, Gary U.S. Bonds, Jerry “Swamp Dogg” Williams and Van McCoy, but also from country writers Charlie Rich (“Who Will the Next Fool Be”) and Jerry Crutchfield (“A Girl Who’ll Satisfy Her Man”), and pop songwriters Jimmy Webb (“If This Was the Last Song”) and Pat Upton (“More Today Than Yesterday”). Arif Mardin’s string arrangements accompany several tracks, but it’s the gospel-blue Southern soul of the Dixie Flyers and Warwick’s passionate performances that provide the dominant flavors. To reproduce the album’s running order, program disc one, tracks 12, 6, 9, 14, 5, 13, 8, 10, 7, 11.

For her third sessions of 1970, ATCO sent Warwick even deeper into the South, to the famed Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. Three singles were released from the ten tracks laid down, and only one, a cover of “Suspicious Minds,” charted. The unreleased tracks (disc one, tracks 15 and 17, and disc two, tracks 5 and 7) are solid productions, with full bass lines, crisp horns and good material from Ashford & Simpson, Little Jimmy Scott and Brill Building graduate, David Gates. The latter cover of Bread’s “Make it With You” is more soulful than one had a right to hope, but it’s ill-fitting and suggests that ATCO (and producers Dave Crawford and Brad Shapiro) simply didn’t know how to help Warwick achieve commercial success.

To their credit, ATCO still didn’t give up, sending Warwick to record at Detroit’s Pac-Three Studio in 1971. The sessions’ lone single, “Everybody’s Got to Believe in Something” b/w “Signed Dede,” failed to chart, and more than half of the tracks (including two alternate versions included here) were left in the vault. Among the previously unreleased material, the most unusual are Warwick’s takes on Don Gibson’s “Sweet Dreams.” Warwick takes off in a soulful vein from Patsy Cline’s countrypolitan interpretation for the master recording, but really lays on the funk for the alternate take. Bacharach & David’s “In the Land of Make Believe,” which had been recorded by Dusty Springfield, as well as big sister Dionne, fits Dee Dee’s emotional vocal between the low bass line and high strings.

Warwick recorded three additional tracks for ATCO at Atlantic’s New York studio in 1972, but with more successful soul sirens to promote, Atlantic let her slip back to Mercury. Her two-year recording career for ATCO is fully collected in the thirty-five tracks on these two discs, including non-LP singles, B-sides, her sole LP for the label, session material that was available on compilations, and a dozen previously unreleased tracks. Mike Milchner’s remastered all the material at SonicVision, and the 16-page booklet includes detailed liner notes by David Nathan. It adds up to a picture of a terrifically talented vocalist whose career never reached synergy between material, performance and promotion. [©2014 Hyperbolium]

Paul Thorn: Too Blessed to Be Stressed

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

PaulThorn_TooBlessedToBeStressedOptimistic album of soul and funk

Mississippi singer-songwriter Paul Thorn returns with his first album of originals in four years. His previous album, What the Hell is Goin’ On?, was stocked with cover songs that essayed Thorn’s finely selected influences and showed off his talent for interpretation. Returning to his own pen, Thorn’s taken a broader tack in his songwriting. Where his earlier albums tended to autobiography, his latest collection makes a purposeful reach for more universal and upbeat themes. There’s personal inspiration in each of these songs, but rather than telling the story of a specific situation, Thorn’s dug to each story’s roots to express thoughts and feelings that resound easily with each listener’s own life.

These songs show Thorn to be an optimist, rather than a Pollyanna. His protagonists look to the sunny side, but they see storms and expect a cloud break rather than an endless stretch of clear weather. He anticipates the healing cures for loneliness rather than cataloging its pains, and he’s a clear-eyed romantic who sheds no tears with his goodbyes. As the album’s title states, Thorn is “Too Blessed to Be Stressed,” and he advises that you “Don’t Let Nobody Rob You of Your Joy.” That latter message neatly extends into a self-directed resolution as the moral lapse of “I Backslide on Friday” is redeemed by Saturday’s reprieve and Sunday’s repentance.

The optimism fades into the exasperation of “Mediocrity’s King,” as Thorn laments the commonness of superstores and oppositional politics, and in its unstated subtext, an apathetic electorate whose dreams of progress have turned into a voracious appetite for cheap prices and mindless entertainment. Thorn’s gruff, blue-soul vocals are weary but hopeful, and the album’s potpourri of soul, funk, gospel, country and rock recalls the hey-day of Memphis and Muscle Shoals, without ever imitating either one. The road-hewn band finds many deep grooves, and Thorn sings with a smile that shines on you with an optimistic glow. [©2014 Hyperbolium]

Paul Thorn’s Home Page

Galactic (Featuring JJ Grey): Higher and Higher

Friday, February 14th, 2014

A hot piece of neo-funk from the New Orleans-based Galactic, with JJ Grey on vocals. Catch them on tour – see below.

Galactic’s Home Page

On Tour

Feb 14 – Port Chester, NY – Capitol Theatre ^
Feb 15 – New York, NY – TERMINAL 5 ^
Feb 28 – Mobile, AL – Soul Kitchen *
Mar 01 – New Orleans, LA – Tipitina’s
Mar 03 – New Orleans, LA – Tipitina’s
Mar 06 – St. Louis, MO – The Pageant “
Mar 08 – Denver, CO – The Fillmore + %
Mar 09 – Aspen, CO – Belly Up %
Mar 10 – Salt Lake City, UT – The Depot %
Mar 11 – Victor, ID – Knotty Pine
Mar 13 – Seattle, WA – Showbox %
Mar 14 – Portland, OR – Crystal Ballroom %
Mar 15 – Petaluma, CA – Mystic Theatre %
Mar 16 – Crystal Bay, NV – Crystal Bay Club %
Mar 18 – Sacramento, CA – Harlow’s
Mar 19 – Solana Beach, CA – Belly Up %
Mar 20 – Los Angeles, CA – El Rey %
Mar 21-22 – San Francisco, CA – The Fillmore %
Mar 26-29 – Las Vegas, NV – Brooklyn Bowl
Apr 02-05 – Las Vegas, NV – Brooklyn Bowl
Apr 09-12 – Las Vegas, NV – Brooklyn Bowl
Apr 25 – New Orleans, LA – Tipitina’s
Apr 27 – New Orleans, LA – Jazz Fest
May 02 – New Orleans, LA – Tipitina’s
May 03 – New Orleans, LA – Sugar Mill @
May 24 – Thornville, OH – Dark Star Jubilee
May 31 – Blackstock, SC – Blackstock Music Festival
Sep 11 – Danville, IL – Phases of the Moon Music & Art Festival

(^) w/ JJ Grey & Mofro
(*) w/ Naughty Professor
(“) w/ The Mike Dillon Band
(+) w/ Robert Randolph & the Family Band
(%) w/ Brushy One String
(@) w/ Thievery Corporation and Rising Appalachia