I was at the Univ. of Illinois, Urbana-Champain this past Tuesday and met Invincible, a Detroit rapper/activist whose awareness-raising around gentrification and urban (un)planning highlights one of the most pressing social issues of our era. (Peep out the "Locusts" video included on her Shapeshifters CD).
We shared a flight from Champaign back to Chicago (turbulence-free, thankfully) as she was putting me up on the Detroit hip-hop scene, she asked, "do you know Mayer Hawthorne?" I replied "sure," and the moment seemed apropos since I had just been listening to his new sampler the night before (thanks Eric).
Invincible chuckled affectionately, sharing that the two of them grew up in Ann Arbor, having met through Jewish summer camps, and as we were talking about some of his new songs, she described how "Mayer Hawthorne" (the artist, not the man) was a persona developed in the wake of the unexpected success of his first 7", "Just Ain't Gonna Work Out." We both marveled at how one song can help shape a career, or least the start of one.
The sampler I've heard has two songs from the single - "Just Ain't Gonna Work Out" and "When I Said Goodbye" - plus a remix of "Just Ain't" and two new songs: "Maybe So, Maybe No" and "I Wish It Would Rain."
That first new song had caught my attention months ago when Mayer first shared it with me; "Maybe So, Maybe No" has become one of my favorite songs ever in the last two years since I was first put up on it by my man Hua. Originally recorded by Detroit's New Holidays and enough of a success that Westbound picked it up from the local Soulhawk imprint, "Maybe So, Maybe No" exemplifies the kind of composition that is so incredibly fragile that it's a miracle it even works at all yet the very fact that it does come together (what Hua likes to call a "lightning in a bottle song") is what makes it so extraordinary.
I'm tempted to enumerate all the parts of this song that shouldn't work but it's easier for you to just listen to it, soak in all the small touches that balance precariously together here, all the unexpected layers of music and vocals and how, despite it teetering on the edge of collapse, comes together beautifully.
It's those qualities that make this song pretty much impossible to cover - you can't catch lightning in a bottle twice - and Mayer, as admirable an effort he makes, isn't immune to this either. His isn't a bad cover by any means - it's just not the OG and in this case, it's hard to settle for anything less. I'll let you decide:
However, another song on Mayer's sampler really caught my ear: "I Wish It Would Rain" (this is apparently the B-side to the next single).
This is not a cover of the Temptations' song by the same name though, lyrically, the two do share a resemblance (namely around the idea of raindrops masking tears). But that similarity aside, this really sounds like a "Mayer Hawthorne song" which I suppose is strange to say given that he's only had two songs before this. But the aesthetic he created on "Just Ain't" is evident here - the purity and simplicity of the arrangement, the plaintive tone of his falsetto, the way in which the song invokes a mood more than just a style. (The use of back-up singing on this track is what really makes this work as well as it does. Brilliant choice).
Philaflava has yet another song (not on this sampler) available to peep: "Green Eyed Love." I first heard it when Mayer came to DJ at Boogaloo[LA] in January and I thought it sounded great then and I still do now.
 I will make one exception for the "you can't cover this song" rule but it's for purely selfish and personal reasons. "Maybe So, Maybe No" also happens to be one of my daughter's favorite songs; one she learned at age 3 and still continues to spontaneously break out into. Sure, she only knows the chorus and sure, she kind of gets it wrong (it should be "could it be that your love, is meant for me?" instead of "could it be that my love, is meant for me?") but I see it as an act of self-affirmation. Or something like that.
I had an Almost Famous moment earlier this week and alas, it did not involve anyone resembling a young Kate Hudson.
I was in a commuter plane from Chicago to Champaign, in the middle of a rain storm, and we hit a long patch of turbulence where it felt like we lost altitude with every bump. I'm not, by nature, a paranoid person and I generally am very zen about flying but for whatever reason, this had me a bit spooked, long enough to start contemplating my mortality.
Of course, being me, I also thought, "wait, so what will my last song be?" And at the time, I was listening to the Laura Nyro/Labelle album, Gonna Take a Miracle and given how calming the album was, I felt, "well, if I'm going to out go out listening to Laura and Labelle...that's ok by me."
In all seriousness, I can't believe I slept on this album for so long (esp. since I was actually posting about it a year ago but I didn't bother to actually check out the album at the time.
It's good. I mean really good. I mean awesomely great. And it strikes me too - it's a retro-soul album of sorts, an homage to the girl groups and crossover R&B/pop hits of the mid-1960s. Whatever the case, it is lovely.
Since I just posted the title track the other week, I went with just one more song, this time their cover of Martha Reeves' "Jimmy Mack" which is so ebullient and cheery, it even makes a really bad plane trip seem a bit more bearable. To be honest, it was incredibly hard to figure out what to post here - "The Bells" was also in leading contention as was "I Met Him On A Sunday." In the end, it doesn't really matter - anything off of here wins.
What always strikes me in this process is how many blogs have vanished (oh, how I got used to blogspot's "this page cannot be found" error message pages) or have gone on hiatus - some announced, most have atrophied in a long-term holding pattern with no definitive resolution.
Clearly, the time and labor these blogs consume often comes too high for those with more important (or at least, lucrative) things to do and whatever ardor they may have had in the beginning fades to inactivity. That's partially why I have great admiration for all the blogs out there that, week-in, week-out, are still putting in work. These sites may not charge, but you can bet they come at a cost for the creators.
I've added a few new blogs to my "Favorites" list, especially a few I've written about here repeatedly, like Chairman Mao and Matthew Africa's. I also just threw on two Latin music blogs that I plan on spending extensive time with - Super Sonido and Musica Del Alma.
Remember, if you want to get added, read here first. But also keep in mind, that I don't update that often (obviously) but I have gotten into the habit of doing quick-strike posts for blogs of note and I'll try to continue that.
I've been meaning to post about the Eddie and Ernie 7" for a while - the A-side is one helluva soul jam from the early '70s - explosive right out the gate with those horns and one of the more memorable titles you'll come across (bullets, indeed, don't have eyes. Or any other facial features!) The pic cover 45 comes with a beautiful heartbreak ballad on the flip, "These Very Tender Moments," originally from 1967. Ernie Johnson and Eddie Campbell were originally a duo out of Phoenix but apparently were impressive journeymen around the U.S. R&B circuit during the '60s and '70s.
The group is so nice, Daptone put out "Bullets" twice, the second copy being a website exclusive with a new B-side, "You Make My Life a Sunny Day" which was a previously unreleased track, discovered by the folks at Kent in the studios of San Francisco's Loadstone (if this sounds familiar at all, it's because Jacqueline Jones put this song out, also on Loadstone). Great, great, great tune.
Meanwhile, the folks at the Menahan Street Band have a new 7" out, not available on anything except 7" (more reason for you to get that record player). The MSB and Budos Band join forces here (which makes sense since Tom "TNT" Brenneck is a member of the latter and creator of the former. As a result, that MSB sound gets a Ethio-makeover on both sides for a mellow, hypnotic ride. A nice little slice of instrumental soul to tide things over until that Charles Bradley LP is ready.
(And that reminds me, the long-awaited Lee Fields album is coming soon, stay tuned).
“Music inspired by the Wu Tang,” listed in the corner of the new release by the El Michels Affair, sums up nicely what you get from this fine release. With a vibe similar to the Menahan Street Band, due in part because of Michels involvement with them, you know what to expect. While it would be easy to dismiss the tracks as not having enough thump in comparison to the Wu songs, it would also be a disservice to the exemplary interpretations that Michels and crew have brought to these “covers.”
Most of the tracks performed on the album are from the seminal Wu release, to which the title pays homage, and Raekwon's “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx.” The remaining songs are from other peppered Wu-related releases, although none are from albums newer than 2001 – signifying the golden era of the Wu Tang Clan. From the lament in “Heaven and Hell” to the darkness of “Duel of the Iron Mics,” El Michels Affair showcases a real talent for delving into the soul the resides within the melodies. They even sprinkle in some Shaolin sampled bits of wisdom lending even more credence to flow of the album given its purpose.
OW's excellent NPR article on the Charmels song that serves as the inspiration for “C.R.E.A.M.” showcases the song's back-to-its-roots history. To me, it's the album's highlight. That piano lick still sends shivers up my spine. Unlike the Wu song, where the piano takes center stage, here it plays a more complementary role with the rest of the melody. There's a thudding bass that keeps resounding throughout and the horns help spice up the song adding just the right flair.
Elsewhere, you get the frenetic rework of the late ODB's “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” complete with a kids chorus. So while paying tribute to the Wu Tang, it also pays tribute to a technique Stax, always a RZA favorite, used in songs such as “Sang and Dance” by the Bar-Kays (made famous by Will Smith's “Gettin' Jiggy Wit' It”). As a bonus on the CD, you even get an instrumental of “Pjs From Afar,” a track on which Raekwon collaborated with El Michels Affair only a few years ago.
Even without the vocals, you can still tell that Wu Tang Clan ain't nothin' to f--- wit'; El Michels Affair pays the Wu a very serviceable homage. It would be interesting to see how El Michels Affair would have fared with material from other Ghostface songs such as “Apollo Kids” with its regal horns or the retrospective “All That I Got Is You,” as it really would play to their sound well. However, with the material that they did choose to cover, it's a very solid affair that gives us a varied plate of goodness to digest. I've certainly been eating it up.
Jennifer Lara: Close To You Jennifer Lara: Our Love From Studio One Presents Jennifer Lara (Studio One, 197?)
Sharon Forrester: Please Don't Let Me Be Lonely Sharon Forrester: Silly Wasn't I From Sharon (Vulcan, 1973). "Don't Let Me Be Lonely" also on Trojan Seventies.
I'm definitely not that deep of a reggae collector but I do have a yen for good reggae soul songs and that's what drew me to both of these albums. The Lara LP was a bit of an impulse buy - I hadn't even really heard much of it but decided that Studio One + 1970s + female singer = worth a shot. And it turned out to be a pretty good one in my opinion as Lara's bright and light voice on a song like "Close To You" has a dreamy, summery charm to it. What's so striking is that Lara then drops about two or three octaves for "Our Love," getting all sultry and seductive with one of the album's main highlights. She sounds so damn smooth here. From what little I know, Lara was mostly a backing artist though she had a few solo albums of her own. Alas, she also passed away at only 52, back in 2005, from a stroke - surely before her time.
With the Sharon Forrester - straight up, I bought this LP initially to procure one song: her cover of James Taylor's "Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight." It's not that I have a big thing for Taylor covers but between Forrester's sugary sweet vocals (which remind me a lot of Linda Lewis) and that rich track courtesy Geoffrey Chung, this song has stuck with me ever since I heard it on the Trojan Seventies boxset. It's a gorgeous treatment. "Silly Wasn't I" isn't quite as magical but it's pretty damn good - very soulful with a nice mid-tempo swing.
Anything I know about Forrester, I learned here. Apparently, she was a teenage talent discovered in Jamaica in the early '70s and, at one point, was voted "Best New Female Reggae Artist" but for such a promising beginning, I can't seem to find any Forrester's output beyond this one album and some of the 7"s that came off it.
Jeru: Ya Playin' Yaself (remix) Black Moon: How Many MCs Must Get Dissed (remix) From 12" (white label, 199?)
This may sound strange but I've been looking for this 12" for at least 4-5 years and it's not that it's even that awesome of a white label remix 12" but I can get obsessed with certain songs/records and just need to find them, even if that means waiting a Olympic cycle or more.
I became acquainted with it through Vinnie Esparaza - we used to do a monthly party called Joyride in San Francisco (people who went to 26 Mix, holler!) back in the early '00s and he'd often play this remix of Jeru's "Ya Playin' Yaself" that I never heard and I liked it enough - at the time - to want to go find it. BUT because it was a white label 12" and because Vinnie didn't even remember where he got it, it was a hard single to track down and I patiently had to wait until it showed up on eBay (which it did, finally, the other week) and just hope no one else out there had the same silly obsession.
Like I said, the remixes are ok but that Jeru definitely doesn't sound as good now as it used to! (Oh, the irony). That said, I dig the bassline (which I think T-Love has also used) on it and the way in which it sort of plays off Prermier's style of that era without being a straight bite. The Black Moon remix is similarly decent though it's not touching the OG.
Any of my '90s heads out there know who actually did these remixes? At one point, I think I heard it was some DJ Spinna thing but I don't know if I believe that still.
My NPR.com song list tracing the Charmels' "As Long As I've Got You" through 40 years of music and then some just ran. It includes one song off the El Michel's Affair's new Enter the 37th Chamber album. Check it out: 'C.R.E.A.M.': The Story Of A Sample : NPR Music
After awhile, it’s hard to know what exactly to write about a Numero release. They’re so ridiculously consistent with their quality of full-length releases – now at 26 total (Note: this is #27; #25, a book/2LP release, is on hold temporarily) and this doesn’t even factor in their Asterisk and Numerophon subsidiaries – it’s really hard to nitpick.
Their latest Eccentric Soul series release, Smart’s Palace, focuses on the Wichita, Kansas, soul scene from the 60s through the mid-70s. The Smarts, who left town for California and came back, get top billing on this album, due to their varied roles in the music scene of Wichita. They played instruments, they played/wrote originals and covers, and owned a restaurant/club.
Two songs from the compilation have previously been featured on the Jazzman label’s Midwest Funk compilation from 2004 (and has since issued in the US by Now Again): “Tell Her” by Fred Williams and The Jewels Band and “A Day In The Life” by Chocolate Snow, led by the Neal family. The latter is a complete revamping , as popularized by Wes Montgomery, of the Beatles tune. Add a synth to the mix, and you'd have a tune that rivals 9th Creation's “Bubble Gum” with its groove.
Accompanying the instrumental of the Chocolate Snow track is its vocal treatment, previously only available on a test press, entitled “Inflation,” although the lyrics were completely changed from the Fab Four version. This go-round, “A Day In The Life,” featuring C.C. Neal rapping (in the early 70s sense of the word) hard times and job hunting, features a subject that may hit close to home for many in today’s economy.
Different songs have different reasons of why they're enjoyable. L.T. And The Soulful Dynamics' first cut on the album has a nifty bass riff while “Barefoot Philly” by the Smart Brothers has a funky sax including a strange popping trick John Smart did with his reed to imitate a drum.
Other songs fall flat such as Hard Road's “If You Really Love Me.” The second offering from Fred Williams and The Jewels “The Dance Got Old,” a song that mentions popular dances of the day and how they got, well, old is not a particularly original spin on the concept as it even tries to riff on the Tighten Up. If the dance got old, then why play a spin on it? Chocolate Snow's Christmas tune, a novelty song, is the most uninspiring song on the set. With lyrics like “Let me be your Christmas card,” I can see why they might be left out in the cold for Christmas.
In summary, while it's not the most riveting compilation that Numero has brought forth, as some spots shine brighter than others on the disc, it's certainly not a disappointment either. By the end of the Smart's Palace, you'll have clicked your red heels, taken off your headphones, and be back home, all while enjoying the ride you've been on – even if the road was a bit bumpy. So ease on down the road; after all, it's got heart, Smarts, and isn't afraid to fail.
As a music scholar/writer, I attend a fair amount of conferences, many of which include interesting and provocative talks and papers on all things musical/cultural but hands-down, my favorite annual event is the Pop Conference at the Experience Music Project in Seattle. I just got back this weekend from it and even after eight years, it's still a constant inspiration and source of much intellectual fodder.
Nona Hendryx was the opening night keynote, interviewed by two dear friends of mine, Daphne Brooks and Sonnet Retman. Hendryx has had an incredible career in pop music, spanning back to the 1960s when she was a member of Patti Labelle and the Bluebelles, to their 1970s incarnation as Labelle and then onto a solo career since the late '70s that has included collaborations with the Talking Heads, Dusty Springfield and Peter Gabriel. It was tough trying to pick one song from her massive discography to highlight but I really loved her story about working Laura Nyro on the Gonna Take a Miracle album for two reasons. First of all, I have been playing the hell out of this song lately (more specifically, Alton Ellis' version) and second, Nona made a poignant comment about how, back then, a collaboration between Labelle and Nyro - unlikely as it may have seemed to folks -could be as easy as saying to one another, "hey, I like your music, you want to do something with me?" No managers, agents or attorneys to fuss about - artists could simply agree to work together (at least, this is the halcyon world that Hendryx painted).
Rutgers' Christopher Doll gave a fascinating paper that uses musicology to argue that there's such a thing as a "sexual chord progression." If I'm not mistaken (and I didn't take very good notes here), I think he's talking about the E-A-D progression that you can hear in everything from Neil Diamond's "Cherry Cherry" to "I Can't Get No (Satisfaction)" by the Rolling Stones to "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana. Given that I'm not musicologically trained I could be totally misrepresenting all of this so just take it with a grain of salt. In any case, his argument is not that the progression itself has some inherent sexual quality; rather it's that it's come to be associated with the idea of sexual frustration as evinced by its use in many different songs that have similar topical themes, perhaps most famously the Stones.
Doll (if I recall correctly) traces the crossover moment of this chord progression from blues to pop/rock in the form of "Louie Louie," that ubiquitous party song most often associated with the Kingsmen but originating with songwriter Richard Berry and recorded by him with the Pharaohs. I had never heard Berry's original and I totally dig it, especially in how one of the Pharaohs uses his baritone voice to mimic the bassline.
Van Truong gave an intriguing paper about the role of "migrant sad songs" in linking diasporic subjects with concepts of home, history and memory. She was primarily speaking about her own father and how his love for Vietnamese folk songs of the 1960s is one of the few ways through which he'll speak of the past. As an end example, Truong offered up a few songs from Onra, a Vietnamese French producer (with a notably Dilla-esque sound) who traveled to Vietnam and returned home with both Vietnamese and Chinese records and use that as raw material for last year's Chinoiseries CD. It's not as aggressively stylized as, say, Flying Lotus, but Onra has a nice sense for mood and texture, especially on the soulful "I Wanna Go Back" (plus, peep that industrial vinyl grime creating static!)
Greil Marcus plumbed the depths of Nan Goldin's "Ballad of Sexual Dependency" by focusing on the imagined songs left out of that exhibit and his #1 choice was Lonnie Mack's "Why," a surprisingly underrated deep soul ballad from the veteran Memphis blues man. The conventional wisdom around why Mack's vocal contributions have gone less appreciated is that his Whiteness made him a difficult person to market to the R&B audience of the 1960s and "Why" actually languished for over five years after being initially recorded until the Fraternity label finally decided to put it out.
Not having seen Goldin's exhibit, I can't say if this song does or does not belong within it but I can certainly understand the appeal of a song whose desperation resonates in crack in Mack's voice when he screams "whhhyyyyyyy" on the three choruses, especially the final one where, if I recall properly, Marcus suggests Mack "lets the flood gates open" and you can hear the raw emotion pour fourth with terrifying power.
5) Rhythm Controll/Chuck Roberts: My House From 12" (Catch-a-Beat, 1987)
Some of you might remember Seattle's Michaelangelo Matos from the "Apache" post he graciously reposted for Soul Sides in 2005. That was originally an EMP paper and this year, Matos tackled the returning use of the "dance music's national anthem", i.e. the "My House" acapella (by Chuck Roberts and Rhythm Controll) from a then, small house 12" released in 1987. Apart from his history of the acapella and its continued use throughout dance music, Matos also argues that it is damn near impossible to "train wreck" this in a mix, in other words - you can throw this acapella over practically ANY instrumental and it will still sound good. He even played a few examples to prove his point.
This perked my curiosity enough to try it at home and you know what? He is completely correct. This acapella can "work" with many beats you might try to throw under it. Seriously, try it (play the acapella in a web browser and then load up another song on your computer's mp3 program (iTunes for example) and see how they synch up). Quite impressive!
I have to confess, being a relatively rock-ignorant kind of guy, I've never gotten very deep into Joplin's catalog except to know that she certainly had a thing for covering R&B songs. Maybe it's for facile political reasons, but I suppose I've always leaned more towards listening to her source material than Joplin herself but Lauren Onkey's paper on Joplin made me reconsider my prejudices and I was especially struck at her example of Joplin performing "Maybe," a song originally recorded by R&B girl group, The Chantels. Onkey (whose paper on Black British musicians in Liverpool preceding the British invasion was one of my favorites of 2008's conference) isn't trying to rescue/recuperate Joplin; rather, she's coming from the other direction, arguing that most analyses of Joplin have tended to elide how heavily her performance and musical tastes were taken from Black R&B artists, such as Otis Redding, and especially female artists such as the Chantels, Erma Franklin, and many in Jerry Ragavoy's R&B stable. Joplin's performance of "Maybe" is good vocally - she definitely reforms the song in her style and image - but you should also see how she did it live:
There's just something a little forced and awkward about her movements here, with her violent jerks when she wants to emphasize the rhythm peaks in the song.
7) Asha Puthli: I Dig Love From Asha Puthli (CBS UK, 1973)
To me, the hands-down highlight of the conference was watching Asha Puthli bring down the house (repeatedly) during a lunchtime talk she gave to Jason King. I wrote about Puthli before, way back when, and I've been derelict in not following up sooner given how interesting and eclectic a career she's had. (I'm working on catching back up, very soon).
I decided to pull one of her cuts out of the archives, "I Dig Love," a cover of the George Harrison song but probably flipped in ways that Harrison likely wouldn't have imagined. During the lunch talk, Puthli explained that the bubbling noise was her gurgling champagne. Awesomely flossy.
Surprisingly, Asha's LPs have never had a US release before (they're now available digitally however, which is good). Hopefully, that will be a situation that rectifies itself soon.
8) Before Carl Wilson was introduced for his paper this year, a joke was made about how he's so big, even James Franco is showing him love. The truth is though, Wilson's book on taste and criticism (ostensibly based around writing about Celine Dion) is quite extraordinary. I just started it recently and it's exceptional, heady thinking about how we form our opinions, especially via music. Perhaps it's apropos from an author on a book about Celine Dion to do a paper on Auto-Tune and in the course of describing the history of Auto-tune as a form of technology-assisted voice manipulation, Wilson played this incredible (though also quite creepy) 1939 performance by Alvino Rey performing "St. Louis Blues."
For a less disturbing variation using a similar talk box technology as Rey, there's also Pete Drake's "Forever" from the early '60s which is a haunting composition all its own (even without a steel guitar puppet).
 Without trying to confuse the hell out of people here - the intro to "Louie Louie" uses a very common and familiar chord progression of its own, especially within Latin music: a I, IV, V. However, this is NOT the progression that Doll is associating in his argument; he's referring to the more subtle chord progression on the bassline AFTER the intro that you hear on the Kingsmen version of the song. At least, I think that's what he was referring to.
 Marcus was specifically talking about the slideshow + soundtrack version of "The Ballad," and not the photo book, which he considered less powerful in the absence of the music that accompanied the slideshow.
Oops - late pass needed. I meant to tell folks that the uber-rare Lyman Woodard Organization, Saturday Night Special LP has gotten a deluxe reissue from the folks at Wax Poetics. However, they only made 1500 and apparently, the WP store is completely sold out, just leaving retail sites with remaining copies. I've heard that Dusty Groove should be getting in one last batch of them: get 'em while you can.
Soul-Sides is giving away THREE copies of the new release by Mulatu Astatke and the Heliocentrics courtesy of K7/Strut. Answer the three questions below for your chance to win. Many thanks to K7/Strut for the giveaways, and to you, our readers, for your continued support of Soul-Sides!
Even if you don't think you know all the answers, give it a shot. You can't win if you don't enter!
1. Contest ends at midnight on April 26, 2009. Entries that arrive after that time are ineligible. 2. Only US addresses are eligible. Sorry international readers! 3. Should there be more than three contestants with all correct answers, three names will be chosen in a drawing of those who answered correctly. Should less than three people answer correctly, then winners with all correct answers will automatically win with the remaining winners to be chosen by a random drawing. 4. Your first response is your official and final response. 5. You are only eligible to win one of the three CDs.
1. Name the Ethiopian label for which Mulatu Astatke recorded many of his classics in the late 60s and 70s. 2. Collaborating with Mulatu on the new album are the Heliocentrics who are led by this drummer. 3. A song on the new album, Inspiration Information Vol. 3, is named after an instrument used by Ethiopian minstrels. Name that instrument.
E-mail your responses to elueckin AT hotmail.com and put Mulatu in the subject line.
The folks at Thirteen/WNET have added even more episodes from the old show Soul to their website, including a killer set with New Birth and the Nite-Liters. You also have to see their "young people's show, especially the last performance where Jimmy Briscoe and the Beavers cover "Hot Pants." Ridiculously good.
Folks really need to appreciate and understand what an incredible resource this is. It's not just that these performances are being brought back from the past, but the quality of the video and audio is pristine and as a time capsule, it's hard to imagine a better preserved scenario. It blows my time every time I visit.
This won't do justice since you really need to watch the performance, but I love, love, love the fact that the Nite-Liters took their awesome funky instrumental "Do the Granny" and then splice in Bill Withers' "Grandma's Hands". Here's a snippet from that performance (but watch the video!)
The Nite-Liters: Do the Granny/Grandma's Hands From Soul! (Nov. 1, 1972)
Aside from my Beatles kick I've been on lately as I am eagerly anticipating the recently announced remastered reissues, I've been a bit of a jazz head lately with the recently reviewed P.E. Hewitt Jazz Ensemble and now this Ethio-jazz album from the renowned Mulatu Astatke and his new-found friends in the Heliocentrics.
Astatke, a vibraphonist and pianist, who has worked and performed with the likes of Duke Ellington and Phil Ranelin, met up with the Heliocentrics early last year. The groups hit it off so well that they decided to record a full album.
Inspiration Information Vol. 3 follows in the line of releases from Strut that pairs up current artists/producers with their musical influences from a variety of backgrounds – kind of like the Red Hot + series from the last decade. The album is nearly entirely instrumental – allowing the arrangements to do the talking. One stunning example is “An Epic Story.” It has a haunting riff to it and feels almost operatic (not at all surprising since Astatke has been working on one) with its dark undertone and wide assortment of instruments featuring a nice, understated harp.
It wouldn't be a Heliocentrics release without some semblance of funky psychedelia. “Addis Black Widow” is a rollicking tune that makes you feel like you're trying to tame the lions on a jungle safari... or maybe they're trying to tame you? Elsewhere “Masenqo” features one of the few spots where you hear singing on the album. With its many moods, it goes from jazz-piano beginning to featuring the title instrument, an Ethiopian single-string violin... and then the drums thud their way in. The vocals are just dying to have Timbaland sample them for an off-kilter beat that he's known for.
Bottom line: if you dig the Heliocentrics, you'll enjoy this release as well. If you've never heard a Heliocentrics-featured album, this is as good of a place as any to start. Mulatu and friends do not disappoint here.
Johnny and the Expressions: Now That You're Mine From 7" (Josie, 1966)
Barbara Mason: Hello Baby From 7" (Arctic, 1966)
I don't buy enough 7"s. No, seriously; I never got as invested as peers of mine, more out of laziness than interest. I mean, 45s are great because they're small and portable and let's be honest - it's not often you find LPs where the ratio of great album cuts outweigh the good singles. I'd probably rather tote around Ray Barretto's "Right On" given the choice between that an carrying Power but let's also be honest that I'm cheap and sometimes, copping the 45 is massively more expensive than buying the exact same song on LP.
That said, there is an immense pleasure in getting good songs inexpensively on 45; it's a win-win! That's how I feel about these two 7"s, both of which (I think) I picked up at Academy Records during my NYC trip the other week.
The Johnny and the Expressions was a real surprise because my only real familiarity with Josie is via the Meters (who recorded their first three classic albums for the label) but Josie had many other acts signed to them, including this sweet soul group lead by Johnny Wyatt. I don't know a ton about him or the group except that Wyatt, a decade previously, had been part of a doo-wop group in Los Angeles called Rochell and the Candles but neither that group - nor Johnny and the Expressions - ever became consistent national figures. This single, "Now That You're Mine" is pure sweet soul magic, especially with the background harmonies and Wyatt's seductive tenor crooning atop a simple but heavy track. Listen to 1:12, when the two sets of voices crossover one another. Butter.
Barbara Mason I was more familiar with - she recorded heavily with the Arctic label, including at one highly sought-after Northern single but "Hello Baby" is easily the best thing I've heard from her and it's about, oh, 1/26th the price of the other single. Again, the background singers pull their weight here, especially with the antiphonal echo they supply to Mason's own rich voice. I love the happy swing of this but there's also some subtle melancholy overtones running beneath too (or at least, that's how I hear it).
Both of these have been in heavy rotation of late; hope you enjoy them too.
Speaking of early '90s stuff I've been digitizing, I finally got around to digging out my copy of 45 King's famous "Spread Love" bootleg that combines the a cappella vocals of Take Six with one of the all-time, greatest drumbreaks, Ike and Tina Turner's "Cussin', Cryin' and Carryin' On." I don't know if 45 King was the first to figure out that this sounded amazing once looped, but it's stuff like this that words like "phat" were invented to characterize. The slap on this is so deep and wide, it's the breakbeat equivalent of Teahupoo.
This song has been bootlegged numerous times - I have it on three different 12"s, which doesn't include the Bozo Meko 45 that came out a couple of years ago. I don't believe this ever had a formal release but if anyone knows what it first came out on, let me know.
The "Spread Love" break (I've also seen it referred to as TKTKTK) pops up repeatedly, even now - the Eli Escobar track uses the same one, this time, interspersed with a lil Tears for Fears for a cool, 2 min track that made the blog rounds in 2007.
Funkmaster Flex feat. 9 Double M and Tragedy: Six Million Ways to Die From "Sad and Blue" 12" (Nervous, 1993)
The Masters of Funk feat. 9 Double M: Go Bang From 12" (Freeze, 1992)
I've been digitizing a storm lately, trying to bulk up my digital songs options for DJing and I was revisiting some of my favorite singles from back when I first started DJing in 1993. I always remember that era for all the DJ-oriented party-style/breakbeat records - a hip-hop sub-genre that I often associate with folks like 45 King and Kenny Dope pioneering and by the early 1990s, was being dominated by at least two labels that come to mind: AV8 and Wreck (the latter was a subsidiary of Nervous). Most of these featured instrumental tracks based off whatever was banging on the radio charts and but vocally, it was far more likely to find some ragamuffin than rap verses.
However, sometimes, you'd catch one of these with some actual rhyming on it and the two that I always remember from the time were the first two songs above. Even today, I still have no idea who the hell Nubian Crackers were (how Unkut's Robbie E. hasn't interviewed these guys yet, I don't know) but I knew their 12"s were always pretty tasty and when they first dropped "Do You Want To Hear It?" it featured a new duo out of New Jersey called Artifacts. This was before "Wrong Side of the Tracks" jumped off and I don't know how many people paid that close attention to this 12" (Big Beat didn't put a ton of promotion behind this single if I recall) at the time but I've noticed, since then, it's gathered quite the following. Fun bassline bounce here and it was cool to hear the NCs reuse the same fuzzed out guitar loop from the Politicians' "Free Your Mind" as Professor Griff had flipped.
Funkmaster Flex's "Six Million Ways to Die" was actually a b-side to "Sad and Blue" (which was pleasant enough but otherwise paled in comparison). I don't remember where the whole "six million ways to die" hook first came from - I'm assuming its from dancehall but I don't know who gets credit for first inventing it - but it's a catchy enough refrain. The beat that Flex hooks up after is a monster but here's where things get a bit weird: the song features a guest verse from Tragedy aka Intelligent Hoodlum which is almost word for word the same as he did on "Funk Mode," a song from his Tragedy: Saga of a Hoodlum album that also came out in 1993. That's not a big deal except that "Funk Mode," produced by K-Def, uses the same Lou Donaldson, "It's Your Thing" loop that Flex has on "Six Million Ways to Die" and both of those seemed influenced by Diamond D's use of the same loop on the 12" version of Brand Nubian's "Punks Jump Up to Get Beat Down". Maybe it's just a coincidence but the timing of "Funk Mode" and "6 Million" always felt weird to me. No matter - the song's hot one way or another and frankly, I always preferred 9 Double M's verses on there to Tragedy's anyway.
And yeah, speaking of that...I always figured Nine would have a bigger rap career than he did. By the time he had changed his name from 9 Double M to just Nine (remember "Whutcha Want"?), he had already graced a handful of singles, "6 Million" being the most prominent and with that straight up grimy voice, he was an easy MC to remember. My absolutely favorite 9 Double M song was off of an earlier single by the "Masters of Funk" (presumably Funkmaster Flex and Todd Terry since both men get credited here). What's confusing to me is that I can't tell who's actually responsible for the track - Funk or Terry - unless both men collaborated. Either way, 9 Double M graces the "Flex's MIx" (which is identical to "Tee's Nine Mix" except the latter has no vocals on it. It's confusing) and besides dissing Das Efx (a popular pastime in those days), he sounds like he's having a ball here, interspersing his gangsta rough posturing with Batman special effects sounds. (Shout out to DJ Ajax, whose Jax Tracks mixtape is where I first heard "Go Bang."
 Have you ever heard the demo version of the song? It's a mind-blower considering how awkward the demo version sounds compared to the final version which is certified classic.
Chairman Mao writes up a great post on NJ producer Tony D who died last weekend in a car accident. He includes links to some excellent Tony D beats, including one of my favorites, Blvd. Mosse's "U Can't Escape the Hypeness". And let's not forget this classic.
Lijadu Sisters: Life's Gone Down Low From Danger (Afrodisia, 1976)
(New comments:) Ok, so technically speaking, I actually have never posted this song before, at least, not on its own. I did post it (I think) as part of a snippet from DJs Matthew African and B-Cause excellent Soul Boulders mix-CD, probably the most influential mix I've heard in the last few years based on how many of its songs I've tried to hunt down after first hearing them on there.
"Life's Gone Down Low" has been practically at the very top of that list; I just love the slow burning funkiness of the song and having twin female voices doing the vocals made it all the better. Alas, given that copies of this are really only to be found in Nigeria, it happens to be a legitimately tough LP to come by at any price.
Like the Mighty Voices of Wonder, I also scored this (finally!) on my NY trip and appropriately enough, I got it from JP over at Good Records which happens to be the same place Matthew originally scored his copy. (Moral: Good Records is one helluva spot to score African LPs of all stripes. You should hear the Orchestre Poly-Rhythmo de Cotonou album I got there too...hot damn!). And with that..., so concludes our 5 year retrospective. What I plan on doing (if I can manage the time) is to bundle most (I won't be able to do all) of the 20 songs I've run through and put it on a limited edition CD that I'll give away at gigs and may make - in very limited quantities - available through the site. This whole spin back has just a way to say "thank you!" to everyone for supporting the blog over the years. It's been my honor and continued pleasure to do so.
We're going to throw a 5 year anniversary party in Los Angeles, probably the first Thursday of May - stay tuned for that!
(New comments:) On my recent NY trip, I picked this 7" up at Big City and not only did it mean the end of a nearly three year wait, the timing couldn't have been better.
To explain: this was the one single off the excellent Good God! compilation I really wanted; I just loved the sound of it and at the time, it didn't even dawn on me that the Mighty Voices of Wonder were covering Sam and Dave's big hit, "I Thank You." I just thought it was a sick gospel funk tune with a bangin' intro. Turns out...it's a cover (so you know that'll score bonus points with me).
But more recently, I also realized that this 7" was recored at Double U Studios in Ecorse, MI, the focus of that incredible Downriver Revival comp I reviewed for NPR the other month. That just made the single all the more special and when I flipped through a stack of 45s at Big City and saw it sitting there, I just stared for a moment to make sure it really was it and then promptly said: I'll take this.
Tracklisting: 1. El Green Hornet ~ Mauricio Smith (Mainstream) (Latin Jazz) 2. Cat Fish Bag ~ Johnny Zamot (Grande) (Latin Jazz) 3. Mia's Boogaloo ~ Ozzie Torrens (Decca) (Boogaloo) 4. Going Nowhere ~ Freddie Rodriguez (UA Latino) (Latin Soul) 5. Drag Sway ~ Jarito y Su Combo (True) (Shing-a-Ling) 6. Kush ~ Antonio (Chocolate) Diaz Mena (Audio Fidelity) (Latin Jazz) 7. De'se Mismo Trago ~ Pete Bonet & Louie Ramirez (Fania) (Salsa) 8. La Banda Llego ~ Orlando Marin (Fiesta) (Mambo) 9. Echa Pa' Aca ~ Gilberto Sextet (Ansonia) (Descarga) 10. Oh That's Nice ~ Pete Rodriguez (Alegre) (Boogaloo) 11. You've Been Talking About Me Baby ~ The Latin Souls (Kapp) (Latin Soul) 12. La Bruja Negra ~ Joe Torres (World Pacific) (Latin Jazz) 13. Wild Horses ~ Joe Cain (Time) (Latin Jazz) 14. Quiere ~ Jack Costanza (Clarion) (Mambo) 15. Congas Callejeras ~ Conjunto Sensacion (Tropical) (Conga) 16. Descarga A & J ~ Johnny Rodriguez & Angel Rene Orq. (Mardi Gras) (Descarga) 17. Cacumen ~ George Guzman (Fania) (Descarga) 18. Taste of Honey ~ Willie Rosario (Atco) (Boogaloo)
Also, the folks at Truth and Soul have a special Tribute to Isaac Hayes EP they put together, with the El Michels Affair covering songs such as "Shaft," "Walk on By" and "Hung Up On My Baby." Check for it!
And just to complete a trio - Matthew Africa has re-uppped his awesome "Twee Funk" mix of children's soul/funk records again. Don't sleep!
(From the original post:) "This LP is easily the best thing I've heard in months. I just cannot get enough of it and am marveling at its overall consistency and sheer sublimeness at times. I feel sheepish that it took me this long to get around to listening the Impressions' solo albums but if they're anywhere near this good, I'll be copping the catalog soon.
I've been trying to figure out, in my own head, just what makes the sound of this album so incredible to me and so far, the best I can come up with is: everything. The vocals, the melodies, the rhythm section, the sense of drama, the sense of delicate lightness, the lilt in Mayfield's voice, the hooks that haunt you; take your pick. I haven't been this enamored by a soul album since...I don't know...discovering Eddie Kendrick's People...Hold On (and that's one of my all-time favorites).
Bottomline: if you can't feel "I'm Loving Nothing," well, there's just no hope for you. ;)"
(From the original post:) "Joe Bataan's "Ordinary Guy" is not just a fan favorite - he's recorded it five times (and released it six) - but it's also a song integral to his own sense of self; he may be a star but in his own mind, he's still just a regular Joe (you saw that coming, right?) From the man himself: "While in prison, we did a lot of experimenting with songs. I had first heard the title “Ordinary Guy” in prison in Coxsackie, so I eventually rewrote the words, came back home, put ‘em to music. The song makes me cry sometimes when I see the reaction of people. In New York, it is so popular. People just love that song, and I guess the words mean a lot. “Hey, I’m just an ordinary guy, don’t expect anything else. That’s me” and I’ve always been that way. Having sung the song and how I have endeared a lot of people, how they felt about it, only influenced me more [to] give more of my heart than almost any other song. It describes me.""
"For reasons not entirely clear, Fania decided to re-record the song to release on single. For the most part, this 7" version isn't wildly different from the LP except that Fania brought in pianist Richard Tee. Tee changes the opening to the song, giving it a stronger presence, especially with a striking arrangement that sounds very much like the beginning of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell's "Precious Love." This is probably my favorite version of the song, precisely for that intro which gives the tune such a rich, soulful feel to it."