|Bar-Kays: Gotta Groove (Stax 1969)|
If the songs were just a little more consistent, this just might have been THE greatest funk album Stax had ever released - but ultimately, the nod has to go to the Mar-Key's "The Great Memphis Sound". Nonetheless, there's just so much goddamn great Southern funk on here that it almost pains you to realize that maybe 1% of all soul albums are vaguely this outstanding. It's not like every cut smokes but the one's that do are like backhand slaps plus a pinky ring punch to the forehead. They are: "In the Hole" (what I'd imagine God's theme music to sound like if he was from the South), "Funky Thang" (not as good as it sounds but good), "Jiving Round" (I love this one - it just has such a dope, swinging guitar riff and rocks the dancefloor), "Street Walker" (drills you harder than a dentist's visit), and of course, "Humpin" - their best known (and most sampled) song from this album. For real - if you don't have this, or don't at least know to have this, you're a hopeless funk fan who probably has Wild Cherry in their crates.
|Bataan, Joe: Salsoul (Mericana 1973)|
Besides his later Fania recording, "Afrofilipino", this is the only other Bataan album I've been able to find at a reasonable price. Like much of the NY Latin soul scene LPs, many of his earlier '70s works are in tremendous high demand. I have no way to compare this to his other works, but "Salsoul" sounds pretty damn good even if Bataan's qualities as a vocalist leave much to be desired. He just sounds so...how can I put this?...'70s. His vocal style is something that came and went in that decade, along with big, ugly medallions and chest hair. As it is, the best cuts tend to be more instrumental dance numbers, or at least songs where Bataan gives the mic a break. These include "Fin", a quick moving mambo(?) and the two B-side monsters, "Latin Strut" (richly instrumented) and "Aftershower Funk" (a killer, Latin-infused dance cut that breaks down mid-way into a more down-tempo piece). "Johnny" is one of the few vocal cuts where I could get into Bataan, mostly because the arrangement was strong and I also liked the boogaloo-influenced "Muchaco Ordinario".
|Bazuka: S/T (A&M 1975)|
From what I can figure out, I have an Argentian press of his American album (bummer, though I had scored some ill Latin American funk LP). Much of it is proto-disco funk and nothing particularly dazzling in that respect. In fact, most of it is downright cheesy - peep the array of cheap synthesizers hitting you on "T.C.'s Inferno" and you can indeed imagine yourself in hell. For an album that prominently features the Rhodes, they pretty much drown out the beauty in the instrument in an overproduced mesh of bad ballads and wanna-be dance cuts. But don't front on the ultra-funky "Dynomite" ("Dinomita" on my LP) which kicks off with a fly, open breakbeat and goes into some slick inner city funkage. Solid horn and piano arrangements only improve it. A hot little number which I believe is available on 45 as well.
|Blackman, Don: S/T (Arista/GRP 1972)|
Far be it from me to criticize another man's hair-do but Blackman's bead n' shell adorned locks just look wrong - reminds of what James Earl Jones rocked on his head in "Conan"...scary. Likable album though - very funkadelic stuff from the early '80s (and obviously so). Thick, fat grooves throughout, especially on the chunky electric basslines but there's a nice balance too with piano and vocals that gives the arrangements some nuance and character. I really dug on "Heart's Desire", a gorgeous little soulful ballad and of course there's the rich, melodic "Holding You, Loving You" which has been sampled a few times - a f*cking great arrangement all the way through. The more dance-oriented songs are a little too P-Funky for my taste - it's actually the ballads that stand out the most on this album - so fresh, so clean, so full. Ironically, Dave Grushin (who worked on, 13 years earlier, the "Winning" soundtrack mentioned in this Soul Sides installment) produces this album too. I think this has been reissued recently, at least if my memory of Dusty Grooves is correct.
|Breakout: S/T(?) (Pronit 197?)|
The problem with Polish psych records is that, when you don't read Polish, it's pretty damn hard to figure things out. I'm pretty certain Breakout is the name of the group since I've seen other albums by them but lord knows what the title of the album is - I just can't figure it out from the cover art or label sticker alone. This is all really beside the point once you start listening to the album though - you may not be able to speak a
|Brown, James: I Can't Stand Myself (King 1968)
Get On the Good Foot (Polydor 1972)
Hell (Polydor 1974)
As my James Brown re-education continues, these have been the latest installment. "I Can't Stand It" comes a little too early to be an all-out funk monster but you can't front on the title track - slickery and snappy as all hell, split between Parts 1 and 2. "Get On the Good Foot" is one of the all-time great JB funk jams, complemented by other hot cuts like "I Got a Bag of My Own", "My Part/Make It Funky (Parts 3 & 4)" and "Funky Side of Things." Also notable for "Recitation by Hank Ballard" where Ballard breaks down exactly why James is the king o' funkiness - ill! Last, but certainly not least, "Hell" is hot as...well,...you can guess. The first side alone is packed the brim with funk slappes: "Cold Blooded", "My Thing", "Sayin' and Doin' It". Add in another couple of scorchers sprinkled thorughout the rest of double-LP and you have an unqualified banger. Look, there's no secret here - if you don't have these LPs, cop 'em.
|Brown, Ray: Brown's Bag (Concord Jazz 1976)|
While most of this is a straight-ahead jazz album, peeep "Keep On Pumpin'" (proof that sometimes the name can tell you all you need to know). The intro breakbeat never quite catches fire but it accomplishes the job it needs to, which is to spark the song off. The loud, blaring brass section just adds fuel to the fire and the song makes for a rockin' club floor spinner despite its conventionality. Be aware though - this is the only song on here worth slapping down on the turntable.
|Buari: S/T (RCA 1975)|
I first saw a copy of this up on the wall at Groove Merchant and later found a copy in a Seattle antique mall. This mid-70s Afro-funk album is fairly hard to track down - it's not like Buari really blew up, he was more or less trying to surf on Manu Dibangu's wake. But there's no faulting a solid line-up which includes Bernard Purdie on drums (word!) and Paul Griffin smacking down on keys. Most of the grooves are fairly intense - not as heavy as the rhythmic drag of Fela Kuti's tracks - but Buari's album isn't skinny on the sonic density either. All things considered, this is one of the most solid instrumental albums I've come upon in the last few months -every track on the A-side smokes on some level, and the B-side has a solid winner in "Iro Le Pa." My personal favorites include "Karam Bani" which starts the album - one of the tighter arrangements on an album that tends to go for more open, flowing grooves. Everyone seems to jock "Then Yebtheyet" which I don't understand - it's perfectly likable, but this mid-tempo track is far from extraordinary. Wouldn't you much rather shift into higher gear with the hyperactive "Ku Ka Maria" which features Pretty Purdie and Buari trading breaks at the end - serious sickness.
|CCS: Whole Lotta Love (Rak 1970)|
I picked this up on a random recommendation - CCS stands for the Collective Consciosness Society and they were a British pop-jazz fusion outfit from the early 70s. The jazz influence is most obvious in the considerable brass section on the album and the rock half is brought - naturally - through guitar and thrashing drums. There's an interesting range of songs from here - from slow, ballads like "Living In the Past", to blasting, blaring swing jazz pieces like "Walking". The album's best known however for its cover of Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love". On the funk scale, this is more of a producer's album than a dancer's if you know what I mean but there's some great arrangements on here for certain, especially with the snappy rhythm section. Songs worth peeping include the jazzed out version of the Stones' "Satisfaction", "Waiting Song" has these very spacey electric keys on it, and "Whole Lotta Love" rocks out haaaard for guitar lovers. Personally, my favorite cut was "Dos Cantos", an eight minute song that songs much like a David Axelrod composition - funky in a downtempo way, with these great flute melodies that float in early on that are later accented by Cameron's electronic piano.
|Cleaver, Elridge: Dig (More 1968)|
This spoken word record, capturing a 1968 speech by Black Power icon - and the author of "Soul on Ice" - Elridge Cleaver. Many might take issue with his politics (I can dig) but no doubt, there's some great spoken word bits on here and it's no surprise that folks like Blackalicious and others have lifted portions of it on their records. Can you dig it?
|Coulter, Clifford: Do It Now! (Impulse/ABC 1971)|
A blender of soul, jazz and most definitely blues, Coulter's album has one of the greatest covers I've seen, showing a black man kicking a cop in the rear. The joke though is this - while the cover says "Do It Now!", the flip has "Worry About It Later" and shows the same brother, strapped down in the electric chair. Wicked. As a soul jazz album (which this comes closest to), it's not amazing but has some notable songs. "Yodelin' In the Whatchamaname Thing" is pleasant but unremarkable, "Do it Now" almost sounds like it's going to drop into an early Kool and the Gang type cut but that never quite manifests. The jam though is "Mr. Peabody" which is noisy as hell with the constant chatter but there's a steady breakbeat anchoring this soul/blues song. "VJC" is the best instrumental cut with its funky slide feel to it. It's a little too long to really work it but it reminds me of some of the great Prestige funky jazz sides.
|Crane, Les: Desiderata (WB 1971)|
What the f*ck is this sh*t? If I had the patience, I could get into some of the history behind the poem "Desiderata" which means "those things most needed or to be desired". Bur frankly, I just don't have the energy. All you really need to know is that there are two passable funk cuts on here - the first is "Friends" which opens with slow, open break that's reminiscent of "Put Your Hand In the Hand". It'd be an ok song if Les Crane didn't intone on it with his life lesson lecturing. There's another open break, more metallic and sparse, on "Courage". This is definitely one for producers only or else people into really hackneyed spoken word.
|Cuba, Joe (Sextet): Estamos Haciendo Algo Bien! (Tico 1965)|
A boogaloo classic featuring Joe Cuba's massive hit "El Pito ("I'll Never Go Back to Georgia"). It's on a billion and one Latin breakbeat comps and for good reason - it's such a slick number and the whistle breaks are just icing on the cake. Also worth checking on this, another boogaloo cut, "Y Tu Abuela", the slow, burning groove of "Lo Bueno Ya Viene" and the fast-paced rhythm blowout of "Clave Mambo". An essential Latin LP.
|Daly Wilson Big Band: S/T (Festival 197?)|
On Tour (Reprise 1973)
In Australia '77 (Hammond 1977)
While it's pretty f*cking dubious to have a tobacco company be your sponsor (even if this was the '70s) no faulting the Daly Wilson band for their output. Without a doubt, they're responsible for some of the funkiest big band material I've ever heard, especially their self-titled album feat. the soaring female vocals of Kerrie Biddell. That album in particular has killer, killer arrangements and strong funk elements. Start with "Dirty Feet" which starts with a slick breakbeat (apparently sampled by Mobb Deep for "Shook Ones") and a little guitar interplay which I know has been looped but I can't remember by who. The real gem on Side A thogh is "In Necessity", one of the illest female funk cuts I've heard in the jazz vein - Biddell just screams on this one and the band is down with her every step along the way. Same goes for "Today" which kicks off Side B - it sounds pretty innocuous at first with a laid back flute melody but when the brass section kicks in you know sh*t is on. A guitar riff hammers down, complemented by a strong backbeat and Biddell comes pushing in again. "On Tour" has promising covers - "Shaft", "Fire and Rain", "Ode to Billy Joe", "2001", etc. but not everything's gravy. This is all instrumental and there are definitely parts with that typically over-produced big band sound. What's best on this are more or less snippets, like the bassline on "Fire and Rain" and "2001". The only overall solid cut is "Ode To Billy Joe" which almost sounds like something Dennis Coffey would have put together. In contrast, the '77 album is better both because the arrangements are stronger and they pick some ill covers like "Slaughter on 10th Avenue", Deodato's "Superstrut" and the "Theme of Policewoman" (it's hard to go wrong with cop themes and blaxploitation soundtracks). The highlight is the cover of "Theme from S.W.A.T." which is generally hard to f*ck up (though I've heard it done). It's not ill-tacular but it's likable. Other cuts worth checking for is their take on "The Entertainer" from "The Sting"
|Dickerson, Walt: This Is Walt Dickerson (New Jazz 1961)|
An absolutely gorgeous album led by vibraphonist Walt Dickerson. I learned about it through Cool Chris at the Groove Merchant when he put it on his list of essential LPs for The Fader magazine. The compositions on here are beautiful - every cut. My personal favors include the ballads "Elizabeth" and "Evelyn" as well as the mid-tempo, unexpectedly happy "Death and Taxes"
|Director Series #28 (Media General 198?)|
This is somewhere between a library and sound effects record. Most of it is just wack - really, really, really bad '80s synth sh*t. But on track 7A, called "Mellow Theme", there's a beat just waiting for the Neptunes or Swizz Beatz to jack. Promise.
|Earland, Charles: Live at the Lighthouse (Prestige 1972)|
One of the better live soul jazz albums I've heard, this is also one of the few Charles Earland albums I can really get into. While his cover of "We've Only Just Begun" can't really escape the sappiness of the original, at least half of the songs on here are heated like hair curlers. Peep the breakbeat that begins "Freedom Jazz Dance", all congas and cymbal licks. Dig on the steady, driving rhythm of "Smiling". Get whipped off the frenetic pace of "Black Gun."
|Electric Prunes: Release of an Oath (Reprise 1968)|
This LP, more or less, kick started David Axelrod's late '60s career as a rock/funk fusionist (though it wasn't his first major production/arrangement job). The success of this record catapulted Axelrod into his storied Capitol catalog and was directly behind his new album on Mo Wax. By now, it's been reissued so widely and talked about in every interview that it seems redundant to sing its praises but how can you not be in awe of songs like "Holy Are You" and "General Confessional" and their massive, dramatic power? No to mention just the general funky flavor of "Individual Confession", "the Adoration" and "Closing Hymn". So essential it embarrasses me that I didn't have this album years ago.
|Ferrante and Teicher: In a Soulful Mood (UA 1974)|
Ferrante and Teicher, like Enoch Light or James Last, pumped out more pop instrumental albums that any sane person would want to keep track of and most of them are unmitigated crap. And when you listen to cheese like "Love's Theme" and "Break Up to Make Up", no doubt, you'll be ready to dismiss this LP immediately too. But not so fast - listen to "You Are Everything" and the smooth Rhodes keyboard that sparkles on there. And then jump to "Christo Redentor" which sounds like something David Axelrod might have produced five years prior if it wasn't for the acoustic piano that plinks down on the melody track. And then what the hell is this "Hong Kong Soul Brother" about? Straight up blaxploitation song with some more icy cool Rhodes laid over it. Greedy bastard - want one more? "Lady Love" which starts with this loop so ill you'll want to take an aspirin. If it wasn't for the overly dramatic strings, it'd be a helluva song but even with that liability, it's still a damn fly composition.
|Franklin, Erma: Soul Sister (Brunswick 1969)|
Maybe the title is unintentionally ironic but Erma Franklin is Aretha's oldest sibling - part of a stunningly talented family. This 1969 album, produced by Willie Henderson ("Funky Chicken" fame) clearly shows that Erma doesn't have anything remotely close to Aretha's blessed voice but she's no hack either. Her version of "By the Time I Get to Arizon" is one of the few that I really like. But check her cover of "Light My Fire"! It's the exact same rhythm track that Young Holt Unlimited flips which leads me to assume that this was the original version that Young Holt later turned into an instrumental since they did the same thing with Barbara Acklin's "Am I the Same Girl" to make "Soulful Strut". Damn funky either way. "You've Been Cancelled" is a nice mid-tempo soul groover, as is the A-side closer, "Cant' See My Way" which almost sounds blaxploitated in its deep basslines and sharp guitar twitches. Henderson really likes heavy drums, as evidenced on "Hold On, I'm Comin" - not a superb song but then again, I never liked the original that much. I have to say though, I was disappointed by her cover of "Son of a Preacher Man", even though it's a mid-tempo swinger with more heavy drums. The arrangement just isn't that tight and after being spoiled by Dusty Springfield and Aretha's version, I expect more. No such let down on the hot "Baby I Love," which Erma's younger sister made famous - it rocks fiercely and has these great horn stabs at the intro.
|Fulsom, Lowell: Tramp (Kent 1967)|
Ah, what a dope blues song "Tramp" is. From the hard, crashing guitar riff to, of course, the chunky breakbeat, no wonder this was a classic that'd go on to get covered by everyone from Otis Redding to Joe Tex to the Mohawks. Much of this album is more standard blues but check the hard rockin' "Year of 29" which has similar elements to "Tramp" plus a boogie woogie piano line rolling through it. And then there's "Tramp's" instrumental sibling, "Pico" - the drums don't kick as hard but it's a cool number all the same. Note: this album was reissued on Kent a few years later, but with a different cover. What you see here is the original cover just in case you want to make absolutely sure which version you're getting.
|Funk Inc.: Superfunk (Prestige 1973)|
With David Axelrod behind the production board, how can this not be - well, super funky? Start with the slow and drizzled licks that wet their cover of "Message From the Meters." I could have done without the vocals - they don't match the track's excellence - but you'll live through the experience. Skip the likable but undistinguished blues-tinged "Goodbye, So Long" and get down with "The Hill Where the Lord Hides" which switches out of the intro organ whines to a rhythmically rich conga-laden instrumental track. So butter it'll clog your arteries. The first two songs on the B-side don't quite gel but there's no doubting the superiority of Funk Inc's cover of Barry White's "I'm Going to Love You". C'mon now - what, you think they'd f*ck that one up Smoooooooooth.
|Gregory, Johnny (Orchestra): TV's Greatest Detective Hits (Compleat 1986)|
Everyone loves detective themes. I've seen so many covers of the themes from show's like "Kojak", "S.W.A.T.", "Police Woman", etc. that it's easy to lose track. The reason is obvious - many of them were inherently dramatic, maybe even a tinge sinister to convey the seriousness of the shows themselves and this makes for great scoring. Johnny Gregory's take on them doesn't quite match Lalo Schifrin's intense edginess but for a big band take on cop shows, it ain't bad neither. The version I have ended up being a mid-80s reissue of an album which I can only assume came out originally in the 1970s (with an entirely different cover in black). The hot track is their cover of "Kojak" which includes the bassline riff and drum break used on Casual's "Lose in the End". Don't miss the end of "The Six Million Dollar Man" which swings into an intense, uptempo Latin breakdown of crashing cymbals and congas. Other likable covers: "Police Woman" and "Cannon" and "Route 66" has a cool, old school Latin lounge vibe to it. There's some spacey Moog configurations on their covers of both "Perry Mason" and "The Rockford Files" though neither is worth writing home about. Thanks to Joel W. for putting me up on this LP.
|Grossman, Steve: Some Shapes to Come (PM 1974)|
This fusion-era jazz album featuring Jan Hammer on Rhodes and Moog has two solid soul jazz cuts. "Zulu Stomp" kicks off with a long, slow break and then drops in funk elements similar to Herbie Hancock's "Headhunters" LP. While it's not quite fast enough to be a killer dance floor tune, it still packs a punch. Meanwhile, "The Sixth Sense" does open with more of Don Alias' drums (just not a break) and swings into a slick, mid-tempo funky jazz mover. Alias is just drilling it on the drums throughout the whole song and the arrangement is preferable to "Zulu Stomp" as far as I'm concerned. Overall, the album isn't an extra fatty butter stick - many of the other fusion songs are just too dense in their playing style with the slim exception of "Alodian Mode" which features Alias on the congas and bongos. Not the sickest in the soul jazz vein but still worth checking for.
|Grushin, Dave: Winning OST (Decca 1968)|
While most of this soundtrack is unremarkable, it does include the very, very funky "Gasoline Alley" which just hammers with horn hits, a breakbeat and rolling bassline. Makes me curious to see the scene it scores in this Paul Newman movie on car racing. Howard Roberts covered the song on a David Axelrod album ("Spinning Wheel") but this original rocks out either way. Well worth checking for.
|Hassles, The: Hour of the Wolf (UA 1969)|
Damn, listen to Billy Joel get down? This is one of his early, pre-solo groups and while most of it is pretty tame folksy rock, "4 O' Clock In the Morning" is just this amazingly soulful, funky cut that just sounds incredible. It's a little hard to describe but imagine a really dope soul-jazz composition with vocals laid over 'em and there you go. Well worth tracking down.
|Heath Brothers: Marchin' On (Strata-East 1976)|
If you only listened to the A-side of this album, you'd find it to be a quite pleasant, straight-ahead jazz LP, with the warm flute tootings of Jimmy Heath, rich bassline strumming of Percy Heath and Stanley Cowell cameoing on piano and mbira. "Maimoun" is just a gorgeous, mellow song closing out the first side and their cover of "Watergate Blues" isn't bad either. But add on the four part "Smilin' Billy Suite" and you have the makings of one of Strata-East's greatest albums. Sure, it helps that Q-Tip sampled "Suite II" for Nas' "One Love", thereby introducing the album to the rest of the world but like Monty Alexander's "Love and Happiness", the sum of the song is far greater than the sample. By this time, most folks have heard "Suite II" in some fashion or other - Redman used 16 bars of the song on "Supaman Lova Pt. 3" for chrissake. Cowell's use of the mbira thumb piano is just fantastic, giving the whole song a different vibe from traditional jazz instrumentation. But it's always surprised me how little love "Suite I" receives. While almost all the suites use the same basic melodic riff as a common anchor, "Suite I" focuses mostly on Percy Heath's basslines before his brother Jimmy's relaxed flute drifts in. "Suite III" is also pretty solid - much more dramatic and dissonant, largely thanks to Albert Heath's playing of an African double reed woodwind. "Suite IV" brings back the major refrain once more, this time on sax, with a lighter, more upbeat feel than the previous three Suites. All in all, an undeniable masterpiece of the soul jazz era.
|Hendrix, Jimi: Welcome Home (Astan 198?)|
This is one Germany's Astan imprint, which, I'm assuming, put out a series of Hendrix bootlegs. The most well-known of them is probably "Second Time Around" which features "Got To Have It", a raw drumbreak sampled by the Beastie Boys. But all of these seem to be taken from similar sessions. The fidelity is total crap (hey, it's a bootleg) but whoever's working the drum kit is cranking it up on these records. "Welcome Home" is probably the least appealing of the three. Yeah, there's a cover of "Get Out Of My Life, Woman" but it isn't that great and while "Drivin' South" has flavor, it's not a crash-boom-bang affair...being too long is just one of its problems.
|Hines, Ernie: Electrified (Produce 1972)|
For all its potential, this comes up woefully inadequate (same deal with Eugene McDaniels' "Outlaw"). The only cut worth having is the cut everyone knows - "Our Generation", source of Pete Rock and CL's "Straighten It Out". That's butter - the rest of this soul album is milquetoast.
|Hutcherson, Bobby: Natural Illusions (Blue Note 1972)|
The majority of this album is pretty dull, over-produced, proto-disco jazz - full of sweeping strings that bury the simple beauty of Hutcherson's vibe playing ("Montara" this is not). But lo and behold, there's "Rain Every Thursday" which sparks off with a hot little breakbeat and the song itself - while still burdened by Wade Marcus' string arrangements - isn't half bad on the groove meter. And personally, I did like the mellow cover of Billy Strayhorn's "Lush Life" but mostly because it's one of my all-time favorite ballads.
|Jackson, Chuck: Through All times (ABC 1973)|
While not an extraordinary soul record - I'm not a big fan of Jackson's bellowing vocal style - this has some markedly solid production going for it. There are few entire songs that are bustin' out, but there's at least one bonafide break banger and three potentials elsewhere. The title track was once featured on a "Sack of Soul" comp and I'm positive it's been sampled somewhere - a big, open break at the beginning, then a dope walking bassline and THEN some smooth guitar licks complete the package. Who used this? Anyways, the opening bars to "Rollercoaster" are vaguely funky - Ed Greene's steady drum beat is prominent like Al Jackson's but the song, as a whole, isn't a wonder. "Maybe This Will be the Morning" kicks off fairly hot too - reminds me a lot of Ceaser Frazier's "Feel the Funk" and I'm surprised no one's tried flipping this. "I Only Get This Feeling" is another one that opens very well but then slides off into so-so land as a song. A much better album in moments than for the whole package.
|Labelle: Moon Shadow (Warners Bros. 1972)|
Go Patti - the '80s soul diva churns up some slick funky soul on this early '70s album. She's no Lyn Collins - or even Ann Peebles for that matter - but there's still some tracks to enjoy. The title cut itself is a gospel-derived soul smasher with strong drumming by "Spider Web" Rice and the latter half is a cool romp of solos by each of the six musicians, including some smooth bass work by Chuck Rainey and a little conga breakdown by Maurice Saunders. Labelle calls for Rice to get down it on a solo but alas, it goes nowhere. "Sunday's News" is a slow-tempo, almost ballad-like track that's arranged superbly and Labelle's vocals just soar across the entire song. And if you need one to heat up the dance floor, try "Peace With Yourself", an uptempo cooker.
|Last, James: Beach Party (Polydor 197?)|
Pretty wackadelic instrumental pop album except for "Happy Brasilia" which is actually a pretty good batucada/samba track - probably the best produced song on the entire, anemic album.
|Latin Jazz Quartet: Oh! Pharoah Speak (Trip 196?)|
While the A-side doesn't get things cooking all that well, the B-side is filled with some superb Latin jazz tunes, beginning with the lengthy "Treasure of Sierra Madre" which is proto-soul jazz if I've ever heard it. Just brilliantly put together in all its elements and mixes Pharoah Sanders' sax wailing against Cornell Dupree's great guitar playing. "Shake a Lady" is a blues-influenced groover but that just sets up "Haarlem", a slick funk tune that sounds out of place compared to the rest of the album but why would you possibly mind? The album ends with the title track, another likable Latin jazz tune that swings lovely on either George Gould or Stanley Johnson's piano.
|Lindh, Jayson: Ramadan (Metronome/CTI 1971)|
I didn't like this as much as Lindh's "Sissel" LP (reviewed in the May '01 Soul Sides installment) but it's still a great one for either funk lovers or crate diggers. It took me a second to make the connection by Cut Chemist used "Daphnia" on part of "Lesson 6" - the melody is clearly the same but for some reason, it just sounded different from Cut's usage. The album has definite funk impulses, especially on "Light House" and its prominent rhythm section which includes congas. That song, like most of the album, tends on the more uptempo side, including "Loading Ramp", the lead song. The arrangements are relatively open, especially for a CTI-related LP but the strong rhythms make for a stable anchor on most of the songs. Whether you're really into Lindh's flute playing is another aesthetic issue altogether but is it my fault that the flute is almost inherently un-funky? Also, as you might guess, with an album called "Ramadan" there's certainly some Arabic musical influences on here, particularly "My Tulip" and "Tuppa."
|Lytle, Johnny: A Groove (Riverside 1961)|
If I'm not mistaken, this is the album where Lytle introduced his great composition, "The Village Caller" - a Latin-influenced number with Lytle playing the vibes like a marimba. A swinging tune that just sounds really, really great. Also features the uptempo "Pedro Strodder" which features a little bit of conga at the end - courtesy Willie Rodriguez" but it's very, very light. This album is obviously too early to get really down and dirty, but it's a very nice jazz LP all the same plus has a dope cover.
|Markay, B.: Its Allrite to Truck All Nite [sic] (Hot Box 1979)|
The 12" itself is a swinging, uptempo Latin disco number that has some sparkling breakdowns throughout its six minutes. But the real reason why this caught my atttention were the two different versions. The clean side is called "Its Allrite to Truck All Nite" (bad grammar and spelling but whatever). But that's the B-side - the A-side is "It's Allrite to F*ck All Nite". Here's the chorus - "it's alright to f*ck all night, it's ok to suck all day". Wicked.
|McDuff, Jack: Down Home Style (Blue Note |
I've said this before but I've always wanted to like McDuff more, like I dig on Jimmy McGriff. But as an organist, McDuff always, always played it too close to the straight-ahead path and his arrangements reflected that same MOR-ness. This one is funkier than most, thanks to him getting down with a Memphis rhythm section, but it's still kind of on the bland side when you compare it to, say, McGriff's "Soul Sugar" (but maybe that's not a fair comparison since "Soul Sugar" is one of the best soul-jazz organ albums out there, bar none). As for McDuff, I still like "Theme From Electric Surfboard", McDuff's standard which always seems to sound like a winner no matter how it's recorded. "The Vibrator" is cool but doesn't really go anywhere special. "Butter (For Yo Popcorn)" is a nice, uptempo swinger and has the best arrangement on the album, especially on horns. His cover of "Groovin" is pleasant but not remarkable - it's useful if you want a slower tempo groover. "As She Walked Away" is a ballad but if you listen in the background, the drummer lays down a nice break which gives the song a funkier feel than it might otherwise cop.
|McNeir, Ronnie: S/T (RCA 1972)|
Alas, the best parts of this album are actually in the interspersed interludes that start off several of the songs - a running narrative b/t McNeir and his lady love. The groove behind their conversation is great - slow and funky - but you usually only get it in snippets. The sole exception is "In Summertime" which goes from the interlude into a full song and maintains the same arrangement. His qualities as a vocalist are ok - he's no Donny Hathaway though. Overall, I was rather disappointed by the album - the arrangements, by McNeir himself, are not that soulful or funky.
|Melody House: assorted titles|
There are two primary reasons why anyone, at all, knows about Melody House. The first is Prince Paul, who sampled "Pease Porridge" off of "Rhythm". The second is Stones Throw Records and my man Egon there, who put out an EP of four songs taken from Sharron Lucky's Melody House series. I'll say this much about Lucky and her husband Harrell - they had terrible, absolutely terrible voices, yet they put out some unexplicably funky children's songs, however unintentional. In fact, they remind me a lot of the skit on SNL that features the older singing couple that goes from show to show. The majority of each album is pretty schlocky - totally cheesy children songs that only a toddler could appreciate - and even then, who knows? - but there's always that cut or two that just exceeds all expectations. Here's the breakdown of these five albums (I've reviewed two other Melody House albums elsewhere), in the order they were released. "Number Fun": Check the mildly funky "Number Exercise" - it won't blow your skull off but it's kind of lively and very early '70s in its big city vibe. "Number Cheer" is a cool bit for mixtapes or a sampler as Lucky exhorts her students to cheer along in classic call-and-response style, i.e. "when I say number/you say one/number/one/number/one". "Alphabet Soup": Not too much here but "The Letters In My Name" hits a nice soul jazz vibe at parts. "Channel Four": There's a dope break running through "How Does a Caterpillar Turn Around" and the Luckies come with a rap (word, I'm serious). This might be the best song I've heard from these cats, mostly because they don't sing that much. "Carpet Square": Ok, who the hell thought to dance on carpet squares? For one thing, they're pretty damn dangerous - especially on well-waxed floors. Second, there's just not much long-range potential for anyone to take carpet square dancing to that next level, knawmean? But at least this album has the very funky "Carpet Drill Team Routine", complete with a nice breakbeat, piano, guitar and bassline interplay. "Clap, Snap, Stamp" has a fast breakbeat underneath too though the song, as a whole, isn't quite as funkalicious as the "Team Routine" "Rhythm Band Time": Get down with the "Bubblegum Boogie". Sample the spaciness of "Randy the Robot", but mostly crack down on "Rock Candy", a midtempo soul jazz groover with no singing (yes!).
|Meters: S/T (Josie 1969)
If you don't know about this one, well, you probably shouldn't be here. Quite simply, one of the all-time funk albums for all eternity. Let's just leave it at that.
|Meters, The: New Directions (Warner Bros 1977)|
"New Directions" - no kidding. For one, David Rubnson and not Allen Toussaint produces this album and you can figure that out from jump. It's unreasonable for us to always want the Meters to slam down that Josie sound, but this album, made deep in disco territory, is pretty far away from the gritty sound of the Meters early LPs. It definitely sounds fairly overproduced though they thankfully avoid any major disco excursions. The better songs include "My Name Up In Lights" which has some solid rhythmic touches. As well, "Funkify Your Life" is pretty good despite the vocoder effect used at the intro - it comes closer to capturing the tight arrangements that Toussaint was known for. Song to avoid - their terrible cover of "Stop That Train." Overall, a pretty blandiose album from the Meters.
|Millennium, The: Begin (Columbia 1968)|
A post-psych/surf album, this has been praised by some as an ideal pop album though I don't think the Beach Boys ever were glancing over their shoulder at these guys. It's worth noting that a bunch of their albums have been compiled into a 3-CD anthology, including this one. For pop fans - hey, I'm sure it's grrrrreat. For funk fans, just stick with "Prelude" which begins with an ill harpsicord riff for about four bars and then these monster drums kick in. Cool Chris at the Groove Merchant said they reminded him of something DJ Shadow would program and frankly, I'm not one to argue with that assessment. It's short - maybe 1:30 tops - but it's damn sweet while it lasts.
|Moments, The: Those Sexy Moments (Stang 1974)|
A recommended soul album best known for "Sexy Mama" which has been well-sampled but really worth getting for the song afterwards - "Next Time I See You". The two songs share similarities in their arrangement style but "Next Time I See You" is superior with this striking shift between a more somber mood and a bright, happy transition that happens on the song's mini-choruses. Gorgeous stuff.
|Mount Rushmore: '69 (Dot 1969)|
Ill psych rock album that has a monster break and guitar combo on the instrumental "Toe Jam" (Handsome Boy Modeling School copped it on their album). I also liked the countrafied funkines of "10:09 Blues"
|Mouth and MacNeal: How Do You Do? (Philips 1971)|
More proof that just looking for samples will lead some unfortunate diggers to buy really lackluster LPs. I don't feel too bad - I only paid $3 for this, but it's still $3 too much for a lame, Dutch rock album that just happened to be sampled by Black Sheep for "La Menage". Will most of you give a flying f*ck about the rest of the album? Hell no.
|New Birth, (The): Ain't No Big Thing, But It's Growing (RCA 1971)|
The funny thing about this album is that the last two times I found it, both copies had a different New Birth album snuck inside - which made me none too happy as you can imagine. I finally found an original copy and was it worth the wait? Mostly. Harvey Fuqua's production is fairly solid though predictable. His covers really don't seem to take advantage of the opportunity though I did like his relatively straight cover of the Jackson 5's "Never Can Say Goodbye"(this speaks more highly of the Jackson's original masterpiece though). The real joint though is "Honeybee", made infamous to all Wu Tang fans but regardless, it's pretty damn ill with its bee buzzing and deep basslinse rolling in.
|Olmsetad, Michael and Peter Derge: The GoGo The Blue Gorilla Show (Blue Gorilla 1978)|
Hmm...a children's record featuring Wah Wah Watson on guitar, Pee Wee Ellis on sax, and Olmstead on percussion. 1978. With songs like "March of the Munchie Men" and "No Time" by the Outer Spaced People", not to mention "The Funky Skunk." Gotta be pretty tight, right? Nope - this whole LP is utter crapola, especially "The Funky Skunk" which sounds like a bad punk tune.
|Overton Berry Ensemble, The: S/T|
While not as rare groovy as their other LPs, there's an absolutely wicked bassline/breakbeat section that comes during their medley of "Jesus Christ Superstar" songs. My buddy insists that it's been sampled (which wouldn't be a surprise, it's dumb ill) but neither of us could remember by who. Definitely worth checking out and the rest of the song makes for a dance floor cooker.
|Parker, Maynard: Midnight Rider (Prestige 1973)|
The more I get into the Prestige catalog, I realize it's such an embarassment of riches for the soul jazz fan. I mean - they have some wack albums - but most of what I've heard from them has been on point more than a sewing machine. This one, by guitarist Maynard Parker is no exception, check the resume: Richard Tee on electric piano, Grady Tate manning the drums and Ron Carter on the bass. The album begins superbly with another great cover of "The World is a Ghetto" (does a bad cover of this song exist?). The title cut is a swinging mid-tempo heater and "Bad Montana" was juicy enough to land on an acid jazz comp. Even their cover of the ballad "Killing Me Softly" sounds good and it's hard for most jazzers to take on pop songs without making 'em sound totally cheesy.
|Patterson, Bobby: It's Just a Matter of Time (Paula 1972)|
This soul album by blues artist Bobby Patterson reminds me a little bit of King Floyd's Chimneyville album though Bobby can't quite grunt as fiercely as Floyd can. Check out "How Do You Spell Love" though, a cool, mid-tempo groover. Then there's "Right On Jody", another , funky soul cut. And then there's "This Whole Funky World Is a Ghetto" - which isn't quite as nice as it sounds but vaguely lives up to its potential. Altogether, not that remarkable of an album but has at least one or two other joints.
|Peebles, Ann: Straight From the Heart (Hi 1971)|
If not her best album, this probably ranks around number two among Ann Peebles' Hi output. Classic Willie Mitchell, Hi Rhythm Section production which means fat drum beats, funky basslines and the searing soul that's made the entire Hi catalog fodder for Rza's SP 1200. Check out the production on "Trouble, Heartaches and Sadness" - melancholy and gorgeous. "How Strong Is a Woman" is upbeat and funkadocious, much of which can be said of "Somebody's On Your Case" which has some sharp drum work by Howard Grimes. Solid album - a must for any Hi fan.
|Pickett, Wilson: Don't Knock My Love (Atlantic 1971) |
Hmmm...Wilson Pickett, recording at Muscle Shoals, with Wade Marcus arranging, with the Memphis Horns as back-up plus Dennis Coffey on guitar - not a bad combo. Check out the psychedelic nuances to "Don't Knock My Love - Pt. 2" and "Call My Name, I'll Be There". "Hot Love" is a superior JB-s influenced soul jam while Pickett's cover of "Mama Told Me Not to Come" is playful and a fun listen. Also peep Eddy Brown's conga interlude between "Covering the Same Old Ground" and "Don't Knock My Love - Pt. 1"
|Pohjola, Pekka: B the Magpie (Love 1975)|
More proof of the depths that DJ Shadow will go to for a sample, this is a Swedish fusion album from the mid-70s. Most of the songs are undistinguished though they're not what I'd call ordinary. Pohjola gets out into some pretty far out arrangements, a few of them on the funky side like the tail end of "Bad Weather" or beginning of "Bialoipojju's War Dream". The part Shadow uses though is from "The Madness Subsides", a drifting, eerie synthesizer melody that became the main melody on "Midnight in a Perfect World." The whole song is rather dreamy even if the guitar section is engineered in a cheesy way.
|Puente, Tito: Top Percussion (Arcano 1977)|
I can only assume this is a reissue of Puente's earlier works since all the songs come out of a July 1957 recording session - there's actually very little information given on its origins. Mongo Santamaria and Willie Bobo guest on the album, making it a powerhouse collective of Latin percussionists. This was recorded, obviously, in a pre-Latin soul era so don't expect to find anything like Ray Barretto's "Acid" or even Joe Cuba's "El Pito." That being said, "Ti Mon Bo" is excellent thanks to a repeating bassline riff that anchors this mid-tempo, slow burner. "Mon Ti" is also worth checking out though it's a little too drum heavy to get into easily.
|Orquesta Soul: Bugalu (Dot 196?)|
Not the best boogaloo album out there but it has some passable fare, namely Latin-fied covers of "Eleanor Rigby", Groovin'" and a fun little vocal ditty for "Let's All Get Stoned" (gasp!) Their version of "Groovin'" is probably the strongest thing on here, mostly because it has the strongest rhythm arrangement.
|Reebop: S/T (Island 1972)|
Personally, I don't know crap-a-dookie about the origins of this album or the artist except that I'm assuming he's an Afro-pop musician (full name:P Anthony Reebop Kwaku Baah). For lack of a better genre, the album fits into the fusion vein but it's not like any of the cheesy fusion work being done at the time. The rhythm section on the entire album is killer and they layer every song with a strong funk impulse. Practically all the songs on here are worth listening to - they're just put together well. The ones really worth checking for begin with "If You Want to Go" which has what I consider to be a great chorus that comes at you early on. Reebop's voice isn't dulcet by any means, but it works in this song which soars on him and the arrangement. "Problems" is another good soul cut with funk tendencies mixed in with rock influences too. "Silly Boy" is a funky, blues-infused cut that finds Reebop mostly mumbling to his own damn self but trust me, it works especially as his percussive blasts come rumbling in. "Softly Weeping" begins with a drum canter of sorts which isn't quite a funk break but it swings nicely regardless. Call this a blues/Afro-pop hybrid cut.
|Ripple Blast Singers: Rhythm and Blues Hits of 1968 (Power 1968)|
Wow, I never thought I'd hear a wack version of "I'm Black and I'm Proud" but from the uninspired "ungh" that kicks off this cover, you know it's not going to do James B proud. Cute for novelty purposes but that's about it. Their cover of Archie Bell's "Tighten Up" is a little better - a little sparse in its fidelity - but since they stay pretty close to the original, they don't mess up too badly. "Light My Fire" is cold but "Stone Soul Picnic" is a pleasant, but again - not as strong as the original.
|Ross, Diana: S/T (Motown 1976)|
Rather disco schlocky but still the best way to get a copy of "Love Hangover", one of Ross' solid classics, without having to shell out major $ for the scarce 12" of the song.
|Simon, Joe: Cleopatra Jones OST (WB 1973)|
Call me nutty but this wasn't that great of a blaxploitation soundtrack to me. The arrangements were a little too thick and cheesy, the vocal numbers didn't do much and there's a severe lack of down and dirty funk. If I had to, I'd either play "Wrap Up" or else the instrumental movie theme but this sure ain't no "Coffy" or "Superfly".
|Solar Plexus: S/T (Randy Masters 1975)|
A very slick and rather strange Brazilian/jazz fusion LP. It's more on the fusion end but the rhythms are unmistakably Brazilian with a little Spanish flavor dashed in too. This is much more of a listener's album and I liked just letting the arrangements run their course. There are definitely funk bits and loops snuck in though all the songs are too long to afford a real dance floor killer (but if you had to, flip on the last two minutes of "Solar Plexus" as the conga breaks just keep on going and going. Almost every song on here is wonderful to just listen to and even when you think it's going to be wack (like on "The Serpent Speaks") it'll end up surprising you. A very pleasant and unexpected find.
|Soul Society: Satisfaction (Dot 1968)|
A likable though not drop-dead amazing pop instrumental album from the late '60s. It's covers galore on this one and there's some solid moments here and there - the percussion arrangements are particularly swingy swangy, but for the most part, I wasn't really tripping too hard off most of the covers. Better songs include their cover of "Sidewinder", "Pata Pata" (which begins with a hot little Latin breakbeat that returns 2/3rds of the way to backhand slap you to attention), "Afro Desia" has some cool Latin percussion behind it too compounded by a smashing breakbeat (not open). Definitely a winner. The B-side is pretty DOA - you can hit the snooze button on "Satisfaction" as the cheesy sax kills the momentum in its tracks. A quick check on Gemm.Com showed this LP valued at over $100 - I can't possibly imagine why.
|Spencer, Leon: Louisana Slim (Prestige 1971)|
Bad Walking Woman (Prestige 1973)
Maybe this is indicative of Prestige's impressive soul jazz catalog in the late '60s, early '70s, but all of their albums seem to have one killer funk tune and the rest tends to be straight-ahead. I've seen it happen with many different Prestige artists but it's so blatant on Leon Spencer's works that it's practically laughable. I mean, this is organist backed up by Melvin Sparks and Idris Muhammad on both albums and he still only manages to pull one hot, funky song off. Here's the secret - just play the title track, it's always the one that smokes. That's how it is on these two albums, as well as his "Where I'm Coming From". Of these two, "Bad Walking Woman" is the better of the two songs but both that and "Louisana Slim" are great soul jazz groovers in the Prestige tradition. "Bad Walking Woman" is additionally notable for a cover that features 100 pictures of women's rears. And this nearly 25 years before 2 Live Crew. Amazing.
|Sweet Apple: S/T (Columbia 197?)|
Try as I did, I couldn't find a damn thing on this group except that it was a mixed soul/jazz/funk band of four blacks and two white players. Produced by Harvey Brooks, most of the songs aren't worth mentioning but "Sweet Apple Jam" is well-named indeed. The source of one of my favorite Grand Puba songs ("Mind Your Business"), this sports a very funky guitar riff that runs throughout while the group plays on for five minutes - unlike other cuts on the LP, this one's all instrumental too. Tasty.
|Tjader, Cal: Mas Ritmo Caliente (Fantasy 1957)|
Another solid early Latin album from Cal Tjader on red, colored vinyl. The more I listen to these, the more I dig on 'em - spicy percussive conga breaks all over the place that rattle off in tasty moments, especially on "Big Noise From Winnetka" as Armando Pezara gets hot on the skins for a long solo. "Cuco On Timbales" rips as well while "Tumbao" is just a gorgeous composition. A really solid Latin album for any beginners to the genre.
|Whole Darn Family: Has Arrived (Soul International 1976)|
This one of those albums with only one good song but damn, is it good. By now, everyone and their unborn grandchildren should have heard "Seven Minutes of Funk" flipped by someone - EPMD, Jay Z, Dru Down, etc. And believe me, it's the ONLY reason you'd ever even glance at this LP since the rest of it is bootay. Thank god "Seven Minutes" is instrumental too because there's no doubt the Whole Darn Family would have found a way to f*ck the song up had they actually sung on it. A b-boy classic.
|Will Upson Big Band: Live at Pinocchio's (Festival 1975)|
On the scale of funky big band, this Austrailan record has to rank fairly low at the bottom though I've heard a lot worse, You'd think it had some potential, with songs like "T.S.O.P.", "Get Down" and "2001" included but the only song that I really could listen to the whole way through was "2001", thanks to a sparser arrangement and the Rhodes keyboard melodies pouncing throughout. "Skybird's" intro guitars aren't bad, but it's more for a sampler than a real funk hound.
|Williams, Mason: The Mason Williams Phonograph Record (Warner Bros. 1968)|
This album is best known for "Classical Gas" which was a major, major instrumental smash in the late '60s and later became ubiquitous - for my generation at least - as the ABC Sports theme. You know - it's still pretty rocking if you ask me. But anyways, "Wanderlove" has a conga break at the front and back end, a pretty slow one at that. The first time I heard it, I thought they were pretty knockin' but on second listen, they're just a'ight. The rest is very schlocky late '60s pop.
|Wilson, Reuben: Blue Mode (Blue Note 1969)|
Foolish, foolish me. I spent so much time trying to hunt down Wilson's later, Groove Merchant albums that I just skipped right over his outstanding soul jazz catalog on Blue Note. This is as good as any other albums I've heard on Blue Note for its funk fare, including Grant Green and Lonnie Smith's notable LPs. Every cut smokes like an Asian airport lounge (word up, my people's ain't too healthy on the tobacco tip) and while Tommy Derrick ain't no Idris Muhammed he lays down nice, chunky breakbeats on practically every song. Frankly, there's no point mentioning which songs are the best, they're practically all outstanding but if you HAD to chose, roll with the B-side juggernaut of "Orange Peel" (uptempo, urgent funk), "Twenty-Five Miles" (mid-tempo, deliberate and soulful), and "Blue Mode", a monster mid-tempo groover. An essential soul jazz piece.
|Wright, O.V.: Memphis Unlimited (ABC 1973)|
It's pretty damn hard to f*ck up an album recorded in Memphis, with Willie Mitchell no less. While Wright's album isn't about to give most of Al Green's best records on Hi much of a test, it's still a worthwhile purchase for any fans of Mitchell's production style. Best songs include the hard-hammering rhythmic drive on "You Must Believe In Yourself", the dramatic "I'd Rather Be Blind, Cripple and Crazy", and the smoky blues funk of "Are You Going Where I'm Coming From". Again - this isn't the most ass-kicking Willie Mitchell album ever, but it ranks solid nonetheless.