Friday, July 25, 2008
Music Is The Vernacular Of The Human Soul...
...and I've been dyin' to speak to my people through some sounds.
Hope that all's well with the soul kids in the place to be. Time's been straight kickin' my ass lately, but instead of cussin', cryin', and carryin' on, here's some love from the crates as my penance and peace offering.
Until next time---be easy, fam...
"Cicero Park"---Hot Chocolate (zShare)
"Cicero Park"---Hot Chocolate (savefile)
One of my ultimate jams when I was a kid was Hot Chocolate's "You Sexy Thing", which inspired me to believe in miracles and make up some unforgivably crazy-ass impromptu dance moves. Some of that silliness wasn't necessarily a good look for me, but what can I say? I was high as fuck on heavy doses of Soul Train, cherry kool-aid and boundless youthful exuberance...
At any rate, it took me a ridiculously lengthy period of time to discover that Hot Chocolate was worth diggin' for beyond that one scratchy 45 record I had in my collection. This oversight was due in part to the fact that I spent many of my formative years living in the musical abyss of a city that, for inexplicable reasons, didn't boast a single R&B radio station. As a result, the version of "Brother Louie" I'd heard on repeat was the one by Stories, and I was well into my teen years before I happened to stumble upon "Every 1's A Winner".
One of the things I eventually came to realize was that this interracial UK funk/soul outfit had often put forth material that was far more serious-minded and somber than the lighthearted, unpretentious vibe of "You Sexy Thing" may have immediately suggested. Tackling issues such as racism, suicide, the nuclear arms race, the Jonestown Massacre and other socio-political subject matter, much of Hot Chocolate's output defied categorization as "mindless boogie" or trite disco trash. Despite their apparent efforts to produce a relatively significant and meaningful body of work, the group was (and still is) widely ignored or harshly criticized by the record-buying public outside of their devoted following in the UK.
"Cicero Park" is the title and opening track on their 1974 debut album, and it provides an excellent example of what makes Hot Chocolate an intriguing and essential listen for music enthusiasts. With the repetition of foreboding lyrics such as "don't let it happen in your world" and "life is dying out", the song paints a vividly descriptive portrait of a decaying world, utterly bereft of love and hope. After hearing all of their records, I've drawn the conclusion that Hot Chocolate's lead singer and chief songwriter Errol Brown was equal parts Superfly, disco king, and unhappy bastard. "Cicero Park" is undoubtedly reflective of the latter. It's "mood music" to be sure, but the heaviness will surely resonate with those who are dysphoric, pissed off and/or completely out of Prozac.
There is much more to the group's history and legacy (such as how their career jumped off with a reggae version of "Give Peace A Chance"), so educate thyselves, children.
"Coming From Behind/Wish Someone Would Care"---Irma Thomas (zShare)
"Coming From Behind/Wish Someone Would Care"---Irma Thomas (savefile)
Hopefully it's not necessary for me to introduce you to the undisputed Soul Queen of New Orleans, especially since her music's been featured here several times over the past few years. My enthusiasm for her tremendous artistry was revitalized recently when one of my readers sent me a vinyl rip of In Between Tears, an album that I'd never been fortunate enough to come across in any of my digging expeditions. It's available online, but my Visa's already on the verge of a serious meltdown (thank you, George W. Bush).
Anyway, my interest in the LP has been twofold: I want to collect every Irma joint on wax at some point before I depart from Earth and this particular record was produced by Swamp Dogg (aka Jerry Williams, Jr.). Swamp and Irma (that should be a comic strip) worked together briefly early in 1970 while she was on Canyon Records, cutting the single "I'd Do It All Over You" (b/w "We Won't Be In Your Way Anymore"). What happened after that, like so much of soul music history, gets a bit murky.
According to most accounts I've read, Thomas resumed her work with Mr. Dogg in 1973, releasing a few sides and the In Between Tears LP on the newly-formed and terribly-named Fungus Records. However, in double-checking my facts, I came across some conflicting information at Deep Soul Column, which quotes Thomas as saying that she and the Dogg were only in the studio together on one occasion, and that the material for the album was actually recorded during their sessions for Canyon.
Reading the account at Deep Soul Column, it sounds as if Thomas was slightly bitter with Swamp about the fact that he took credit for the "Coming From Behind" monologue, which was paired with a remake of her timeless classic "Wish Someone Would Care". Quoting from the information at DSC, Irma allegedly stated the following: "Jerry wanted to fill in the album, and I suggested that we do `Wish Someone Would Care' with the monologue, and he said `fine'. Jerry took credit for the monologue, but that's my monologue, and I was doing it long before I recorded it for him, since 1964." If this is true, I'm as troubled by this as I was when Nas and Jay had beef. I mean...damn y'all...can't we all just get along?
However it came to be, this medley is nothing short of phenomenal. Thomas manages to be feisty, cynical, wise, sarcastic, intense, and gut-wrenching all at the same time. It's a fantastic journey that she ushers the listener through, climaxing in what one might describe as complete and utter vocal frenzy. Some might call it screaming, others will call it soul...
Last year, Swamp Dogg released Two Phases Of Irma Thomas, which contains the original recordings from In Between Tears, as well as his 1993 reissue of the LP, released as Turn My World Around . I haven't bothered to check this out yet, but from what I've heard, the revised version was somewhat lacking as far as many soul fans were concerned. Dogg removed a couple of songs, switched up the order, synthesized sounds, and generally modernized the recordings in a way that was evidently offensive to some purists. Can't review something I haven't heard, but I will tell you that it should be worth buying for the originals if nothing else.
Irma Thomas: Dig deeper...
Swamp Dogg: Dig deeper...
The origins of S.O.U.L. (aka Sounds of Unity and Love) can be traced back to a battle of the bands contest that was held in Cleveland, OH in 1970. The funky combo triumphed over the competition, winning $1000 and a recording contract with Musicor Records. They headed to NYC the following year, recording a single called "Down In The Ghetto Parts I and II". The song made some noise on a regional level, so Musicor invited them back to New York to record a second side. Shortly thereafter, the group headed into the studio and unleashed their raw funk energy on a wonderful little record called What Is It.
What's memorable about these guys isn't their songwriting, or even their musicianship...it's the unbridled passion and contagious energy of the grooves that they created and performed. Despite the fact that much of the album consists of covered material, S.O.U.L. managed to pay homage to their musical predecessors without sounding like a counterfeit version of (insert the name of a legendary figure such as James Brown or Charles Wright here). The LP didn't produce any hit singles for the group, but it certainly aided them in amassing a loyal and enthusiastic cult following.
S.O.U.L. released a few more albums after What Is It (including Can You Feel It, which remained on the soul charts for five months), but for whatever reason, I've always preferred the somewhat unpolished, choppy and occasionally improvisational sound of their debut. Over time, they undoubtedly became more seasoned and refined, but by that time they were quite obviously taking notes from more mainstream groups such as The Temptations and The Spinners. What Is It possesses a certain charm for me...a true soul gem in the rough.
The whole album is worth listening to if you've never had the pleasure, but "Soul" has always been one of my favorite joints on the record. Lee Lovett's monologue may seem on the surface to be some fairly basic "let me rap to you" type shit, but it's kinda smooth the way he articulates the essence of soul in words that just about anyone can understand. With all your money, you can't buy it. Even if I wanted to, I couldn't give or lend you any...
S.O.U.L. was more of a phenomenon in Europe than in the United States, a truly unfortunate oversight on the part of American listening audiences. Whether you're seeking good music, phenomenal breakbeats, or just a groove to help you make it through the day, the Sounds of Unity and Love may be just what the funk doctor ordered...
"Cleveland Is The Reason"---KiD CuDi (zShare)
"Cleveland Is The Reason"---KiD CuDi (savefile)
While we're on the subject of artists outta Cleveland, I have to take a moment to acknowledge one of the latest upstarts from The Land, KiD CuDi.
First off, I have to say this in case you didn't hear me the first time---I have a potentially unfair bias against anyone who uses "lil", "young" (especially if it's spelled without the "o", for shit's sake), "kid", "boy", "or "girl" as part of their moniker. I know that there are exceptions to this somewhat arbitrary rule, so please save your stories about how Lil' Bow Wow helped you negotiate the difficulties of life in the fifth grade. However, I'm exposed to so much music that I need to have some guidelines for discernment, and so far, this one has worked pretty well for me. That said, I'm willing to eat my words as it pertains to (cough, sputter) CuDi.
CuDi's humble beginnings saw him recording his first track on a karaoke machine in his friend's basement at the age of 15 (it was a freestyle over the beat to Wu-Tang's "It's Yourz", by the way). Since then, he's relocated to Brooklyn, signed with A-Trak's Fools Gold label, toured the U.S. and Canada, and been the subject of much hype on the internets and in hipster magazines. What's particularly amazing about the buzz surrounding CuDi is that until last week, he hadn't even dropped an official mixtape, let alone a CD.
When A Kid Named KuDi dropped on July 17th, there was quite a bit of fanfare to say the least. The release party was sponsored by the likes of 10.DEEP, Heineken, Red Bull, and Belvedere Vodka. Plain Pat, Nick Catchdubs, and 88 Keys provided the music, and Kanye West stopped by to show his support. Damn, ya'll...am I the only one who remembers when mixtapes made their debut by appearing in the back of a hustler's broke-ass station wagon?
Anyway, despite the fact that A Kid... is being shamelessly pimped in the real world and all over cyberspace, I still had to give it a listen because I've been diggin' KuDi since I first heard “Day N Night” quite some time ago. There are a lot of recycled beats in the mix that threaten to make the tracks come across as a bit stale, but KuDi's gifted enough on the mic to resuscitate these sounds by blessing them with a fresh perspective. KuDi boasts a wide range of influences that includes artists such as A Tribe Called Quest, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Roots, Queen, Run DMC, Biggie, Coldplay, 2Pac, My Chemical Romance, Al Green, and Ratatat. This varied combination of styles and sounds has given the MC a diverse palette to draw inspiration from, and his eclecticism and artistic flexibility are already quite evident despite his lack of a proper release. One of the lines from "Cleveland Is The Reason" that resonates with me for obvious reasons is "I play The O'Jays while I'm turnin' lanes". So do I, KuDi...so do I.
If you haven't copped the mixtape yet and you wanna, you can download the whole damn thing via Fools Gold.
*From The Ugly Truth Instrumentals
"I Feel Good Today"---Reanimator (zShare)
"I Feel Good Today"---Reanimator (savefile)
*From Music To Slit Wrists By
At a place and time in hip hop when the lion's share of producers lack creativity, originality and/or complexity, it seems more vital than ever to be knowledgeable about those who continue to push the boundaries of the art form in innovative and exciting ways. Consequently, I felt it was imperative to do something to spread the word about Reanimator's music in the likely event that major media outlets such as MTV and XXL continue neglecting to acknowledge his existence.
I became familiar with Reanimator via his solo offering, Music To Slit Wrists By, as well as the production he's done on Sage Francis' LPs. Of the many qualities I've come to appreciate about him, two seem especially worthy of mention: his consummate crate digging skills and the virtually unparalleled time and effort he puts into crafting his beats. Not only does he have a knack for discovering a variety of unique and frequently untraceable records to sample on his productions, he also spends ridiculously lengthy periods of time perfecting his output before it sees the light of day. Word to all the producers who brag about crafting beats in under an hour: usually that shit sounds simplistic and underdeveloped. Not so with Reanimator, who often lives with his creations for two or three years before reaching the point of satisfaction.
In May of this year, Reanimator dropped his first effort with MC Prolyphic, an album called The Ugly Truth. Prolyphic is an immensely talented rhymesayer, but I was immediately drawn to the brooding, yet terribly lovely beats I heard on the LP.
I had a difficult time deciding which one to share with all of you, but I eventually decided on "Flashlight". It's not necessarily my favorite beat on the album, but it was the only one I listened to and immediately recognized the main sample. I won't reveal the source to be on the safe side, but suffice it to say that RZA flipped the same song in one of his escapades as Bobby Digital. I'm a longtime fan of RZA's production style, so don't get this twisted...but using his flip as a comparison point gave me all that much more respect for Reanimator's production abilities. The way he meticulously layers elements of sound to create incredibly lush sonic landscapes is nothing short of amazing.
You'll find Reanimator's releases by way of Strange Famous Records and you can also dig deeper by checking out his MySpace page.
"Beside You"---Jerry Butler (zShare)
"Beside You"---Jerry Butler (savefile)
The Iceman cometh...last, but never least...
I sort of take it for granted that most soul aficionados are already aware of Jerry Butler's extraordinary legacy and unquestionable impact on soul, gospel, doo-wop, and R&B, so there's no pressing reason to reinvent the wheel in that regard. This particular song has just taken on a new significance in my life as of late, so I decided to include it in this post as somewhat of a last minute decision.
"Beside You" is from Butler's 1969 Mercury release, Ice On Ice. This album and its predecessor, (The Iceman Cometh) are two of my favorites from his canon of works, due in part to the smooth soul style that he cultivated with the invaluable production and co-writing assistance of Gamble and Huff.
Last year, these two seminal LPs were combined on a single Collector's Choice CD, so if you have no other means of acquiring this material, be sure to keep an eye out for the re-issue.
Word From Your Moms:
"The universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper."---Eden Phillpotts