Thursday, May 27, 2010

I'll Gather Melodies From Birdies That Fly And Compose You A Tune...

Awww hell...I know. Only a few entries deep, and I've already gone back to relying on my mega-posting superpowers to capture your attention for the next 4 1/2 hours. I still plan to make a swift return to brevity and am working through the challenges of economizing my expression, but I took an unplanned hiatus that I thought worthy of a herculean virtual comeback. I apologize for the weight...and the wait...but I'm hoping you'll pass through more than once if necessary to cop grooves, gain knowledge, and shake your head in dismay at my ridiculous banter. I promise that next time, I won't do this crazy shit again...

Meanwhile~ be easy, soul bambinos...Scholar

"I'll Try Something New"---The Temptations & The Supremes (LimeLinx)
"I'll Try Something New"---The Temptations & The Supremes (YSI)

Even if you're not a fanatical Motown enthusiast, you're probably still aware that The Supremes and The Temptations frequently joined forces, appearing together on television specials and collaborating on both studio and live material. It was obviously an ingenious marketing strategy to unite a couple of top-selling supergroups for various collective projects, but these two entities were cosmically entangled long before Berry Gordy was positioned to exploit the seemingly endless potential of their harmonious fusion.

In the late fifties, following several changes in name, line-up, and location, a doo-wop trio called The Primes began making some noise in and around Detroit. It was the third city where they'd attempted to launch their career, and it seemed they were finally on the right track as their extraordinary performances were becoming the cornerstone of their regional popularity. Eddie Kendricks was emerging as the trio's superstar, and Paul Williams' powerful baritone resounded with a mysterious depth that was remarkably atypical of a vocalist his age. The third member, Kel Osbourne, had been singing with Williams and Kendricks since they'd formed The Cavaliers in their hometown of Birmingham, Alabama.

The Primes had landed in Motor City in a move that was orchestrated by their manager, Milton Jenkins. Shortly after they arrived, Jenkins decided to launch a sister group called The Primettes, comprised of four talented girls from the Brewster-Douglass Housing Project in Detroit: Diana Ross, Florence Ballard, Mary Wilson, and Betty McGlown.

The two groups became good friends and practiced together frequently, but contrary to popular belief, they never actually performed together onstage. As it turns out, The Primettes were in greater demand, laying down backing vocals on countless records issued by Detroit-based record labels. From this point onward, the two groups weathered various changes and took very different paths in pursuit of stardom. However, as you know, they both would ultimately sign contracts with Motown, reborn as The Temptations and The Supremes. By 1964, both of them were enjoying chart success~ The Temptations with "My Girl" and "The Way You Do the Things You Do"; The Supremes with their #1 hit "Where Did Our Love Go" (a track that they personally hated and were coerced into recording, by the way).

Fast forward to the late 1960s, and Motown was expanding, churning out successful singles, and widening their market to reach audiences overseas. However, the label certainly wasn't without its woes, and in some respects, 1968-1969 marked a highly critical turning point in its historic timeline. Their top songwriting team, Holland-Dozier-Holland, had departed following a dispute over royalties. David Ruffin had been fired from The Temptations, and was crashing gigs as well as engaging in a contractual dispute of his own. Florence Ballard had parted ways with The Supremes in 1967, and fans were seemingly less enthusiastic about her replacement, Cindy Birdsong. To say that the label was in trouble would perhaps be an overstatement, but certainly their far-reaching successes could no longer be taken for granted.

In this rapidly shifting climate, what better way was there to ensure a favorable outcome than reuniting The Primes and Primettes? Besides the fact that pairing the two groups was a sure win in terms of sales, racial politics certainly played into the marketing ploy as well. While The Supremes had been highly successful in appealing to white audiences, The Temptations hadn't crossed over in terms of their core constituency. Gordy saw the collaboration of the groups on both television and wax as an opportunity to make The Temptations more commercially viable.

The chart performance of their first studio recording, Diana Ross & the Supremes Join the Temptations, proves that the formula was least if you define achievement in terms of sales. The album reached #2 on the Billboard 200 and spawned a couple of hit singles in the US, not to mention that their cover of "I Second That Emotion" reached the Top 20 in the UK.

From a quality standpoint, the results were slightly less impressive. For aforementioned reasons, the scales are decidedly tipped towards The Temptations in terms of the focal point~ which isn't entirely a bad thing, but who orders a combo platter expecting one lousy ass piece of shrimp? It often feels like The Supremes are primarily playing a supporting role in the mix, and Diana Ross is the only one who has any solo parts on the album. Additionally, all the tracks on the LP are cover versions, which doesn't bode well overall since their interpretations frequently pale in comparison to the originals. To sum it up neatly, the record certainly isn't without merit, but minus the superstar effect, this offering isn't particularly compelling or extraordinary.

In all fairness, their rendition of "The Impossible Dream" is probably the most impressive, but I've always personally been partial to "I'll Try Something New" (the second single from the album). A lesser-known song from Smokey Robinson's repertoire, this particular version features an impeccable arrangement by the almighty Gene Page. Eddie Kendricks and Diana Ross sound lovely together on this joint, and of course only a blood-thirsty psychopath could front on lyrics this adorable! Flyin' birdies, castle-building, givin' love as warm as mama's's fuckin' beautiful, man...

Put your uzi down, pour a big glass of Ovaltine, and go hold hands with the one you love for a while. Then smile, children...'cause you know...sunshine is good for your teeth and shit.

Sampled On:

"Tower Of Ears"---MF Borat (LimeLinx)
"Tower Of Ears"---MF Borat (YSI)

*A remix of Doom's "Gazillion Ear" containing a sample of "I'll Try Something New"

For me, MF Borat is sort of like a collaboration between Osama bin Laden and the Tooth Fairy. Mf Doom (now just ominously rockin' Doom as his monikor) is, of course, the Osama bin Laden of the analogy. We think he's responsible for crafting some bomb ass shit, but rather than waiting around to receive punishment or propers, dude runs for the sand dunes like dust in the wind. Just when we figure he must be dead, he drops a mysterious tape on us, but so much conspiracy's involved, we never know if it's him or an imposter. Thusly, Sacha Baron Cohen's wildly popular Borat character is the Tooth Fairy, because legend has it that he possesses about 204 teeth, 3 of which are in his nose. Since that's just...fuckin' unnatural...the likely explanation is that he copped quite a few of those from under the pillows of unsuspecting, slumbering munchkins. Of course, this contention is also strongly supported by the fact that his character Bruno infamously descended on Eminem dressed in fairy wings and a thong... so...yeah.

As a result, I'm not going to treat the Doom + Borat collaboration as journalistic fact. Many writers are colossally failing to get the tongue-in-cheek element of the press release, but hey...if you believe that a based-out gypsy in Oakland is responsible for making this whole project fly, then please leave all your teeth under your pillow for me tonight. I know this chick from around the way named Polly Dent who'll front me a fortune for a bag of dentures, sun...

*If you dig this, you can snatch up other a few other free and legal MF Borat joints at the official spot (especially "So Good To Me" which simply shouldn't be missed, children)

"Don't Huzzle For Love"---The Apostles (LimeLinx)
"Don't Huzzle For Love"---The Apostles (YSI)

This is such a dope track, I'm disappointed in myself that I didn't share it sooner...

Not to be confused with Jesus' homeskillets or the myriad of other musical outfits who share the same name, these Apostles were a Nigerian folk/highlife/rock/pop/afrobeat/funk/gospel/reggae/kitchen sink outfit whose heyday was in the 1970s. Unfortunately, there's not a great deal of information readily available about these guys on the internet, but the almighty Discogs does have at least some of their releases and catalogue numbers listed. If anyone knows any firsthand information about them, please drop some knowledge in the box.

Up to this point, my broke ass hasn't managed to afford any of their albums on wax, but I have been able to gather a fairly impressive digital collection of their works with the help of my crate-digging cousins around the world. "Don't Huzzle for Love" kicks off their Black Is Beautiful LP, and it's one of those grooves I gravitate towards when I need a spontaneous burst of jubilation in my life. I've also found great satisfaction in attempting to utilize the word "huzzle" in a myriad of contexts, but...yeah...there's probably sort of a bold, geeks-only disclaimer written on that one...

"Back Home"---Yusef Lateef (LimeLinx)
"Back Home"---Yusef Lateef (YSI)

Yusef Lateef certainly deserves more fanfare than I have time or space to give him at this moment, so I'm gonna implore you to dig deeper until I get around to writing a more extensive commentary on his work. To the extent that I really only care to write about what's stirring in my soul at any given moment in time, I'm feelin' a genuine sense of urgency about passing along one of his many masterpieces to you today. I've probably listened to The Blue Yusef Lateef at least a hundred times over the years, but I swear I've just begun to really hear this album within the past couple of months.

Soul children who fiend for sampled ish are undoubtedly aware of at least one artist who's flipped Lateef's material~ The Beastie Boys, Pharcyde, MF Doom, Kool G Rap, Diamond D, Cormega, Aesop Rock and Sixtoo, just to name a few. You know that I'll be the last person to denounce sample-seeking as an avenue to musical discovery, but if you only cop a few selections from his discography, you're not only sleeping...we should keep it real and call that shit a coma.

Understanding that Lateef is a divinely supreme innovator of autophysiopsychic music (sounds emanating from one’s spiritual, physical and emotional being), it's hardly an overstatement to declare him one of the most essential artists in jazz/world music's illustrious history. In addition to being a greatly accomplished multi-instrumentalist, Lateef is also an educator, visual artist, author, philosopher, and composer.

While "Like It Is" tends to rightly be exalted as the standout track on The Blue Yusef Lateef (Atlantic/Wea, 1969), I love "Back Home" for a couple of different reasons. First of all, I have an affinity for his flirtations with blues music, which showcase how masterfully accomplished Lateef is at aurally exploring an incredibly rich tapestry of sounds. I actually consider this to be one of the more adventurous compositions of the bunch, and yet he manages to pull it off as flawlessly as if this style were his forte. Secondly, I make no apologies for my unabashed love of The Sweet Inspirations, who Lateef snagged to add backing vocals for this track and "Juba Juba".

Beautiful, mystifying stuff, children...

"Can't Get Used To Those"---Dimlite (LimeLinx)
"Can't Get Used To Those"---Dimlite (YSI)

Music lovers, feel me on this~ it's bittersweet falling in love with tracks that weigh in at a mere moment or two. It's impossible not to get greedy and just want...more!...but at the same time, you somehow realize that a degree of precision somehow preserves an integrity that often eludes longer compositions. Whatever...all that is essentially bullshit. I'm actually just tryin' to say that I'm enamored with this one minute and 31 seconds of sonic beauty from Dimlite's latest intriguing release, Prismic Tops.

When writers/critics/labels describe music as wonky, glitchy or blippy, I'm not particularly impressed. Those have become terms of endearment in the age of Flying Lotus, and if you're older than 12, perhaps you remember these same mechanically generated adjectives being hurled at the likes of Anti-Pop Consortium and Prefuse 73. Even if you thoroughly read the press release for Dimlite's album, you still can't honestly fathom what the fuck this guy's stuff is going to sound like (quote: "like John Cleese’s rubber face expressed as a post-modern work of musique concrete"). In fact, the only salient point made is that his music isn't likely to be canonized by The Source magazine, which at least lets us know that prismic tops aren't something people can use to pimp their ride. No disrespect to Stones Throw...because I am afraid of Peanut Butter Wolf...but is it even worth mentioning that their brand of hip hop isn't going to sit well alongside the drops and dimes that typically get covered in The Source???


A few rapid-fire facts you may actually want to know about Dimlite, aka Dimitri Grimm: 1) His first two 12"s were released in 2003~ "Sponsored By The Alphabet" got some attention via word-of-mouth and spins by Gilles Peterson 2) He grew up in rural Switzerland where the club scene was non-existent 3) He has several alter egos (isn't multiple personality disorder a prerequisite for being repped by Stones Throw?) and was part of a duo called The Slapped Eyeballers Are Dead 4) He has a quirky sense of humor: "Lullaby For Gastric Ulcer" is a choice title 5) He describes his sound as salty pop rocks.

There you have it, kids...go forth and be amazed that this joint sounds nothing like you'd imagined...

"You Had To Know"---Zulema (LimeLinx)
"You Had To Know"---Zulema (YSI)

My long-winded ass (somehow that sounds all wrong) is officially running short on time, but I have to close with this heartbreaker by Zulema...

The amazing Zulema Cusseaux started out singing with The Lovelles and Faith, Hope, And Charity before making her way as a solo artist. A powerhouse vocalist who could hold her own against the likes of Aretha and Chaka Khan, Zulema (meaning "peace" in Arabic) was a pioneering female artist who wrote and produced quite a bit of her own material. Couple this with the fact that she was a gifted multi-instrumentalist whose work was critically acclaimed, and it makes no damn sense whatsoever that she failed to crack the Billboard Pop 100 even once during her solo years.

"You Had To Know" is a torch song from her 1975 R.S.V.P. album, and constitutes a perfect way to end the relationship we started on the first track of the post...when we were still innocent, in love, and trying something new. Now it's all over and you're holding your shredded heart in your hands~ but you can't quite get over how much you loved that person in the beginning. No worries, was prolly just the Ovaltine...

Dig deeper...

Word From Your Moms

“I believe that today more than ever a book should be sought after even if it has only one great page in it. We must search for fragments, splinters, toenails, anything that has ore in it, anything that is capable of resuscitating the body and the soul.”

“I must tell you that I was always afraid of the fury with which I loved you. It overwhelmed me. I thought it beyond comprehension, therefore my silence.”

“Scar tissue is stronger than regular tissue. Realize the strength, move on.”

~Above quotes by Henry Rollins