musings on music, travel, books, and life from Southeast Asia

Posts tagged ‘Numero Group’

Eccentric Soul

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Over the past decade the Numero Group has been reissuing lost or obscure recordings from the 1960s and 1970s as part of their “Eccentric Soul” series. These CDs are a virtual goldmine of rare soul music treasures. Most of fans of Soul and R&B are familiar with the more popular labels that released great music in the 60s and 70s, such as Motown/Tamla, Stax, Atlantic, Chess, and even smaller imprints such as Hi Records, Okeh, Malaco, and Loma. But during this golden era of music there were hundreds of smaller labels scattered around the USA that released music that rivaled the big companies in terms of quality. Many of these regional labels, however, couldn’t get their records publicized due to lack of airplay, distribution limitations, or financial problems. Thankfully, however, the dedicated music addicts at Numero Group are resurrecting these lost jewels.

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One of those regional labels was the South Florida-based Deep City. Numero has released two separate compilations from that label: Eccentric Soul: The Deep City Label, and Eccentric Soul: Outskirts of Deep City. Holy Sunshine State, where were they hiding these amazing songs? I grew up in Florida, but had never heard of the Deep City label, or most of the artists on these thrilling compilations. There are a few recognizable names on here, such as Betty Wright and Paul Kelly, but the rest are mainly “no-name” artists who cut a few singles and disappeared for the most part. The material on the first volume comes from 1964-68, and there is a distinct Motown vibe to a lot of the songs on there. The final track, “Darling I’ll Go” by Moovers, even sounds like a classic Four Tops tune. The second volume includes two tunes by Clarence Reid, an underrated artist who later gained fame as a funky and nasty costumed character known as Blowfly. Those antics aside, Reid was a very talented songwriter and the song credits on this compilation offers proof: he wrote or co-wrote 12 of the 20 songs. Most of the songs are culled from the period 1966-1971, along with one tune from 1963.

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The very first compilation I bought in this series was Eccentric Soul: A Red, Black & Green Production. Oh my, I don’t know where to begin in praising this CD. I bought the excellent Father’s Children CD that the Numero Group reissued and was so impressed with that one that I ordered this collection of tunes from RBG (Red, Black & Green) Productions, the people behind the Father’s Children recording. Actually, it’s pretty much one man, Robert Williams, who was the genius behind this stuff. He produced all 19 tracks on this CD compilation, recorded between 1972 and 1975, including the closing track, the dreamy “Linda Movement” by Father’s Children. Everything I love about 70s soul can be found here, from funky, jazzy jams to soulful crooning, and pop bliss. One group, East Coast Connection, has a track called “Summer in the Parks” that is a brilliant tribute/medley to popular tunes by Kool & the Gang, Isaac Hayes, Earth Wind & Fire, and Chuck Brown & the Soul Searchers.

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Another highlight from Numero is their Eccentric Soul: Prix Label collection. The Prix label was headquartered in Columbus, Ohio and most of these tracks were recorded at Harmonic Sounds studios in Columbus between 1969 and 1973. The CD booklet includes this cool tidbit about some of the demo recordings on this collection: “Nearly 30 years after the label closed its doors, a mysterious box of tapes turned up at an estate sale in Columbus, Originally thought to be the lost Prix masters, it turned out instead to be dozens of demos, rehearsals, and few finished songs recorded during the rime of Harmonic Sounds. The tape boxes were, for the most part, unmarked, presenting a puzzle that would require much time and effort to solve.” Thankfully, the folks at Numero Group DID put in the time and effort to figure out who was singing what and the result is this fabulous CD. As with all Numero Group reissues, you get a very detailed booklet with the history of the label and the recording artists, plus a bunch of very groovy old photos. The booklet also includes a 2011 “Postscript” with additional information on the mysterious origins of Penny & the Quarters, the group that was featured on the soundtrack to the film Blue Valentine.

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Another of my favorites in this series is Eccentric Soul: The Nickel & Penny Labels. These labels were founded by a guy named Richard Pegue. I’d never heard of him before, but he qualifies as a certifiable musical genius. Pegue was a songwriter, producer, DJ, musician, and the creator of these two labels. Based in Chicago, his labels released some brilliant soul music between 1967 and 1973. But, as the liner notes tell us, most of these singles went out of print only weeks after they were released, and most of these artists never recorded full albums of their own. Pegue wrote 16 of the 24 tracks on this collection, and the quality is very, very high. Some songs just jump out at you, perfect examples of magical soul bliss. Really, if you played these songs for someone and told them that they were long-long tracks from the Motown vaults, they would be lavishing endless praise on this album. But because they were put out on obscure labels in the late 1960s and early 70s, no one seemed to pay much attention at the time, nor is this timeless music getting much publicity even after the 2011 Numero Group reissue.

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For a double whammy of soul delights, check out Eccentric Soul: Twinight’s Lunar Rotation. The Chicago-based Twinight (and Twilight) label is best known for being the home of soul legend Syl Johnson, who later recorded for Willie Mitchell’s Hi Records label in Memphis. This 2-CD collection highlights the “other” recordings that Twinight put out from 1967-1972. With 40 tracks, there is something for everyone, including a few torrid instrumentals. As for the “Lunar Rotation” part of this album title, the booklet inside this collection explains that this was the late night period on local radio stations when airplay was given to “high school talent show winners, major label cast offs, minor label upgrades, and girlfriends with decent voices … the DJ’s call it lunar rotation, broadcast lingo for radio limbo, all-night airplay for 45s with no chance of making the charts, a nice time for a disc jockey to make good on that fifty dollar handshake.” The booklet goes into detail about the label’s history and the recording acts represented on this CD. There are not any Syl Johnson songs on this compilation, but the essay in the booklet explains his crucial importance to the label, not only as the label’s sole hit-maker, but its foundation. When Syl Johnson left the label in 1972, the label not only lost their main source of income, but it also severed their ability to attract new talent. It’s a shame that the label didn’t enjoy more success. Certainly, the songs on this compilation are good as anything else you’d hear on airwaves at the time.

And those are just a few of the compilations that Numero Group has released thus far. I’m currently listening to Eccentric Soul: The Big Mack Label, and just ordered the newest release in the series, Eccentric Soul: The Forte Label. Based on the excellent track history of what the Numero Group has been releasing, I’m going to be immersed in yet more soul nirvana.

 

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Jason Isbell’s Triumph

It’s not too soon to be talking about Best Albums of the Year, and one of the contenders for that claim is Jason Isbell’s new album, Southeastern. Isbell is a former member of the acclaimed band Drive-By Truckers, but he left to pursue a solo career about six years ago. On his previous three albums, including the excellent concert recording, Live From Alabama, Isbell shared billing with his band, the 400 Unit, but he is using only his name on this new album. Isbell is an articulate, passionate songwriter, who writes melodic songs that stick in the head. One review I read likened him to a cross between author Raymond Carver and music legend Neil Young. Hmm … not a bad comparison.

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The new album is a continuation of the “thinking man’s southern rock” style of music that he — and also the Drive-By Truckers, who have continued making excellent albums even without Isbell, thanks to having another great songwriter, Patterson Hood in the band— excels at making, but on Southeastern Isbell has sharpened and elevated his craft to an even higher level. The new songs take on a more personal and reflective tone, reflecting some of the changes in Isbell’s own life in the past year or so. I think this is clearly Isbell’s best album yet. There are fewer rockers on the new album, favoring slower songs and ballads, but that doesn’t make the new compositions any less potent. This is powerful, moving music. In addition to that excellent album, here are the other goodies — both old and classic and new and intriguing — that are making me smile lately.

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Terry Edwards – Birth of the Scapegoats

John Fogerty – Wrote a Song For Everyone

Irma Thomas – A Woman’s Viewpoint: The Essential 1970s Recordings

Various – Yellow Pills: Prefill

The Rail Band – Bell Epoque 1: Soundiata

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Slaid Cleaves – Still Fighting the War

Passion Pit – Gossamer

Bobby Whitlock – Where There’s a Will There’s a Way

Solomon Burke – Proud Mary: The Bell Sessions

World Party – Arkeology

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Guy Clark – My Favorite Picture of You

Eleanor Friedberger – Personal Record

Jonathan Edwards – Jonathan Edwards

The Three O’Clock – The Hidden World Revealed

Johnny Marr – The Messenger

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Various Artists – Cult Cargo: Grand Bahama Goombay

Bob Mould – Silver Age

Jules Shear – Sayin’ Hello to the Folks

Various Artists – Eccentric Soul: Prix Label

Talking Heads – The Name of This Band is Talking Heads

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Various – Kenya Special

The Strokes – Comedown Machine

The Budos Band – The Budos Band

Jim Boggia – Fidelity is the Enemy

Etta James – Who’s Blue? Rare Chess Recordings

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The Mavericks – In Time

George Jackson – What Would Your Mama Say?

Babyface Willette – Stop & Listen

Canned Heat – The Very Best of

Gene Clark – No Other

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Various Artists – Twin Cities Funk & Soul

The Primitives – The Best of

Kelly Hogan & the Pine Vally Cosmonauts – Beneath the Country Underdog

Dean & Britta – L’Avventura

Robert Cray – Live at the BBC

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Head East – Live

Andy Kim – How’d We Ever Get This Way/Rainbow Ride

Bobby Bland – Greatest Hits Vol. Two: The ABC-Dunhill/MCA Recordings

Donny Hathaway – Live

Owsley – The Hard Way

 

Rod Stewart makes a good album again and other shocking musical tales

For many years Rod Stewart was rock and roll royalty, ranking right up there with the best recording artists of the 1970s. He cuts his teeth with the Jeff Beck Group and then became the lead singer of another influential band, the Faces. After releasing a series of excellent solo albums, the excesses of the rock and roll lifestyle — not to mention a couple of high profile marriages and divorces — took its toll and the quality of his recordings became somewhat spotty. Those albums weren’t awful, but nothing remotely captured the magic of classic albums such as Every Picture Tells a Story and Never a Dull Moment, or even solid sets such as Atlantic Crossing and A Night on the Town. In recent years Rod has resorted to releasing a series of schlock-filled albums of “standards” to maintain his musical profile. Maybe those albums were of interest to somebody, but rock and roll they weren’t. So imagine the shock to hear his new album, Time, a very strong collection of rock and pop songs that evoke his magical 1970s heydays. Okay, so maybe Time won’t rank with his very best albums or conjure up flashbacks of “Lost Paraguayos”, but there are enough truly great songs on here, brimming with energy and melody (hey, it sounds like old Rod is having fun again!), that it will go a long way towards restoring Rod’s tarnished reputation.

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In the past year we’ve also seen the publication of Rod: The Autobiography. There has been an avalanche of rock memoirs in recent years, so many that one is tempted to roll the eyes and dismiss yet another “titillating” addition to the pile, but Rod’s book has garnered very favorable reviews and looks like it just might be worth reading. The blurb on the front cover of the new paperback edition calls it; “An entertaining romp through fifty years of bad behavior.” Can Rod Stewart become fashionable again? It may be too late for that, but at least it will be very enjoyable listening to his music once more.

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In addition to the new Rod Stewart, here are the other CDs that I’ve been playing frequently lately, rocking the floorboards and shaking the rafters at my ninth-floor hacienda:

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Various Artists – Hall of Fame: Rare and Unissued Gems from the Fame Vaults

Phoenix – Bankrupt

J. Tillman – Vacilando Territory Blues

Jeff Lynne – Armchair Theatre

Mike Viola – Electro De Perfecto

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Steve Forbert – Jackrabbit Slim/Alive on Arrival

Aimee Mann – Bachelor No. 2

Frank Zappa – Sheikyerbouti

Raspberries – Live on Sunset Strip

Steve Earle – The Low Highway

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Various Artists – Eccentric Soul: The Bandit Label

Kim Richey – Thorn in My Heart

Richard Thompson – Electric

Phospherescent – Muchacho

Kurt Vile – Walkin’ On a Pretty Daze

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Tandyn Almer – Along Comes Tandyn

David Bowie – The Next Day

Sam Samdio – Hard and Heavy

Stanley Turrentine – Hustlin’

Tom Jans – Tom Jans/Take Heart (with Mimi Farina)

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Various Artists – Twinight’s Lunar Rotation

Humble Pie – The Very Best of: The Immediate Recordings

Jack McDuff & Kenny Burrell – Crash!

Jules Shear & Pal Shazar – Shear/Shazar

Jimmie Dale Gilmore – One Endless Night

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Various Artists – Those Shocking Shaking Days (1970s rock music from Indonesia)

Iain Archer – Flood the Tanks

Glenn Tilbrook – The Incomplete Glenn Tilbrook

Outlaws – It’s About Pride

Jackie McLean – Demon’s Dance

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Lee Fields – Let’s Talk It Over

Dwight Twilley – Soundtrack

Waylon Jennings – The Complete MCA Recordings

Francis Dunnery – Man

Oliver Nelson – The Blues and the Abstract Truth

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A.J. Croce – That’s Me in the Bar

Kaleidoscope – Pulsating Dreams: The Epic Recordings

John Cale – Black Acetate

Los Lobos – Kiko Live

Eels – Daisies of the Galaxy

 

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