Friday, March 23, 2007

C.D. Review; Edip Akbayram - Self-titled compilation (Shadoks)

Little known outside his native Turkey until fairly recently, Edip Akbayram's early recordings are only now being released on c.d. for his growing international audience. The music on this double c.d. is culled from vinyl; old singles, and Edip's first two albums with the Turkish band Dostlar. Since the music is licensed from Edip, there were presumably no old studio master tapes available to use in producing this collection. There is a booklet with pictures and notes about this little known music. After winning a song contest in Turkey in 1972, Edip recorded a few singles and albums with the group Dostlar, who play an intriguing, mix of indigenous sounding Turkish music with western popular music trends, especially psychedelic and progressive rock. Their 1974 debut album was itself a collection of previously released singles, and one can hear the psychedelic influences throughout these songs. The transition from psych to prog-rock seems to have been a more gradual process in Turkey than it was in the west, where psychedelia had all but died out by the time Edip and Dostlar started recording in 1972. The movement apparently had a greater impact in Turkey than previously recognized, as demonstrated by several exciting vintage Turkish psychedelia collections released over the last couple of years.
This collection features sweeping vocals from Edip, and wafting, complex music arrangements. The saz, a Turkish variation of a lute (lest comparing to a Bouzouki be taken as a provocation!), is featured prominently through out this collection. Some songs have a more western sound than others, but the Anatolian sensibility is always present, even on songs that sound like something Led Zeppelin could only have wished to have recorded, instead of their own clumsy attempts to fuse Western and Eastern music. Perhaps it is just as well that Jimmy Page never got to hear "Yakar Inceden Inceden", or it would surely have been recorded by his band, complete with Robert Plant's screeching instead of Akbayram's soaring, but controlled vocals.
Edip Akbayram was apparently known for his socially conscious lyrics, and one of his hits in Turkey is "Kolum Nerden Aldin Zinciri", a powerful, driving song about a prison.
There are smatterings of organ throughout the two discs, used sparingly but to great effect on some songs, in particular "Kas, Larin Karasina".
The murky, brooding sound of "Mehmet Emmi" benefits from a haunted house style organ that complements the other keyboard effects on this track.
"Arabam Kaldi Yolda" starts off on a jazz-funk tip, a la C.T.I. Records, before the vocals come in and remind the listener this music isn't from around here. The C.T.I sound continues with the keyboard playing on "Haberin Varmi", but Edip Akbayram and Dostlar use more strings than keyboards on this double disc. Guitars are as prevalent as the saz or any other sound. The singing is robust, right to the end of the plaintive sounding final cut, "Birak Beni".
This music is so approachable, to open minded fans of rock and other music styles, it is surprising Edip Akbayram stayed under the radar of non-Turkish music fans for so long. Indeed, many of these songs, if sung in English, wouldn't have sounded out of place on some long lost vintage English prog record.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Concert Review: Jay Douglas, Mighty Pope and Others; From Jamaica To Toronto- Second Reunion- Friday March 2/07, Lee's Palace, Toronto

Various Artists; From Jamaica to Toronto Reunion, Friday March 2, Lee’s Palace

Last summer saw the release of a delightful compilation of domestic soul and reggae recorded in Toronto by Jamaican ex-patriots. “From Jamaica To Toronto”, compiled by Vancouver’s D.J. Sipreano was an ambitious labour of love uncovering an all-but-forgotten segment of the early Canadian music scene. The c.d. release was followed by a grand reunion performance of many of the artists featured on the disc backed by many of the original musicians augmented by talented locals such as Jason Wilson and the Ali brothers. The concert was broadcast live on CIUT 89.5 fm and well received by people on and off the air.

The success of this project has inspired an ongoing follow-up, including such hopeful projects as a tour later this year and a documentary about the people involved with the music featured on “From Jamaica To Toronto”.

Tonight’s event was covered widely this week, but the weather seemed like a more powerful force than the local media, and the turn-out wasn’t as large as it surely would have been on a decent night. Regardless, there were many serious fans in the house who weren’t deterred by the snow storm, and the CBC also showed up to document the evening for some unspecified future use.

The backing band was smaller than last summer’s extravaganza, and there were fewer singers as well. Noel Ellis wasn’t around tonight even though Sipreano and the people at the Light In The Attic label reissued his 1983 album on c.d. at the end of last summer.

Bob and Wisdom pulled out just before the event (they were on the bill as of Thursday) and certain musicians were conspicuously absent, including Lloyd Delpratt. The keyboard player’s sublime instrumental “Together” was a highlight on the c.d. and at last summer’s Harbourfront reunion. Bernie Pitters handled the keyboards instead, along with a second keyboard which was shared by other musicians. The first singer ran through a couple of soulful reggae staples including Dennis Brown’s classic “If I Had The World”. Jason Wilson played guitar for a change (he usually plays keyboards), Everton Paul was on drums, and the bass player kept a rather low profile, remaining near the back of the stage near Bernie Pitters.

Glen Ricketts was the next singer up. He wasn’t on the bill originally, but presumably he was brought in to round out the set since Bob and Wisdom would not be in this evening. He ran through a few reggae and soul covers including “If Loving You Is Wrong”. Glen sounded good, but his repertoire was standard opening fare at local roots reggae revue shows. The actual songs on the c.d. being celebrated tonight were all but ignored during this first set. Closing this reggae-heavy first set with Johnnie Osbourne’s instrumental “African Wake” would have worked particularly well.

The second set kick started the soul celebration. Mighty Pope, who was one of the highlights of last summer’s Harbourfront reunion, put on an excellent show. He sang the obscure RAM gem “Love Is The Answer” which he presumably used to sing regularly when he front Wayne McGhie’s RAM project at Wasaga Beach during their 1972 summer residency there. Sadly, Wayne continues to refuse to play in public despite his support for the “Jamaica to Toronto” project.

Jay Douglas, whose new c.d. was for sale at the club tonight, was the final performer of the evening. Jay kicked off leading the band through a wonderful rendition of the Jackie Mittoo single “Soul Bird”. Many in the audience immediately recognized this infectious nugget, which had Jay sustaining the energetic vibe built by Mighty Pope. He then ran through a few James Brown covers, but the highlight of his set was the Temptations cover “I Wish It Would Rain”, featured as a Bob and Wisdom single on the c.d. but performed by Jay Douglas tonight as a duet with one of the Mullings sisters who provided backing vocal through the evening. They are daughters of the late Karl Mullings, and Carrie Mullings was instrumental in connecting c.d. compiler Sipreano with many of the singers and players involved with the performances on the c.d.

Jay Douglas’ energetic set ended the night on a high note, but an encore or two would have been better. Nonetheless, the show was long enough, if perhaps padded with some overplayed covers that are not particularly relevant to the legacy of these artists. Adding “Soul Bird” was an excellent choice, but one James Brown cover is enough.

The performers involved in this reunion should probably tighten up the set list and add a few more vintage soul tracks to their repertoire, especially if they want to take this revue on a non-reggae tour based on the popularity of the c.d. itself, with its emphasis on soul more than reggae. A couple of Wayne McGhie cuts and the riveting Jackie Mittoo track “Grand Funk” from the c.d. would be a great start. Reggae performed by Jamaican ex-pats in Toronto is no secret among reggae fans, but the funk and soul side of these performers’ musical output is what makes the whole “From Jamaica To Toronto” reunions all the more intriguing. The performers involved are all in great form either as singers or players, and they are in a position to present a rare and possibly final glimpse of a long gone exciting local soul and funk music scene. A reunion revue tour is a great idea whose time has come. The clock is ticking.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

C.D. Review: The Bongolian - Blueprint

The Bongolian is the alter-ego of Nasser Bouzida, from the English funk outfit Big Boss Man. On his 2003 self-titled solo debut, The Bongolian played and wrote all the music himself. On Blueprint, Nasser the Bongolian has recruited his new touring band to help out. With drummer Reinis Axelssonon and guitarist Jerry Haglund, along with fellow Big Boss Man alumni Trevor Harding on bass, The Bongolian has put together a tight little funk band. Nasser plays keyboards, bongos, and other percussion.
One's first impression of this concept might be of the Incredible Bongo Band who were based in Vancouver in the early seventies, but The Bongolian owes more to French recording artist Jean Jacques Perry than to the Incredible Bongo Band. Many of the instrumentals that make up Blueprint have the Perry-sounding ephemeral keyboard and drum interplay with a sprinkling of bells and chimes.
Occasionally, the music toughens up. There are some fine Dennis Coffey style flourishes on this disc as well, most notably "Del Ray" with its fuzzy guitar and pounding drums. "Psyche Yam" is another pounding number that has a restrained but ongoing bass line that sounds like something John Entwistle might have played at top volume for an instrumental like "The Ox".
The sound-scape motif is never far away on Blueprint though, and the funk is often muffled by the ephemeral keyboard playing. Nasser Bouzida is a decent keyboard player in the spirit of Robert Walter or early Azimuth for that matter, but the keyboard riffs rarely intensify enough to justify their prominence throughout this c.d. At their best, the keyboards recall Booker T Jones on tracks like "Soul Caravan", while other tunes find the keyboard's wafting gets in the way of serious funkiness. Blueprint closes with a track called "Routemaster Ride" which piano leads that sound like Parliament's "P-Funk Chant".
Overall, Blueprint is a funky enough record, but it sounds like one to play on low volume at a cocktail party, rather than a disc to crank for a sweaty dance floor. Nasser and this band sound like a collaboration between Booker T & the M.G.'s and Jean Jacques Perry; for that sort of musical mood, Blueprint fits the bill perfectly.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

C.D. Review; Do The Shing A Ling (Goldmine)

This is another confounding Goldmine compilation. On the one hand, there are plenty of seriously rare, quality soul cuts on here to make the disc worthwhile (even if it is a mere 50 minutes long), but once again, it is a typical no-frills, information-free package.

The collection celebrates the Shing A Ling dance a couple of times, and a few other dances along the way. The Isley Brothers were the first to popularize the Shing A Ling, at least in song-form, but an Ohio garage band called The Human Beinz also had some success with this upbeat dance number. The two versions of the title track featured here are by the Bean Brothers and the Liberty Belles respectively. Apparently the Shing A Ling was a big dance around 1967-68.

The dance party motif is as thematic as any Goldmine compilation ever gets these days, but the dance craze quickly gives way to a random selection of other singles, including some very easily available songs like the Ohio Players’ “Love Slips Through My Fingers” and Rose Batiste’s “I Miss My Baby”, which Goldmine seldom misses a chance to slap on to another Detroit soul compilation.

Then again, the seldom heard tracks that show up on Goldmine releases are what keeps them in business. Honey Townsend’s “The World Again” is one of those quirky tunes that has probably not been heard by many people, and this rather limited release on an obscure soul compilation from a small British label is probably the most exposure this cut has ever had. It would be a typically enjoyable Detroit soul instrumental, presumably recorded as a backing track intended for someone to sing over, but the violin playing is not syrupy, but instead it is more countrified than one would expect to hear on a soul release. Then there is something that sounds like a sitar on Tojo’s “Broken Hearted Lover”, but in such small doses that the song doesn’t lose a drop of its soul to psychedelia. The closer, an instrumental called “Midnight Brew” by Melvin Carter borrows liberally from “Respect”, but it’s changed up enough to create an acceptably ‘new’ track and title. As usual, the paltry running time and the lack of information are the drawbacks associated with Goldmine product, while the obscurity of many of these cuts renders Do The Shing A Ling a worthwhile collection.

C.D. Review; 45 Phobia (Goldmine)

This is another no-frills Goldmine release, but this time the company upped the ante; while Goldmine c.d.’s usually contain mostly rare 7” singles, 45 Phobia consists entirely of outtakes and a few album cuts. The vocal tracks are all competent vintage soul with a few terrific highlights, including Sharon Soul's "Girl Crazy" and Tommy Knight's credible Levi Stubbs style delivery on the lo-fi sounding, but still exciting "Don't Bring Back The Memories". Johnny Sayles' upbeat love song "I'm Satisfied" is another high point on 45 Phobia.

Since this collection comes from surviving studio tapes, there are a few instrumentals on here, like the sublime “Satisfy Me Baby” and the spare “Say It Isn’t So” credited to the Popcorn Orchestra, which presumably refers to whomever producer “Popcorn” Wylie had hired for the recording session.

Another factor that makes this a more interesting soul compilation is the inclusion of a few oddities that have some peculiar element, like the violin on Robert Knight's "Branded" and the high school marching band motif of The Charades' You Better Believe It.

Once again, this disc is lean on running time (50 minutes) but it contains so many rarities that serious soul fans should still keep an eye out for 45 Phobia.

Record Review; Lefties Soul Connection; Hutspot (Melting Pot)

Amsterdam funk band Lefties Soul Connection play mostly spare, driving instrumentals which invoke American funk bands like Mickey and the Soul Generation; a little less polished than the Meters, but still working that restrained-funk angle. Lefties Soul Connection are a tight band, although the singing (only one song on here, a medley of "It's Your Thing" and "Hey Pocky Way") is not as strong as the musicianship. The band's cover of "Organ Donor" stands out with its interplay between the pounding drums and haunted house organ. "Organ Donor" might be the highlight of Hutspot but there are some other contenders. "Bouncing Ball" and "Bam Bam" keep things pretty funky, as well as the title track which closes the album. As is the case with many of today's skilled funk acts, Lefties Soul Connection would surely sound great if they were teamed up with the right singer, but they are still worth checking out as an instrumental outfit.

C.D. Review; The Sisters Love; Give Me Your Love (Soul Jazz)

This is one smoking compilation, and, in a way, the debut album from this L.A. group formed in 1968 by former Raylettes. The founding four singers were Merry Clayton (who soon left to pursue a solo career with Ode Records), Odia Coats, Gwen Berry and Lillie Fort. Clayton and Coats were subsequently replaced by Jeanie Long and lead singer Vermyetta Royster. For some reason, they never got to make an album. They were signed to A&M Records but some singles were issued by Motown, and their entire catalogue was only available on (often rare) 7 inch singles recorded in the 1960's and 70's. After all these years, Soul Jazz has collected most of their output on one terrific compilation.
Apparently the sheer rarity of The Sisters Love's singles relegated them to cult status for many years, popular among serious disco fans after a few influential New York City deejays such as Larry Levan played them. Fans of gospel vocals fronting some intensely funky music will be thrilled to discover The Sisters Love. Fans of Clydie King, Sunday's Child and early Labelle albums are certain to wonder where these ladies have been hiding all these years. While Give Me Your Love doesn't have everything The Sisters Love released, every minute of it is strong, driving soulful funk. Even ballads like the closing track "The Bigger You Love" with its string arrangements packs a slow rolling punch. As irresistibly catchy as these songs are, they haven't been used on many compilations (or any, that I can think of). This is one of the more exciting Soul Jazz projects of 2006, and definitely worth seeking out.

C.D. Review; The Bamboos; Step It Up (Ubiquity)

This is a fine specimen of new funk, and one of few to emerge from Australia. This record was originally released by the small Melbourne label Bamboo Shack before Ubiquity co-ordinated a North American release for the record.
Besides two collaborations with the talented English soul singer Alice Russell, the tracks on Step It Up are instrumentals. Most of it is played in the spirit of the J.B.'s, particularly that busy-but-tight drumming, courtesy of Danny Farrugia. Their take of the soul classic "Tighten Up" lets the band play around as they introduce themselves in this jam. Band leader and guitarist Lance Ferguson lets the horns do their thing, before Hammond organ player Ben Grayson take turns leading the song.
Other elements of funk can be heard, and the final track, "Voodoo Doll" effectively channels The Meters. These instrumentals aren't exactly jaw-droppingly funky, but they are solid, straight-forward honest slices of funk from a promising band. Now if only they could team up with a producer who will have them really cut loose.

C.D. Review;Old School Young Blood Volume 1 (Peckings)

This is a fun concept; recruit some of the current crop of roots reggae singers, and have them sing a mix of old and new lyrics over some classic Duke Reid riddims. The "riddims" are instrumental backing tracks, in this case from the golden years of the legendary Jamaican record label Treasure Isle. Clocking in at just under 80 minutes, this is indeed jammed with Jam-Down jams imported by the British for a most effective collection of new-old reggae.
Assembled by the Pecking label in Europe, the singers featured here seem to be better known in Europe than they are on this side of the Atlantic.
The renowned Jamaican sax man Dean Frazer has a couple of instrumental cuts on here, but many songs on this collection come from several surprisingly good British singers. Bitty Mclean steals the show on here, with several excellent cuts. It has been suggested Bitty would be a huge reggae star if he was from Jamaica instead of England, and it's probably true. He holds his own against any Jamaican-based reggae singers touring these days. Peter Hunnigale and Vivian Jones (who left Jamaica at age 10, in 1967) are excellent singers as well. Lady Lex adds her sultry vocals to a few tracks, which retain a vintage rock steady groove on her three songs. After a very strong showing in the late seventies and early eighties, English reggae acts seemed to fade away from these shores for a while. Old School Young Blood suggests it's time to check out the English reggae scene again.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

C.D. Review; Sensacional Soul (Vampi Soul)

After a few years of releasing some of the most exciting Latin music collections from around the world, Madrid's Vampi Soul label have put together a double c.d. of some home grown Spanish grooves.
One of the hallmarks of garage bands is their ability to clumsily merge a couple of monster hits of the era, and turn out an enjoyable romp. It might sound uncannily like the riff from "Foxy Lady" or something equally well known, it won't soar to the top of any chart, but the brazenness is outmatched only by the sheer energy on the best sixties garage tunes. Such is the case on Sensacional Soul. Songs like "Black Cat" by Los Dixies, which borrows liberally from "Going To A Go Go" and the Spencer Davis song "I'm A Man", epitomize much of the spirit of garage rock.
Sensacional Soul lives up to its name though, and the funk flows surprisingly freely over this double disc compilation.
A lot of the music is upbeat, go-go sounding pop with groovy Hammond leads such as the Martes 13 cut "Espejo Roto". Some songs are heavier on the lounge tip than they are soul, but the music is completely enjoyable throughout. A few cuts are translated covers of hits like "Get Ready", "Keep On Running", and "Raise Your Hand", all enthusiastically delivered. The funk jams run the gamut, from restrained instrumentals like "Golden Soul" by Conjunto Nueva Onda to the chunk-a-funk J.B.'s stylings of The Presidents.
The second disc kicks off with "Tabasco" by Los Pekeniques, which sounds like a late sixties Yusuf Lateef style jam. Each disc only runs for about 55 minutes, but at least there is no obvious filler on these discs.
There are a few covers of funk songs on the second disc, including "Kool and the Gang" (from that band's first record) and a version of "Family Affair" that sounds almost like Sly himself singing.
Another track under the influence of Sly and the Family Stone is a driving slice of funk by Las Cuatro Monedas Y Gregory, featuring plaintive vocals backed by singers imitating the background vocals on "Dance To The Music".
Overall, Sensacional Soul is an excellent primer for funk fans and collectors unfamiliar with sixties Spanish soul, even if the running time is on the lean side. There are plenty of 'newly reissued' funk nuggets here which haven't shown up on other compilations, that make this double c.d. an excellent additiion to any funk collection.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

C.D. Review; Soul Food (That's What I Like)

Here is a neat idea from the people at Harmless Records. Soul Food (That's What I Like) mixes eating with soul tunes and the results are appealing if not appetizing. While there are plenty more songs about soul food and soul songs about food in general to leave room for a few sequels, there certainly could have been a little more music thrown on this fifty minute c.d. Interestingly, the song "Soul Food (That's What I Like") by Lonnie Youngblood is not on this collection.
The disc is a healthy mix of well known soul food classics like "Green Onions" and "Pass The Peas" with some rarities including The Vibrations' "Ain't No greens In Harlem" and The Bad Boys' twangy instrumental "Black Olives".
While "Green Onions" is included here, at least Harmless Records was hip enough to use a cover version by Mongo Santamaria, recognizing the likelihood that nobody purchasing Soul Food (That's What I Like) is still missing the Booker T hit in their collection. There are a couple of novelty songs on here as one would expect on a food-themed compilation. Obie Plenty's "Beef Stew" is a lament about the only dish his mother ever serves. The doo-woppy funk of "Pop Your Corn" is another amusing ode to eating. Over all, this is fun listening, but with so many food-themed songs to pick from, the rather lean running time on this c.d. leaves one, ahem, hungry for more.

C.D. Review: Absolute Funk Volume 2 (Body & Soul)

The unoriginal title and the uninspired cover art don't do justice to the overall quality of this series by the Body & Soul label. This is in fact a well researched and compiled dose of serious funk. All the tracks on Absolute Funk Volume 2 are from strong vinyl sides, and in a couple of cases we get the B-side sequel as well. Many of the twenty cuts on here are still fairly rare in the digital age, while some of the better known tracks like the opener "The Sad Chicken" have popped up on other compilations. Cuts like "Iron Horse" by The Marlboro Men and The Showmen chestnut "The Tramp" which are on compilations put out by the likes of Goldmine and Soul Patrol sound cleaner on the Absolute Funk series, even if they are still mastered from seven inch vinyl singles. This series also has more information than a typical Goldmine release, while many other funk reissue labels such as Soul Patrol never have any information accompanying their collections.
Licensing issues aside, Absolute Funk Volume 2 stands in its own right as great, greasy grab bag of obscure gems.
Sundia's two part "Stand Up and Be A Man" is a rare free flowing hit of feminist funk. The male-partner-as-deadbeat topic comes up again on the lighthearted Good Time Charlie song "Rover or Me" (guess who wins).
Kim Tamango's "Not By Bread Alone" is an intense burner of a song, with its pounding, but spare percussion and Llyn Collins style delivery. There are low budget recordings of popular sounds, such as the Stax-flavoured "Can't Nobody Love Me" by The Soul Duo. The main reason these cuts are so rare is they were seldom re-pressed, and many were only distributed in a small geographic area. Of course, that means most of these songs were recorded on a tight budget, in small local studios. A lot of this material is to soul music what 1960's garage bands were to rock stars; less polish, but the boundless energy and sheer quirkiness of a lot of great lost funk treasures rewards the adventurous listener.
Even the flagrantly derivative songs like "The Tramp" (both parts) have a boisterousness that is too infectious to overlook in the pursuit of originality. Harvey Scales and the 7 Sounds' dance song "Get Down" closes Absolute Funk Volume 2 on an upbeat tone. Perhaps somebody should compare the different songs instructing listeners on how to do dances like "The Breakdown" and "The Freeze" and see if they give similar moves. In the mean time, this is a hot funk c.d. for one's listening or partying needs.