Ian Johnston brings us his latest round-up of vital releases from Ace Records, one of the best re-issue labels in the world.
Various Artists – Funk, Latin & Proto-Disco Seven-Inch Singles.
This month Ace issues an incredible and highly desirable selection of 7” inch singles, covering the funk, Latin and disco genres. The first two singles, one on BGP, the other Prestige, play at 33 rpm so you get more bang for your buck. Sweet and soulful singer Patti Jo’s ‘Make Me Believe In You’ and ‘Ain’t No Love Lost’ were written and produced by the late, great soul legend Curtis Mayfield. Originally issued on Wand in 1973, the tracks were remixed by Tom Moulton in 1975 for the Scepter compilation album, Disco Gold. These wonderful remixes retain the classic feel of the amazing, groove laden Jo/Mayfield tracks, but extend them and focussing towards the realm of disco and the birth of contemporary dance culture. The second 33 rpm Prestige single features tracks that have enjoyed popularity since the days of the acid jazz scene in the mid 1980s.
A-side is pianist Harold Mabern’s groovy, hard bop version of the Jackson 5’s hit, ‘I Want You Back’. Originally featured on Mabern’s 1970 album Greasy Kid Stuff, this inexorably buoyant number features top jazz luminaries flutist Hubert Laws, Blue Note trumpeter Lee ‘The Sidewinder’ Morgan, guitarist ‘Boogaloo’ Joe Jones, Miles Davis/Herbie Hancock bassist Buster Williams and outstanding Lou Donaldson/Pharoah Sanders drummer, Idris Muhammad. If you don’t smile throughout this track, then you’re officially deceased. The flip side is even better. Renowned Indianapolis funk band Funk Inc bring a whole truck load of deeply funky jazz for five minutes, with their 1971 riff upon James Brown’s ‘Sex Machine’, ‘Sister Janie’. All four tracks have never been released as singles before.
And there are the 45-rpm singles. On Riverside, is Mongo Santamaria’s original 1963 version of ‘Yeh-Yeh’, featuring vocal screams by La Lupa and an unbeatable Latin soul beat. John Hendricks added lyrics to the number for the Lambert, Hendricks & Bavan rendition that Georgie Fame in turn covered and took to the top of UK charts. The B-side, ‘Get The Money’, is a punchy Santamaria Orchestra dancefloor Modernist classic. Camille “Lil” Bob’s BGP single is another killer. The A-side, a cover of Howard Tate’s ‘Stop!’, is prime and urgent 1969 southern Louisiana R&B, while the other side, ‘Brother Brown’, is dynamite 1972 funk of the first order, with socially responsible lyrics; (“Think about your wife and children, get right, Brother Brown”). Last but not least, Lynn Varnado’s ‘Tell Me What’s Wrong With The Man’/’Staying Home Like A Woman’, is a 45 of top quality West Coast funk soul.
These are an amazing collection of singles that are guaranteed to move any crowd, anywhere, anytime.
Various Artists – Things Gonna Get Better: Street Funk And Jazz Grooves 1970-1977
Compiled and noted by Dean Rudland, this magnificent Ace/BGP compilation evokes the troubled era that faced black America in the 1970s: the end of the post war boom, social unrest, numerous slayings, the continuing struggle of the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War and Watergate, reflected through the prism of prime soul, jazz and funk, produced by mainly independent labels during the period. Not many of the 20 great tracks featured here make direct reference to the numerous political, economic or ecological traumas that confronted most black Americans during the Seventies in the USA. Yet all the songs carry traces of the dark mood of the time – even if the track is primarily concerned with trying to move forward or seeking good times to blot out the grim present.
Beginning in high style with George Clinton and Funkadelic’s 1972 Blaxploitation-style instrumental ‘A Joyful Process’, an ode to the infamous cult Process Church of The Final Judgement (released here in a special DJ edit version from their classic America Eats Its Young LP), Things Gonna Get Better constantly delivers top of the line jazzy funk and soul. From Oliver Sain’s 1971 down and dirty street funk ‘St Louis Breakdown’, through Chet Ivey & His Fabulous Avenger’s 1974 groove ‘Dose Of Soul’, Lonnie Liston Smith’s jazz funk opus ‘A Chance For Peace’ (issued in single edit form for the first time), Don Julian & The Larks’ wonderfully sleazy and gritty 1973 street life soundtrack ‘Shorty The Pimp’ to Chains’ version of soul poet laureate Gil Scott-Heron’s ‘Black & Blues’ (Scott-Heron sings in the chorus), Things Gonna Get Better provides thought provoking dance music. Hopefully, befitting its status as a classic compilation, Things Gonna Get Better: Street Funk And Jazz Grooves 1970-1977 will eventually be issued on vinyl.
Pick up a copy of Things Gonna Get Better: Street Funk And Jazz Grooves 1970-1977 from the Ace Records website.
Various Artists – California Soul – Funk & Soul From The Golden State 1967-1976
Another superb off-piste Ace/BGP compilation of hot soul and funk tracks, compiled and noted by Dean Rudland, only on this occasion all hailing from the US West Coast. The majority of the black American acts on this excellent disc are from the California soul underground; former Doo Wop performers, lounge singers, street kids all wishing to break through in a scene dominated by white major labels. The climate might be good in California, but the same problems that affected the black community in the rest of the country, during the 1967-1976 time frame, affected African American denizens of the Sunshine State.
A blast from the opening from the vocal dynamics of Choice Of Colours soaring ‘If She Wants To Go’ (a previously unreleased 1974 remix of this 1971 number, by the group that once featured Barry White in the ranks), to the eviscerating 1971 Latin soul, Funkadelic-style guitar freak-out instrumental ‘Earthquake’, by East LA music veteran Rulie Garcia, California Soul shakes the dancefloor. Little Johnny Hamilton and The Soul Pack’s rough and ready street funk odyssey ‘The Git Down –Part 1 & Part 2’, Brenda George’s electric ‘What You See Is What You’re Gonna Get’, Jesse & Anita ever relevant 1973 social comment funk ‘The Man (Y’All Keep On Watching You)’, The Soul Sensations’ aching ballad ‘When I Had You, Baby’, The Ballads’ 1975 neo– Blaxploitation song ‘Butterfly aka I Wish I Knew’ – California Soul is another masterwork soul/funk Rudland compilation. Chuck Thurmon’s previously unreleased 1976 number sums things up nicely: ‘Thank You For The Party’.
Pick up a copy of Funk & Soul From The Golden State 1967-1976 from Ace Records website.
Various Artists – Kinked! Kinks Songs & Sessions 1964-1971
It has long been acknowledged that The Kinks’ Ray Davis is and remains one of the best songwriters that the UK has ever produced. Highly productive from the start of his illustrious career, Davis’ sardonic lyrical rendering of the moods and mores of the British people, coupled with his dazzling skills with melody and an unerring commercial sense, established The Kinks as a force to be reckoned with around the world, from the release of their 1964 single, ‘You Really Got Me’.
Davis’ songs have been covered have always been covered by an eclectic range of major artists (from David Bowie to The Fall, by way of Richard Hell and The Voidoids and Van Halen), but Alec Palao’s expertly compiled and noted Ace CD focuses upon a previously overlooked aspect of The Kinks’ history. Kinked! features 25 Ray Davis songs, and one by brother Dave (lead singer Shel Naylor’s 1964 version of the stomping ‘One Fine Day’, featuring John Paul Jones and Jimmy Page in the session group), that the Kinks either never got around to recording themselves, or where recorded at a later date by the band.
From the beginning, the Kinks manager Larry Page was hustling Davis’ material on London’s Tin Pan Alley, and then across the globe, while encouraging his song writing talents. Kinked! includes many key Davis songs that the Kinks never officially waxed – Dave ‘The Crying Game’ Berry’s enigmatic version of ‘This Strange Effect’, veteran US singer Peggy Lee’s 1965 interpretation of the beautiful ballad ‘I Go To Sleep’, which demonstrated how quickly Davis’ talent was recognised by America’s showbiz establishment (the song was covered the same year by Cher and in 1981 by The Pretenders), and The Thoughts’ 1966 world weary ‘All Night Stand’ (issued here in a previously unreleased mix).
With Petula Clark’s singing Tony Hatch French production of ‘Well Respected Man’, ‘Un Jeune Homme Bien’, the first African American cover of a Ray Davis song (the vocal group The Olympics’ previously unreleased 1965 rendition of ‘So Mystifying’, arranged by Jack Nitzsche, featuring Glen Campbell and Sony Bono in the band), unsung US heroines Goldie & The Gingerbreads unissued version of ‘Look For Me Baby’ (the first track on Kinda Kinks) and Marianne Faithfull’s fragrant reading of ‘Rosy, Won’t You Please Come Home’, Kinked! Kinks Songs & Sessions 1964-1971 is a fitting tribute to the veracity and durability of Ray Davis’ craft.
Pick up a copy of Kinked! Kinks Songs & Sessions 1964-1971 from Ace Records website.
Various Artists – One Track Mind! More Motown Guys
Noted and compiled by Keith Hughes with Mick Patrick, this follow up to their excellent previous Satisfaction Guaranteed! Motown Guys 1961-69 CD is arguably even better. Focussing upon waxings recorded by male artists at the famous Detroit label aimed at the dancefloor during the 60s, One Track Mind! features many recently discovered tracks from the vaults. Sixteen of the twenty-four cuts included here are remarkably previously unissued masters.
This disc is an enduring testament to the brilliance of the mid 60s Hitsville USA Studio rhythm section band, The Funk Brothers, who provided the foundation for the horn and string arrangements of Paul Riser, as well as the propulsive platform for the singers to excel. Yet One Track Mind! opens with one of only two tracks (the other is Marvin Gaye’s ‘The Touch Of Venus’) recorded in California. ‘I’ll Be Satisfied’, a pounding, previously unissued cut by the idol of the UK Northern Soul scene, Frank Wilson, features L.A. session giants The Wrecking Crew, proving that they were more able of replicating the famous ‘four-on-the floor’ sound of the Motor City Funk Brothers.
The many highlights here include writer and producer Ivy Jo Hunter’s demo version of the driving ‘Where Are You’ (originally intended for Chris Clark), Jimmy Ruffin’s fantastic but unbelievably unissued rendition of Billy Page’s smash hit song ‘The “In” Crowd’, Edwin Starr’s funky re-titled version of The Supremes wrong-side-of -the tracks number ‘The Girl From Crosstown’ and Earl Van Dyke & The Soul Brothers’ Jimmy Smith instrumental style organ number ‘Heart To Heart’, written and produced by the legendary Andre Williams, and the aptly named The Fantastic Four’s lost classic, ‘I’m Here Now That You Need Me’.
The rundown above really just scratches the surface of the riches held within One Track Mind! More Motown Guys. Satisfaction is definitely guaranteed once more with this CD, even if you elect to sit and listen rather than dance. But that could prove difficult.
Pick up a copy of One Track Mind! More Motown Guys on CD from Ace Records Website.
All words by Ian Johnston. More writing by Ian on Louder Than War can be found in his author’s archive.