Tuesday, 26 April 2011

The Counts - Funk Pump (1974)

The Counts began life in Detroit in 1968 as the Fabulous Counts. In their original incarnation, they were well know for their instrumental prowess, and for backing up solo artists visiting the Detroit area. After releasing the album "Jan, Jan" with Cotillion in 1969, the group moved to Westbound Records, dropping the "Fabulous" from their name, but not from their music. They only released one album with Westbound before moving on again to Aware Records in Atlanta (Westbound chose to focus on Ohio Players and Funkadelic at their expense). None of the three funk albums released by the Counts in the early 70's sold spectacularly, but all charted. The group split up in 1976. The Counts' sound is full-on funky groove - part blaxploitation, part Fatback, part Kool And The Gang - with toe tapping basslines, wa-wa guitars and soaring horns. The slow, jazzy groover "Tecalli" is worth the price of admission all by itself, while the title track, "Magic Ride" and "Flies Over Watermelon" are also strong efforts.

Album info. on Discogs:

Kool And The Gang - Spirit Of The Boogie (1975)

"Spirit Of The Boogie" is a masterpiece that blends an incredible funk sensibility and energy with reverence for the groups musical and ancestral heritage. In 1975, Kool And The Gang were the kings of funk, and this album was their crowning glory. Even James Brown was in awe, saying, "They're the second baddest out there. They make such bad records that you got to be careful when you play a new tape on the way home from the record store. Their groove is so strong you could wreck." The title track made it to #1 on the Black Singles chart, while "Carribean Festival" reached #6. Both songs also did well on the Pop Singles chart. Two album releases in 1976 ("Love & Understanding" and "Open Sesame") were commercially less successful, and marked the end of KATG's funk period, and the beginning or their transition to disco later in the decade.

Album info. from Discogs:

Monday, 25 April 2011

George McCrae - Rock Your Baby (1974)

When George McCrae recorded "Rock Your Baby," he had been in the music business off and on for over a decade. He was about to give up on music, with plans to return to college to study law enforcement, when the opportunity to do vocals for the track arose out of the blue. Richard Finch and Harry Wayne Casey of KC & The Sunshine Band had recorded "Rock Your Baby" for their own group, but they couldn't hit the high notes. They were going to have Gwen McCrae, George's wife, sing it, but she was late for the session and George recorded it instead. The song became one of the first hits of the disco era, reaching #1 on both the Black and Billboard Pop singles charts in the US. The follow-up single, "I Can't Leave You Alone," also did relatively well, making it into the Top 10 on the Black Singles chart. The ensuing album, also titled "Rock Your Baby" and no doubt helped along by the first single, was a success, reaching #7 on the Black Album chart.

Album info. at Discogs:

Available as part of 2-for-1 CD on Amazon:

Gwen McCrae - Something So Right (1976)

"Something So Right" was released shortly after the break-up of Gwen's marriage to George McCrae, a recording artist in his own right. The two had recorded together as a duo through the late 60's before transitioning to working solo in the early 70's. After George's unexpected 1974 hit, "Rock Your Baby" (which was supposed to be a song for Gwen but was recorded by George when she couldn't make it to the studio), and Gwen's own hit, "Rockin' Chair," individual success began to take a toll on the marriage. An album of duets failed to repair the relationship, and the couple separated. "Something So Right" came out a short while later, with the song "Damn Right It's Good" charting successfully. Other strong efforts included the title track and "I've Got Nothing To Lose But The Blues."

On to Discogs for album info:

Available on 2-for-1 CD from Amazon:

Brother To Brother - In The Bottle (1974)

Brother To Brother was formed in St. Louis in the early 70's by Michael Burton and a group of studio musicians. "In The Bottle" was the band's debut album, and they would go on to release two others on Turbo Records. The head of Turbo was Sylvia Robinson, founder of Sugar Hill records later in the decade, so the group was in good hands musically. "In The Bottle" is a fairly typical album for this period - funky, with some nifty jazzy touches and a club groove feel. Wood, Brass & Steel (also with Turbo) provided back-up. Highlights of the set include the title track (a fantastic cover of the Gil Scott-Heron original) and Norman Whitfield's "I Wish It Would Rain," along with "Big Brother" and "Mother Earth."

Info. on the album from Discogs:

Friday, 22 April 2011

Ohio Players - Angel (1977)

Ohio Players were probably as well known for their album covers as for their music. While the covers probably helped sell a few records, the music was top quality, too. The core members of the band got together in 1959 as the Ohio Untouchables, and stayed together through various projects through the 60's (including a period as house band for Compass Records in New York). Things kicked into gear in 1972 with the release of "Pain," the first of four albums (not counting the compilation "Rattlesnake) on the Westbound label. "Angel" was the group's 12th album, and the 6th with Mercury Records. Highlights of the album include the title track and three singles, "Body Vibe," "Merry Go Round" and "O-H-I-O" (which became a concert favourite, with crowds shouting out the letters during choruses).

Album info. can be found at Discogs:

CD available as part of 2-for-1 CD on Amazon:

The Undisputed Truth - Face To Face With The Truth (1972) and Law Of The Land (1973)

The second and third albums by the Undisputed Truth saw more crossover with the work of the Temptations, with versions of "You Make Your Own Heaven And Hell Right Here On Earth," "Ungena Za Ulimwengu," "Friendship Train," "Law Of The Land" and "Papa Was A Rollin' Stone." Much of the other material on these albums also consisted of covers, with highlights including an extended version of Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On," and a rather attractive reading of Lori Lieberman's "Killing Me Softly With His Song" (completely overshadowed by Roberta Flack's Grammy-winning version released at almost the same time).

Album info. from Discogs:

The Undisputed Truth - The Undisputed Truth (1971)

The Undisputed Truth came together as a trio in 1970. Original members were Joe Harris (formerly of the Preps, and involved with the Ohio Players in the 60's), and Billy Rae Calvin and Brenda Joyce (previously with the Delicates, and back-up singers for Diana Ross, the Four Tops and Edwin Starr). The "project" was backed by Norman Whitfield, the famous Motown producer, who at the time was also reworking and reshaping the Temptations. The Undisputed Truth were always seen as something of a warm-up-band, with Whitfield using them to experiment on his psychedelic soul ideas (a number of Temptations songs were also recorded by this group); however, their work has merit in its own right, with great musicality and vocal quality. Highlights of "The Undisputed Truth," their debut album, include "Smiling Faces Sometimes" (which reached #3 on the R&B charts), "California Soul" and the hyper-extended, 11-minute "Ball Of Confusion."

To Discogs for album info:

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Lou Courtney - I'm In Need Of Love (1974)

It's sometimes hard to say why some great records become hits, and others hardly register. "I'm In Need Of Love" should have been a hit. It compares favourably with works of the time by Marvin Gaye, Donny Hathaway, Leroy Hutson, Mike James Kirkland, and others of that Soul/R&B school, with a strong mix of mellow groovers and ballads. Maybe it didn't get marketed well enough. Perhaps there was just too much good music coming out at the same time that stole attention. Who knows? That said, this one should have done better. Highlights include the title track, along with "Somebody New Is Lovin' On You," "What Do You Want Me To Do" and "The Common Broken Heart." Definitely worth at least a listen... and then decide for yourself whether the album's obscurity is deserved or not.

Info. at Discogs:

CD available on Amazon:
(amazon.com) I'm In Need Of Love
(amazon.co.uk) I'm In Need Of Love

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Tony Aiken And Future 2000 - Unity, Sing It, Shout It (1976)

Another obscure record, from an obscure group and an obscure label. Players on this project all had their roots in Caribbean music, but were also involved in the New York club scene. This is "feel-good" music through and through, with elements of funk and early disco blended in an oh-so-satisfying pot-pourri. The instrumental "Time Tunnel" is an energetic, foot-tapping funky groove from start to finish, with hints of drum-and-bass (a song before its time?) "Better Days" and the title track are similarly grooving, with the addition of warm, uplifting vocals and harmonies, and a punchy horn section. If you can find it, this one's definitely worth a listen!

On to Discogs for album info:

CD available on Amazon:

Skull Snaps - Skull Snaps (1973)

"Skull Snaps" is one funky album! 'Nuff said? Born out of the Diplomats, a New Jersey trio formed in '63 with a solid output but poor sales, Skull Snaps would only release this one album. A blend of driving funky bass and guitars, outstanding drum breaks, piercing horns and gloriously soaring vocals and harmonies, this is another one for the list of greatest albums nobody knows about. Highlights include "My Hang Up Is You" (with shades of Philly soul), "It's A New Day" (What? Hip Hop in 1973?), and "I'm Your Pimp" and "Tresspassing" (two classic Blaxploitation themes looking for movies to star in). This is why I trawl the music blogs and second had record stores... every now and then you discover something like this, and your heart sings!

Album info. is here:

CD available on Amazon:
(amazon.com) Skull Snaps
(amazon.ca) Skull Snaps
(amazon.co.uk) Skull Snaps

The Philadelphia International All-Stars - Let's Clean Up The Ghetto (1977)

In the late 70's, Kenneth Gamble got together some of Philadelphia International Records' biggest acts to record a benefit album, with proceeds going towards cleaning up and repairing inner city neighbourhoods and helping young African Americans. The likes of Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, The Intruders, The O'Jays, Billy Paul, and Teddy Pendergrass, along with other PIR artists, each recorded one exclusive track for the album. The centrepiece of the album was the epic, 8-minute "Let's Clean Up The Ghetto," a "posse cut" with all album's featured artists contributing (in similar fashion to the Band Aid/USA For Africa projects that would be recorded seven years later). The project was one of Philly soul's most socially aware efforts, voicing concerns and raising awareness of the voiceless residents of America's ghettos.

Album info. at Discogs:

Available as part of 2-for-1 CD on AMazon:

Friday, 15 April 2011

Marvin Gaye - In Our Lifetime (1981)

"In Our Lifetime" was Marvin Gaye's last release with Motown. Recorded in L.A., Honolulu and London, the album was the end product of his re-work of the "Love Man" album, and a return to the serious, concept style of "What's Going On." The album cover, designed by Neil Breeden, visually depicts both the inner turmoil Gaye had been going through the past few years (two marriage break-ups, the loss of fans when "Here, My Dear" bombed), and his worries/questions about religion, peace, war, ecology, pollution, and particularly the nuclear issue. The break up with Motown came when the label released their own re-edit of the album, based on a rough mix received from bassist Frank Blair, without Marvin's okay. Sales of "In Our Lifetime" were poor despite critical acclaim, and the album was all but forgotten until being released on CD in 1994. In 2007, a limited edition, double CD was released with three "versions" of the album: the Motown version, Marvin's own Odyssey Studios mix, and the unreleased "Love Man" recordings.

Album info. at Discogs:

CD available from Amazon Marketplace:

The Intruders - Save The Children (1973)

The Intruders, formed in the early 60's, were the mainstay of Gamble & Huff production team through the latter half of that decade, and it was G&H's success with the band that convinced Columbia Records to front the money for the formation of Philadelphia International in 1971. Less pop than Motown, and less funk/blues than Stax, The Intruders were one of the earliest examples of what would become known as the Philly Sound, with lush orchestrations, upbeat melodies and sweet harmonies. "Save The Children" was released in 1973 on the Gamble label (and later re-released on Philadelphia International). The album's two singles, "I'll Always Love My Mama" and "I Wanna Know Your Name," were both hits, reaching #6 and #9 on the R&B charts. Unfortunately the band faded away somewhat after this album.

Info. can be found at Discogs:

CD available on Amazon:
(amazon.com) Save The Children
(amazon.co.uk) Save The Children

Barry White - Barry White Sings For Someone You Love (1977)

Barry Carter (aka Barry White) was born in Galveston, Texas, and grew up in South Central, L.A. At the age of 17, while in jail on a 4-month sentence for stealing Cadillac tires, he heard Elvis Presley's "It's Now Or Never" on the radio, and the experience helped push him away from crime and towards a career in music. He got his professional start as a song writer and arranger. In 1963 he arranged the song "Harlem Shuffle" by Bob & Earl (a song with a long gestation period as it only became a hit in 1969). In the early 70's he discovered and produced the girl group, Love Unlimited, who would go on to record numerous hits with him. White had no plans to be a performer himself, until music industry friend Larry Nunes heard some demo's he'd made for another artist and convinced him to put out his own album (1973's "I've Got So Much Love To Give", featuring his first #1 single, "I'm Gonna Love You Just A Little More Baby," being the result). "Barry White Sings For Someone You Love" was White's seventh album. It reached #8 on the US and #1 on the R&B charts, and was his first Platinum record. The album's first single, "It's Ecstasy When You Lay Down Next To Me," was his fifth #1, and "Oh What A Night For Dancing" was also a hit.

Album info. at Discogs:

CD available on Amazon:

Monday, 11 April 2011

Earth, Wind And Fire - Earth, Wind And Fire (1970)

Drummer and EWF primary songwriter Maurice White got his musical start in Chicago as studio percussionist at Chess Records, backing up the likes of Etta James, Fontella Bass, Sonny Stitt and Ramsey Lewis. White joined Ramsey Lewis as a member of his trio in 1967, and remained with Lewis' group for 3 years. This period helped shape not only his musical vision, but also concepts of performance and staging. After leaving the trio, White went on to form a new group, the Salty Peppers, with some friends. This group, after moving to L.A., adding several new members and signing with Warner Bros., would become Earth, Wind And Fire (named after the three elements in White's astrological sign). The self-titled "Earth, Wind And Fire," released in 1970, was the group's debut and one of two albums (the other being "The Need Of Love") released on the Warner label. The album combined a big horn sound and jazz and latin influences with the emerging funk style. Though there were no hit singles, the two Warner Bros. albums laid the groundwork for the hits that would come after the group moved to Columbia Records in 1972.

Album info. at Discogs:

CD available from Amazon Marketplace:
(amazon.co.uk) Earth, Wind And Fire

Kool And The Gang - Good TImes (1972)

As a kid, I loved the TV show "Good Times." The show was total Blaxploitation TV, giving a true commentary on ghetto life, without the guns, sex and hard attitudes (unless you count "Sweet Daddy" Williams, the pimp/numbers runner as "hard"... hardly!) The album "Good Times" had nothing to do with the TV show, but also gave an experience of the turbulent times making up the black (in this case musical) culture of the day, with a variety of contrasting styles and influences jammed into its two sides. "Country Junky" is as funky as things come - a hybrid of James Brown and Sly Stone. "North, East, South, West" is a straight ahead instrumental groover, with the funkiest of bass lines. "I Remember John W. Coltrane" is a hauntingly beautiful jazz tune. "Rated X" would have fit right into a soundtrack for a black "Rocky" movie. And finally, the closer, "Father, Father," could easily have been Marvin Gaye on one of his incredible, early 70's works. "Good Times" was never as commercially popular as a lot of other earlier K&TG works, but it's full of great jazzed out funk. Well worth a listen, if you can find a copy.

To Discogs for info:

Available as part of 2-for-1 CD on Amazon: