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Ma Fou Fou

August 10, 2013 Leave a comment

Ma Fou Fou 7_Editions Makossa is a cult label amongst funk fans – it represents some of the hardest core African funk out there.  Much like our Caribbean favorite label Charlie’s, all of these recordings got filtered back through Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, and put out on singles that claim American manufacture.  You wonder precisely who was buying them – I’d actually like to congratulate anyone who was hip enough at the time to do so.

Despite my Brooklyn background, I picked up “Ma Fou Fou” recently in Berlin’s Graefekiez.  The guy at the record shop was convinced that he was overcharging me due to condition – I think he listened to it and thought that the weedy sound was due to the condition of the record rather than the no doubt primitive live recording techniques.  I was happy to pay what he was asking because it was way less than the market price for the record, and it friggin’ BURNS.  I mean, listen to the damn thing!  I was going to pick this up even if it was trashed and try to live with it.

Now, I know a few tricks for cleaning up surface noise on monophonic records, mostly involving a thorough cleaning and a double Y cable to cancel out any stereo noise – this I would do all the time because it doesn’t change the sound at all.  On “Ma Fou Fou,” unusually for me, I also spent some time in the mastering stage trying to bring out the bass and guitar at their appropriate moments – it ends up giving the record a bit more of a James Brown feel than perhaps existed in the flat transfer.  You can call it screwing around with the production intent if you want to, but the bottom line is that this record was recorded rather than produced in the first place.  I’m just trying to cut a bit of murk out, and you can rest assured that I will not be doing this with most records.

[audio http://www.divshare.com/direct/24364518-267.mp3]

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Categories: Funky

Soul In The Bowl

August 9, 2013 Leave a comment

Soul In The Bowl 7_A little bit square, a little bit hardcore funk, the mysterious Father & Sons’ “Soul In The Bowl” almost defies explanation.  A two sided live recording which refuses to follow many of the rules we typically accept as a part of our funky explorations, “Soul In The Bowl” commits what ordinarily would be a grave error in its quotation of “The Charleston” right in the middle of its groove – turning a fine swinging mostly-instrumental into a Bugs Bunny cartoon.  And that is just one instance of it shifting keys in a way that makes the song different (and more difficult) than the average funk cut.   But personally, I think it rather succeeds – it’s hard to argue with its groove and especially its FEEL.

Acceptance of “Soul In The Bowl” requires embracing the song’s quirks* rather than ignoring them, and given how many other funk nuggets out there play by the rules, I think we can deal with the one that sounds like the bridge was rewritten by your Benny Goodman-loving grandma.

[audio http://www.divshare.com/direct/24364516-929.mp3]

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*Things I also love: the New Orleans Nicky Hopkins on piano, and the guy yelling “Makes me feel young again!”  You get the sense that there are a few generations in this mix, much as the band name would indicate.

Categories: Funky

The many lives of a TV show theme…

August 1, 2013 Leave a comment

Originally posted April 16, 2010.  Some edits to content and new links.

I like to think I’ve watched more 60’s and 70’s television than most people my age, but most of my exposure was as a result of reruns being shown on various cable networks in the early 90’s – for example, when fX was a new network, they had a great bloc of shows including Mission: Impossible and Vega$ (and I realize calling Vega$ great is an incredible stretch of the truth).  A few years earlier than that, Nick at Nite had Get Smart and, yes, Dragnet.*

But I never watched Baretta – Robert Blake’s icky trial notwithstanding, it was never really on my radar.  But even the cheesiest 70’s TV show can be rescued for the annals of history by a good theme – or, in this case, a good cover of a theme.  Given that Sammy Davis Jr. was involved in the original, it’s no shock that someone came out with a better version – but Henry Mancini?  That’s surprising.

Mancini was well-known for his movie scores (The Pink Panther, anyone?) but not exactly known as a purveyor of funk.  By 1976, though, the big band was on the way out, and one suspects that decline had some influence on Mancini’s jumping on the funky train.  After all, even if people like Lalo Schifrin put out some incredible themes themselves**, this was more the exception than the rule.

But the nice thing about some of these more mainstream bands is that they had the chops to tackle funky if they wanted to (on guitar, for example: Lee Ritenour), and had recording budgets that clearly exceeded their more earthy contemporaries.  Even if the result is lacking the last 5% of funk that would really push it over the edge, there’s enough to like.  See this comprehensive overview of Mancini in the 70’s if you want a bit more context.

Mancini’s version of the Baretta Theme is a boon for bassists (some sick, Jaco-like fretwork from Abraham Laboriel).  While the song goes a little cornball in the bridge (strings make the arrangement “safe” for your square parents to enjoy), overall the song is solid.

I discovered this song on a promotional LP put out by Maxell advertising their recording and cassette audio tape products.  I think I bought it in a junk shop in Boston and it can’t have cost more than a buck – good thing, since it had damaged grooves.  Nevertheless it induced me to search out the album the Mancini cut came from.  The song as posted is from the Spanish CD.  The rest of the CD is okay- a few good tracks, including a breakbeat and synth heavy “Police Woman,” a great “The Streets Of San Francisco” that bounces back and forth from funk to big band jazz, and a very sample-able “Rockford Files.”  There’s even a break at the beginning of “Kojak.”  Downside?  Nobody needs a cover of Hawaii Five-0.  And “Mystery Movie” is near-comically insipid.

[audio http://www.divshare.com/direct/24311319-a50.mp3]

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PS: Note that I can only say this is the second best version of the Baretta theme I’ve ever heard.  While doing research for the article I discovered Ron Carter had beaten it up something fierce:

* although I must admit my ironic appreciation for Dragnet ’67 has increased, I may have left my fondness for Get Smart behind at age 10 or so

** Lalo’s oeuvre is incredible – Mission: Impossible, Dirty Harry, Bullitt, Enter The Dragon…look for a track or two from him later in the game.

Categories: Funky, TV

Freda Payne – The Easiest Way to Fall (7″ mix)

July 25, 2013 Leave a comment

Edit: originally published April 14 2010.  Some edits to content and new links.

Everyone loves Motown, right?  Or at least, everyone’s mother and father do.  Being the offspring of one Motown-obsessed mama*, I have heard some of the most famous Motown product too many times to be entertained any more.

That doesn’t invalidate the concept, however – in fact it’s the basis for the whole Northern Soul movement.  If you like Motown but don’t want to listen to the 25 Motown or Motown-style songs played on oldies radio – Northern Soul is the genre for you.  And thank the Brits for their dogged pursuit of funk nuggets of all persuasions, otherwise these bits of American culture might have slipped beneath the waves.

Speaking of this song in particular, it is the B-side of one of those 25 songs played on oldies radio, at least when I was a kid – “Band of Gold.”  By the way, having read the liner notes of the recent Freda Payne on Invictus CD compilation, I was required to re-evaluate the context of “Band of Gold” – I always thought it was a jilted lover pining, but apparently it’s a sexual complaint (“that night/on our honeymoon/we slept/in separate rooms”).  Call me naive if you must.

“The Easiest Way to Fall” is possibly even more heartbreaking than its A-side.  “The easiest way to fall/is lean on someone you love” – Bill Withers, eat your heart out, I guess.  It’s remarkably emo considering the genre – this is the jilted lover tale that I thought “Band of Gold” was, but it’s really driven home with repeated protestations of how badly the protagonist was hurt.  Not just “I used to gather roses/now there’s thorns in my hand” but also “when you cut me down that day/I lost it all.”  Ouch.

The song also appears on the LP “Band Of Gold” and the Invictus compilation, but at a different speed – I don’t know whether they slowed down the 7″ mix for the LP or vice versa.  I do know that, like so many Motown and Northern songs,  the only one worth listening to is the 7″ single mix, presented here direct from the cleaner of my copies.

(note: my divshare died a long time ago, so for expediency’s sake, I’ve substituted a youtube link which probably isn’t equal quality.)

 

Freda Payne – The Easiest Way To Fall (7″ version)

*Fun fact: the first concert I ever went to was The Four Tops in 1991 at Snowbird’s Cliff Lodge.

Categories: Funky

Now, if I could just track down some conch salad…

July 24, 2013 Leave a comment

ronnieramblersEdit: originally published April 23, 2010, some edits to text and new links.  I have been back to the Bahamas since this post.  (In fact, in a truly odd coincidence considering where I now live, both the first and last stamps in my 2005 passport were from the Bahamas.)  I ate more conch salad, amongst other activities in and on the beautiful and impressive Exuma Islands.  But more relevant to the blog, I had a few years back located a 45RPM copy of Shot Gun Weddin’ by Ronnie Butler and the Ramblers, which I have digitized and linked to for your amusement.  Interestingly, later in the same recent Bahamas and Florida trip, I saw a second copy in this wonderful place, but since I respectfully disagree with the owner’s pricing system, I did not buy everything I could have.  If you need a copy, call him.

I only spent three days in Nassau way back in 2005, but a few things have stuck with me from that holiday – lust for fresh conch salad, and the mystery of a song called “Shotgun.”  Not too often that you hear the hook from a song once after a few beers and can hum it to yourself five years later – but that was the case here.  Very vivid memories, actually, considering the number of Kaliks I probably consumed that evening at the beachside shanty.  Maybe the chili in the conch salad helped.  Anyway, after getting home, I broke up with the girlfriend I was there with, and Lazy Sunday hadn’t come out yet, so Youtube wasn’t available to help with the search.  So I gave up, more or less.

Today I was delivered a compilation record that I ordered for a completely unrelated reason (i.e. for another post coming soon to a blog near you).  This LP, entitled “This Is Sue,” has a song called “Shotgun Wedding” by Roy C.  Not having heard it before I thought it might have been THE “Shotgun” I was looking for.  Not the case, but it inspired me to do another search (on Youtube this time) – and I found it!  I’m proud to present “Shotgun Wedding” by Ronnie and the Ramblers, one of the Bahamas’ preeminent calypso groups.

Great song, especially if you imagine a bar full of Nassau locals singing along – and pausing perfectly before Ronnie says “shotgun.”   I’m not sure whether this is the same version that I heard in the bar, but searches in all the usual haunts haven’t produced an alternate.  I don’t have the record it came from, and unfortunately it’s tough to track down these calypso records considering how few copies were usually pressed (some ridiculous people online would like to charge over 175USD for a copy, but that’s appalling).

[audio http://www.divshare.com/direct/24310913-5e9.mp3]

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PS: here’s another funk nugget from Mr. Ronnie Butler – Bahama Rock.

Categories: Calypso, Funky

Tony Drake > Diana Ross (but probably just this once)

July 22, 2013 Leave a comment

Love Child

 

I had this one hanging out in my collection for a while before transferring it – and realizing that the days I owned it and did not have it available to play were wasted days of my life.  This cover of the Diana Ross ultra-drama-fest wastes the original – just hands down destroys it, and not just because of the superior instrumentation.

No, it’s also because Diana Ross never really sells herself as someone capable of sexual activity in the original song, and arguably never did in her career until “Upside Down.”  She really comes across as someone who is trying to talk her wanna-be lover out of trying to get past first base.  No fault of hers really – she just has a more distant manner than some other R&B singers, which makes it tough to keep it real on tracks like “Love Child”.*

On the other hand, THIS guy actually sounds relatively conflicted about the whole prospect of knocking up his bird, totally neurotic about his poverty-stricken past, and he retains a slight edge of cheesy drama which really helps sell it.

And yeah, about that arrangement…whoa, Nellie.  With its totally unfiltered bass walking under everything, a heavy reliance on the tambourine for percussion**, and an organ that sounds like it may need to be taken in for a tuning (ahem!), it smokes like a French movie star and will absolutely compel you to the dance floor.  And then…the break.  What. The. Drama.  Doesn’t matter how conflicted the words are – this guy is going to lose the battle against unprotected sex, because that music is seriously earthy and funky in all senses.

If the original song is a reality show, this one is reality – like ACROSS 110TH STREET reality.

 

(note: my divshare died a long time ago, so for expediency’s sake, I’ve substituted a youtube link which probably isn’t equal quality.)

Tony Drake – Love Child

*The immortal Vermettya Royster is Ross’ antipole, especially on “Give Me Your Love” – one of the few tracks that can match “Love Child” for sheer lust.

**I totally dig the Funk Brothers drums in the original, but I can get that fix in a few different places.

Categories: Funky

The coal man of soul.

February 22, 2013 Leave a comment

mackrice_coalman_fr_1Long absence, I realize – life is busy!  Plus, frankly, you can hear just about everything on the internet these days – the last two years have been great for rare soul tracks going up on iTunes, which with its low cost of entry, really enables the long LONG tail of 45rpm music to finally go back into legitimate print.  That should make any music enthusiast happy.

This track is unaccountably absent on both iTunes and wider internet, so let’s see if we can’t rectify that, at least temporarily.  Mack Rice wrote a lot of famous songs (Mustang Sally, anyone?) for other artists, but did not achieve the level of success he richly deserved for his solo career.  “Coal Man” was done for Atlantic when his former colleague in the Falcons, Wilson Pickett, was having his highest level of success – wonder if a favor was called in, as Discogs doesn’t seem to indicate any subsequent issues on Atco until 1976.  The track was allegedly recorded at American Studios, always a plus in my book.  The arrangement is very much in the vein of “Mustang Sally” but seemingly filtered via the Sam & Dave.

I won’t say it’s as ridiculously funky as his subsenquent “Three People In Love” for Capitol – but you can decide for yourself, as that track is available in astonishing quality on iTunes for a buck twenty-nine.  (I mean, seriously, how great is that??!)

The track is taken from a French single with the picture cover at right; I found it in a thrift store somewhere for a song.  “Terrible” seems to be a series of soul singles, not any judgement on quality, but it makes me wonder if someone over there was a fan of Roy Redmond’s “Ain’t That Terrible” – an apt theme song for any properly stomping series of soul tracks.

Unfortunately the transfer quality isn’t as good with the French mastering as it might be with a US press (those Atlantic cutting engineers knew how to make a track really sing, try comparing Otis Redding’s “Hard to Handle” US press with its foreign counterparts sometime), but it’s very clean, and seemingly you won’t find it anywhere else…catch it here before someone gets the idea to put it in a beer commercial (it’d work!).

[audio http://www.divshare.com/direct/23767158-acc.mp3]

Coal Man

PS: if you haven’t read the book on the Memphis Boys, it’s filled with interesting information on the legendary studio group and its underrated output.  It seems to be out in paperback now, and is available used under $20 at Amazon.

Categories: Funky