VARIOUS ARTISTS: LET IT BE – BLACK AMERICA SINGS LENNON, McCARTNEY AND HARRISON (ACE)
This, the follow-up to “Come Together: Black America Sings Lennon & McCartney”, is another pot pourie of wonderful cover versions. This time, George Harrison has been included in the mix, the Beatle who was so often overlooked as John and Paul received the lion’s share of the composing credit having penned the lion’s share of the group’s hit material. With The Beatles openly crediting Black America as their prime inspiration, it seems only natural for them to pay homage to their British equivalents. Kicking off with Aretha Franklin’s “Eleanor Rigby” (always a pleasure), through to Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Got To Get You Into My Life” and Mary Wells’ “Do You Want To Know A Secret”. Smashing! Motown too are well represented – as indeed they should be due to The Beatles (and of course Dusty Springfield’s) relentless promotion of the young sound coming from Detroit – with the Four Tops’ version of “The Fool On The Hill”, The Supremes’ “A World Without Love”, The Temptations’ “Hey Jude”, and The Undisputed Truth’s “With A Little Help From My Friends”. Add to these titles, the magical touch from Isaac Hayes on “Something”, Dionne Warwick with “We Can Work It Out” and “Don’t Let Me Down” from Randy Crawford, and you’ve got a pretty enjoyable compilation. What I like about Ace Records is that the guys think outside the box, and this is another they should be proud of, so highly recommended for sure. (See also Motown Spotlight)
If you’re into seventies disco, this re-issue definitely has your name on it. “Instant Replay” blazed its way across the world, firing up dancers and DJs with its non stop dance beat that simply roared into the atmosphere. Hard hitting, huge slices of musical domination and a relentless pounding beat. There’s nothing to dislike about this slice of Dan Hartman musical magic, because right from the opening track, the pace and mood is set: party, party, party – and here comes the countdown! Released in 1978, this is Dan’s third full length album where all the tracks hit the top spot in the US dance chart, while “Instant Replay” and “This Is It” were crossover UK hits. Written and produced by the main man, with Tom Moulton at the mixing desk, nothing could really go wrong, could it? The tracks are full to bursting in energy and musical gadgetry, almost wall-to-wall disco of the highest level achievable on record. Pushing open the barriers is evidenced by “Countdown/This Is It”, a melee of sounds grappling to be heard, while “Double-O-Love” hits the funk trail with a harder feel and rougher vocals, all the while the beat yields not at all but becomes engagingly interesting with huge slices of guitar work. Likewise “Chocolate Box” which is more edgy, for want of a better word, and loving the way it changes style part-way through. The introduction to “Love Is A Natural” reminds me of Cissy Houston’s “Think It Over” (also during some of the sections throughout the song) but sadly Dan’s song tends to meander along without the immediate grab of the previous tracks. Then, quite out of the blue, the mood is totally changed with “Time And Space” – a slow moving, softer sounding singer but, my, what a strong chorus line. Many may feel this is out of place here, but, not so, because it offers a different side to the singer/producer, almost melancholy in feel, but not too cheesy. It’ll do for me. Dan died in 1994, aged 43 years old, from an AIDS related illness. The world lost a growing talent of unimaginable creativeness.
EDWIN BIRDSONG: EDWIN BIRDSONG EXPANDED EDITION (BBR)
Funk may be the message but after listening to this re-issue time and again, I’m not getting it. The groove and pace throughout is extremely similar, but not unattractive. Sometimes a piece of inventive musical excitement breaks free and the continuous beat takes on different guises, yet the incessant overall sound remains the same. His formative years saw him working with Billy Preston and Merry Clayton in the Los Angeles Community Choir, before a spell in the army where he performed with bands in Germany. Upon his return to America, and now an established keyboardist, Edwin studied at the Manhattan School of Music and Julliard, before recording a pair of experimental jazz/funk/rock fusion albums under the Polydor banner. Following a short stay with Bam-Boo Records, he joined Philadelphia International Records to record this eponymous album during 1979. “Kunta Dance” was the first extracted single, gushing over with a funk/dance styling, with lyrics inspired by the award winning “Roots” television series. Pulsating P-funk inspired “Phiss-Phizz, the second single, which follows the CD’s opener “Cola Bottle Baby”, extending the soft drink theme perhaps. The final single “Lollipop”, another with that compulsive pull, unfortunately followed the same non-hit status of its predecessors, which was surprising when considering the mighty power of the Philadelphia International network. So, over to you.
THIS IS FAME 1964 – 1968 (KENT)
When this re-issue series was launched in 2011 by the guys at the record company, the vinyl revival was simmering away quietly. Now it’s very much with us – and hallelujah for that! Albums are restricted, of course, by the number of tracks that can be squeezed in, so this one now available offers a definitive look at tracks recorded for this much-revered label. So to tempt buyers, some of the included titles are a pair from Arthur Conley, namely, “I Can’t Stop (No, No, No)” and “I’m Gonna Forget About You”; The Del-Rays’ “Fortune Teller”; George Jackson’s “Back In Your Arms” and June Conquest’s “Almost Persuaded”. Tracks from Clarence Carter and Jimmy Hughes sit easily with recently found gems from Ralph “Soul” Jackson and Ben & Spence. Together they fit well with those by Spooner Oldham and Dan Penn. Must give a mention to the actual record sleeve because it will remind buyers of the lovely sixties soul compilations we used to buy. Welcome back – and not before time!
THE PINNACLE OF DETROIT NORTHERN SOUL (PIED PIPER)
This is the first vinyl album on Ace Record’s specially created Pied Piper imprint although I’m reviewing it from a promotional CD, not having the pure pleasure of opening the cardboard sleeve and carefully easing the 12” record out from within. I’m joking guys! Anyway, that said, Pipe Piper, a Detroit based production company, boasted a huge enough catalogue to have been a successful label in its own right. And, over the last twenty years or so around fifty completed tracks were unearthed for release, and this is the first from that discovery. Newly discovered soul gems like September Jones’ “Voo Doo Madamoiselle” and The Cavaliers’ “We Go Together” slide easily alongside enduring favourites including The Hesitations’ “I’m Not Built That Way” and Mikki Farrow’s “Set My Heart At Ease”. “Just Can’t Leave You” from Tony Hester, and Rose Batiste’s “This Heart Is Lonely” are included under the rarities banner. A positive must for serious collectors.