Classic Melting Pot

fireinmybones

Elder Beck – Rock And Roll Sermon
Rev. Roger L. Worthy & Sister Bonnie Woodstock – Get Back Satan
Lula Collins – Help Me

{Update: For O-Dub’s take on this comp. and Numero’s Born Again Funk collection check on both Soul-Sides.com and NPR}

By divine intervention I received this collection of gospel music in the mail back in January, but I’ve only now really listened to the whole thing. At 3 CDs, each with over 25 tracks and clocking in at over 4 total hours of listening time, there is a lot of music to digest in this set. Personally, I think this music might have been better served as 3 separate volumes released over a certain period of time, instead of a single set. I can understand why they might have wanted to release all of these at the same time, but it is a truly overwhelming collection.

As overwhelming as it is in terms of volume, it’s twice as overwhelming in terms of quality. Virtually every major tradition in 20th century African-American spiritual music is evident here and there are many many glorious tracks on this compilation. To my ears, the best songs tend to be from the 1950s and early 1960s, generally in an early rock’n’roll vein or based off more of an electric blues tradition. Perhaps the single most noteworthy song on here was recorded in 1956 by Elder Beck and is simply and very accurately titled “Rock And Roll Sermon.” Believe me when I say, this “Rock And Roll Sermon” is so unbelievable it just has to be heard. As compiler Mike McGonigal implies in the notes, you really have to wonder if everyone involved, from Elder Beck to the musicians to the congregation, realized that they were rocking as hard as any of those “damned” Rock’n’rollers ever had.

In fact, the group, especially the guitarist, rocks so hard that you could be excused for believing that the music was later edited in just to throw things completely over-the-top. If rock bands used samplers the way Hip-Hop musicians do, they would have a field day with this song and all of its great lines on the evils of Rock’n’Roll. My favorite exchange happens towards the end when Elder Beck begins channeling Bill Haley only to flip the script in an unexpected (though given the theme of the song, perhaps expected) way.

Rock’n’Roll all night long, Rock…
One O’clock Rock, Two o’ clock Rock,
Three O’ clock Rock, Four o’ clock Rock,
Five o’ clock Roll,
Roll into the patrol wagon, Roll in before the judge,
Rollin’ out the courthouse, Rollin’ into the penintentrary,
Rollin’ into the electric chair, Rollin’ out to the undertaker.
(Screams) Ahhh! Rock’n’roll!

As I said, it’s so unbelievable, it just has to be heard. Another standout is “Get Back Satan” from the Rev. Roger L. Worthy & his sister Bonnie Woodstock. This song was recorded in 1965, but it sounds as if it comes from a much earlier period of time with Worthy & Woodstock singing in unison accompanied by an electric guitar with an eerie amount of reverb. It’s exactly the kind of song I fully expect Holly Golightly, in her latest incarnation along with the Brokeoffs, to be covering in the near future.

For those of you into Gospel Funk, there are plenty of choices here too. Lula Collins’ “Help Me” from 1973, is a track that could have just as easily ended up on obscure Tennesee funk comp. by itself. Aside from some relatively minimal religious references, it is easy to take this song on very secular terms. That’s a more difficult task with a song like “Telephone In My Bosom,” from the Amazing Farmer Singers of Chicago. While the sound has a bit of Sly & Funkadelic, the lyrics keep you focused on the sacred, which is, after all, the true point of this music. You can appreciate it simply on its sonic merits, because it’s very funky, it rocks, it swings, is deeply soulful or just has a certain sound. But it’s very important to understand the context this music was recorded and to remember that even at its most rockin’ it remains sacred music.

It’s the sacred character I’d argue that sets many of these performances above the standard fare produced in similar times. There’s a feeling in these performances that is shared in other sacred musics, but not as readily found in more secular, popular sounds (except not surprisingly when artists come from the Church, i.e. Aretha Franklin, Sam Cooke, Donny Hathaway, etc, etc, etc.). However you want to appreciate this music, what’s most important is that you DO experience it. Regardless of your own religious belief or feeling, this music is deserving of your attention and your ears will be richly rewarded once you delve into this fine set.

Top 10 Desert Island Discs

Top 10 Desert Island Discs

Pretty much since I started doing these webcasts of the Melting Pot Radio Hour I’d thought about doing a show like this, a show focused on the records that I can’t live without. When you’ve listened to thousands of records, from all over the world and different time periods, choosing the most essential music you’ve ever heard is a really difficult task. A lot of it, I’ve found, is very much related to where you are at a moment, in addition to how the music has affected you throughout your life. So, what I have for you here are my top 10 Desert Island discs, along with a couple honorable mentions. I hope you enjoy the show and I would love to hear your own Top 10 records that you can’t live without here in the comments section or over e-mail.

Melting Pot Radio Hour: Econo Edition #5: Honorable Mentions
Melting Pot Radio Hour: Econo Edition #5: Desert Island Discs 10 – 6
Melting Pot Radio Hour: Econo Edition #5: Desert Island Discs 5 – 1

Michael Barnes’ Desert Island Discs:

Book: The Complete Poetical Works and Letters of John Keats

Luxury item: King Size Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups

Honorable Mentions:
The Monkees – Headquarters – Colgems (1967)
A Tribe Called Quest – People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm – Jive (1990)
Curtis Mayfield – Curtis – Curtom (1970)
The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground – MGM (1969)
Nick Drake – Bryter Layter – Island (1969)
John Coltrane – A Love Supreme – Impulse! (1965)

Top 10 Desert Island Discs:
10. Gal Costa – Gal Costa (Não Identificado) – Phillips (1969)
9. The Minutemen – Double Nickels on the Dime – SST (1984)
8. Michael Jackson – Off The Wall – Epic (1979)
7. Sly & the Family Stone – Stand! – Epic (1969)
6. Booker Little – Out Front – Candid (1961)
5. Irma Thomas – Down At Muscle Shoals – Chess/Charly (1988)
4. Charles Mingus – Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus – Impulse! (1963)
3. Jimi Hendrix Experience – Electric Ladyland – Reprise (1968)
2. Talk Talk – Spirit of Eden – EMI (1988)
1. Johnny Hartman – Songs From The Heart – Bethlehem (1955)

Dig Gayle's White Shoes...

Dig Gayle's White Shoes...

Smith – I Just Wanna Make Love To You
Smith – Let’s Get Together
Smith – Tell Him No

Since last week I finally brought out my Soundtrack in Search of a Quentin Tarantino Film mix, I thought this was a fitting post for this week’s Dig Deep. I first heard Smith through Tarantino’s excellent soundtrack to Death Proof, which included their lone hit, “Baby It’s You.” One night at La Cita I was playing that song and Soul Marcosa remarked how I should check for the record since it actually had a couple of really good songs. Within a week I found this copy at Amoeba for $2 or $3.

There are several things to really like about this group. They have a sound that’s a little rougher than the usual bubblegum fare of the late 60s. It’s not quite soul, not quite rock, not quite a lot of things, but it has a really great sound on the best tracks.  Predictably, my favorite aspect of the group is the sound of the drums from Robert Evans, he keeps it very minimal, but very very tight.  The other thing to really like about Smith was lead singer Gayle McCormick.

In fact, if there is a place this group went wrong it was in thinking that anyone other than Gayle should have been singing their vocals.    McCormick reminds me very much of Lydia Pense of Cold Blood, both petite blonde girls with big time vocals, probably often compared to Janis Joplin, even though they don’t sound remotely like her.  The best tracks on this record, including the hit and similar tracks like “Tell Him No” and “Let’s Get Together,” are the ones where she sings solo. Elsewhere the male vocalists can’t hold a candle to her and the energy suffers for it. It’s in those moments that the absence of original material really hurt this group. But when Gayle is singing lead and the band is cooking, you can forgive the lack of originality.

For instance, “I Just Wanna Make Love To You” is almost a carbon copy of the version that Muddy Waters put down for his Electric Mud record, but it sounds just a little bit better with Gayle on vocals and the separated sound (fuzzy guitar on left channel, drums and organ on the right) beneath her from the group. It’s in tracks like that (and on “Let’s Get Together,” their almost unrecognizable version of the Youngbloods “Get Together”) that showed that Smith held a lot of promise, they just never seemed to be able to fully realize it. Their second record Minus-Plus doesn’t show much progression (at least to my ears) and eventually McCormick realized she was the best thing in the group and set out on her own, though with mixed results. But in 1969, Smith had a dynamite single and a really solid sound, this record is a testament to what could have been.

Cheers,

Michael

…and just because it’s such a fabulous song, here’s video of the group playing “Baby It’s You.” What is notable about this performance, in addition to that crazy Sheena warrior princess headband, is that Gayle is clearly singing for real, but the band is not playing for real, which means it’s a backing track and there’s an instrumental version of the song and, likely, the whole record. The mind boggles at how many instrumental versions there are in record label vaults from this period of time…

Golden Triangle Will Rock You

Golden Triangle Will Rock You

Golden Triangle – Neon Noose

Out of Brooklyn, NY comes one of the records I am most excited to play when I return to KCRW, courtesy of Golden Triangle. I’m not sure how they manage to sound crisp and clean (especially with the vocal harmonies) and all garagey and gritty (especially in the guitars) at the same time, but I ‘effen love it and soon you will too.

The Avant-Funk of Albery Ayler

The Avant-Funk of Albery Ayler

Albert Ayler – New Generation
Albert Ayler – Sun Watcher
Albert Ayler – Free At Last

In a career that is filled with challenging, searing, provoking work, this album, released in 1968, was probably the most radical and avant-garde thing that saxophonist Albert Ayler ever produced. When it was released, it seems a lot of his core fans felt he was “selling out” by employing R&B and Funk rhythms. Much like Miles Davis’ On The Corner, another record that faced the same accusations, this couldn’t be farther from what the music actually represents. The songs on New Grass were an attempt at a real fusion of styles and while that may have been to court new audiences, this fusion was entirely on the artist’s terms. I’m not sure why anyone would have thought this music would be “sell-out” music. Yes, it has a funky rhythm, there are some soulful back-up singers, but listeners still have to contend with the otherworldly saxophone of Ayler.

“New Generation” is a perfect example, the beat is seriously driving, with Bernard Purdie doing his usually solid thang on the skins, the theme of the song is certainly very peace, love and hippie-fied, but still that saxophone cuts through and (especially towards the end) goes places few other jazz players could and definitely where no soul or funk horn player would consider going. This is especially the case with the best song on the album, the instrumental “Sun Watcher” which begins as if it might be a “standard” Ayler spiritual before shifting into a madly funky beat with Ayler’s soulful then completely out-there workout on the sax riding on top. “Free At Last” shows Albert’s socially conscious side along with his best vocal performance on the album, while other tracks such as “New Ghosts” reinterpret Ayler’s prior work into this new “dimension” of sound.

But I’ve always felt like what this album represented wasn’t some true change of direction. Instead, what Ayler does on New Grass is meld the multiple worlds his music always existed within, Jazz, Gospel, Marching Bands, Rhythm & Blues, Soul, all together into a single soulful mix. In comparison with his prior work it was an abrupt change of pace, but “sell-out” it never could have been. This sound would never have been commercially viable, probably for the best, because it’s too sincerely conceived (particularly in the “Message From Albert” where Ayler implores us to “Praise to the Lord, Repent! Pray again and Repent!”) and it’s too unconventionally conventional in comparison to his prior work. Those reasons however are exactly why it remains one of my favorite records from Ayler.

Incidentally, if you haven’t seen it, I really highly recommend the documentary My Name Is Albert Ayler which sheds significant light on Ayler’s life and its connection to his music.

Cheers,

Michael

A few of the records used for the Soundtrack in search of a Quentin Tarantino Film...

A few of the records used for the Soundtrack in Search of a Quentin Tarantino Film...

For this week’s webcast I have a mix that had been in the works for several years. I’m a big fan of Quentin Tarantino’s films, particularly his use of music in film. As a tribute to him I’d worked out this mix a couple years ago with the intention of sending it to him, but never got around to actually doing it.

I’ve revised the original mix, adding a few additional cuts I’ve recently tracked down and now it’s here for you to listen to as Episode 4 of the Melting Pot Radio Hour. It’s a far ranging mix, it rocks, it rolls, it’s got some recognizable sounds, some more obscure gems, but I think each of the songs would find a happy home in a future QT film, thus I’m calling it “A Soundtrack in Search of a Quentin Tarantino Film.”

Let me know what you think over e-mail or in the comments. I’m being a bit mysterious about the track listing this time around (though you can see many of the records in the picture above and there are a couple I’ve featured here before), but if there’s a particular track you like, just let me know and I’ll tell you. I’ll also let you guys know if I do send it to Tarantino and if anything ever comes of that.

Melting Pot Radio Hour: Econo Edition #4

El Gran indeed!

El Gran indeed!

El Gran Fellove – El Jacarandoso

I’d never heard of Cuban singer El Gran Fellove until I received this collection of his music from Vampi Soul. Most of the tracks on this 21 song retrospective I would classify as mambo, but towards the end as the sounds shift into the 1960s, things get subtly funky as on this track “El Jacarandoso”…Que Sabroso!

2nd album from versatile vocalist José James

2nd album from versatile vocalist José James

José James – Code
James – The Greater Good

{Update: José James recently came to LA and performed on Morning Becomes Eclectic at KCRW…You are very welcome}

Just in time for Valentine’s Day we have a new record, all about L.O.V.E., from vocalist José James. I’ve been listening to this new record from James for well over a month now, trying to figure out why I don’t like it as much as the first record. That’s not to say that Black Magic isn’t a very good record, it certainly is. If it wasn’t a good record, I wouldn’t even bother posting about it (cause really at this point in the game, who wants to read about the shit I DON’T want to hear).

As a sophomore release, it is a very solid record and one that by the end of the year might even be in my Top 10. However, James’ debut, The Dreamer, is one of my fave records of this decade, a nothing short of stunning debut for a jazz vocalist. So while it might have been that anything that James released would never surpass that album, what’s been nagging me about this record didn’t seem to be about the usual sophomore jinx.

It also didn’t seem to be about the change of direction on Black Magic. Here James is no longer interested in just showing off his jazz chops and he streches out and into a variety of genres, including multiple tracks produced by Flying Lotus (such as “Code” posted above). Though I prefer James’ jazz work, I don’t begrudge him showing off his versatility, so that wasn’t it either.

The answer finally hit me about 20 minutes into washing dishes earlier today (where I generally reach most of my epiphanies), the issue is the use of repetition, but only in certain ways. When it’s repetition based around a theme, as on “Code” or “Love Conversation” the sun shines through. On other tracks such as “Made For Love” or “Lay You Down” the use of the exact same phrases repeated again and again gives James’ vocals a conventional sound that seemed to escape them with virtually everything else of his I’d heard up to this point.

As with his debut, virtually all of these tracks are ruminations on Love, though here James’ seems focused more on a momentary seduction instead of something more everlasting, which I suppose fits the more “contemporary” sounds of this album and more contemporary attitudes around love. I’m hopeful that soon enough James, with that impossibly smooth baritone, will get back to producing music that is not only timely, but truly timeless. As it stands, Black Magic is a nice portrait of an artist growing into his own as a performer and a solid addition to the musical landscape of 2010.

Maybe the funkiest record I own...B.R.3

Maybe the funkiest record I own...B.R.3

Toni Tornado – Me Libertei
Toni Tornado – O Reporte Informou
Toni Tornado – Uma Vida

There are funky records and then there are records that are so funky, “funky” just doesn’t even seem to capture just how incredibly funky the record truly is. Toni Tornado’s B.R.3 is one of those records. A record so insanely funky that I hesitate to even post on it for fear someone will seriously injure themselves listening to these tracks.

I first heard “Me Libertei” from this record as an unlisted track on a myspace page. The DJ who ran the page was being purposely mysterious in not supplying the track info, but being the stubborn kinda fella that I am, I spent the next two or three months trying to figure out what the track was and who performed it. I had a feeling it might be Toni Tornado, just based on my knowledge of Brazilian soul singers. The style of the vocals was a bit too rough to be Tim Maia and too deep to be anyone other than Tornado or maybe Gerson King Combo. Eventually, as is often the case since he has a copy of every record in creation, Matthew Africa was able to identify that it was indeed Toni Tornado and that it came from this record, released originally in 1971.

As far as I know B.R.3 was Tornado’s debut. I believe that prior to this record he had worked primarily as an actor, which I think is probably what he’s more famous for in Brazil. Tornado strikes me as sorta like a Brazilian Joe Tex (though his use of grunts is all JB), a larger than life character who straddles the border between sincerely gritty and slightly campy over the top performance. This record, along with the follow up from 1973 that includes “Podes Crer, Amizade,” are the exemplars by which all Brazilian funk records should be judged. I’d actually stack this record up against most every American funk record (emphasis on record, not 45s) from this period of time… it is seriously just that good.

“Me Libertei” was the track that hooked me and unsuprisingly it’s the best track on the album. A heavy mix of Brazilian funk, so clearly influenced by sounds from the US but sounding completely unique and novel. The way all the elements come together in that first minute before Tornado’s vocals come in, with those monster drums, that high pitched guitar, punchy organ notes, earthquaking bass lines and the layered horns, is one of the most thrilling experiences I’ve ever had, it seems impossible that a song could be this good for the full run of it’s 3 and 1/2 minutes, but it is. Arguably the deepest and funkiest song I’ve ever heard…EVER.

“O Reporte Informou” has almost a proto-rap feeling to it, in the way Tornado just spits out the lyrics at the beginning. It’s almost as if it was ’81 instead of ’71 and Tornado has become a Brazilian Melle Mel. “Uma Vida” has this epic quality at the start before it gets just plain old funky about mid-way in. It’s just sooo so good, it’s silly. Really though, aside from “Me Libertei,” which is a number #1 stunner, I could have chosen any of the other 11 tracks and had just as many superlatives to throw around. There are few records that I’ve heard that can match this one for sheer funkocity. B.R.3 is 32+ minutes of pure Brazilian Soul Power and I am very thankful to be able to bring you a slice.

Cheers,

Michael

I’ve been thinking alot about samples of late as I prepare a post for KCRW’s Top 5 blog on “Most Iconic Hip-Hop Samples.” If you’re gonna put together a list of important samples, you figure it would have to include at least one track from James Brown. But which one should it be? In my mind there are two JB related tracks that stand above the many songs of his that have been sampled, “The Funky Drummer” and “Think (About It)” from Lyn Collins.

Both of these tracks feature absolutely monster breaks, both have been sampled countless times, but pound for pound which of these two James Brown related cuts is the more iconic, the more important sample in Hip-Hop history?

Just in case you need to be reminded…first up is Lyn Collins “Think.” Such a classic song, from start to finish, but the breaks at 1:22 & 2:15 in the video below make it an all-timer.

Probably THE #1 song people think of when they think of the break from “Think” has to be Rob Base & DJ E.Z.Rock “It Takes Two”

Here is one of my favorite tracks that uses a different break within the same song, Slick Rick’s “I Shouldn’t Have Done It”

On the other hand we have James Brown’s “Funky Drummer,” quite possibly the most sampled song of all-time. So many different samples, from all those grunts from JB, the “1-2-3-4 Get It” call just before the drums hit (at about 5:20 in the vid below), and then there are those drums, courtesy Clyde Stubblefield…

In terms of a song that samples “Funky Drummer,” this one might be the only one to rival “It Takes Two” in universal appeal.

This track, Eric B. & Rakim’s “Lyrics of Fury,” is probably my favorite use of those massively funky drums.

I could go on and on with this for days…question is what do YOU think? Which is the more important and more iconic sample???

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