Tuesday / March 10 / 2009

Strictly Vinyl Reviews #002


Vinyl Review

Con Funk Shun – Organized Con Funk Shun
Pickwick, 1978

If someone knows the time-line of this record, I’d really appreciate the knowledge. This record (the Pickwick release) has the recording date at 1973 but not released until 1978. However, any kind of Google search for this disc brings up an original 1973 release on the Fretone label with no mention of the Pickwick release … (example here).  Regardless, I’ll be honest with ya’ll. I saw this record sittin’ in the bins at one of my local vinyl digs and thought I should take a chance on it.  Judging by the cover (credited to one Spyros Heromis who I assumed incorrectly to be the man behind Spirographs), I was expecting a record full of disco-funk with maybe 1 or 2 tracks decent enough to get inspiration from or spin at a house party. Man was I wrong (of course after tellin’ my Pops about the purchase he replied “yeah, who doesn’t know Con Funk Shun”, so I guess I’ve just been sleeping on theses guys). The intro track “Time” comes pounding out the gate with (what sounds to me) an African-style 4 on the floor groove that knocks you square in the face. Big horns, a big drum beat and funky clav for days. The chorus to this sounded familiar, and after some thinking, “thought” it was a track off of Groove Armadas “Back to Mine” that carried the same downward horn line hook. Of course after getting out my copy of “Back to Mine” I couldn’t find what I thought I was looking for. That’s because a sample of the track does NOT appear on the album, merely, Tony D’s “Piano Grand” follows a similar form. Having cleared that up, I can now proceed with the rest of my review. (On a side note, “Back to Mine” is one of those seminal albums to me, I picked up the CD in a used record shop in Peoria, Il on a whim, not knowing anything about who Groove Armada was, but seeing Tribe, Barry White, Roots Manuva and Al Green on the same disc incited such an intense curiosity I was compelled to purchase the disc right then and there. It lived in my CD player without movement for a good 2 months, with me skipping over most of the UK Garage tracks, but always hitting rewind at least once on Roots Manuvas “Next Type of Motion” …. that’s still my jam). … Oh yeah, I’m not reviewing that record …

The second track follows suit with a lush yet rhythmic swelling of keyboards (primarily clavinet)  and horns intro before the singer cries out “Get down with it …  boogy to the music!” to another infectious bass drum driven funk jam.  My only complaint on this tune is that Chicago gets no love. My man calls out NYC, ATL, DC, Memphis, et al. but straight flies over the Midwest! Comon now! Whatever, it’s still 6 minutes of a stone groove. The third track on the A Side is a tender ballad complete with chimes, glockenspiels and arpeggiated rhodes titled “Do You Really Know What Love is For?”.  The song warns a young (presumably) woman that the man she’s with is just trying to hit it and quit, but he’s in it for the long haul. A solid 70s sounding ballad.  This side of the plate runs out with “Sure Feels Good To Me” a nice funky Ohio Players sounding jam … solid dance floor hit.

The B Side opens up with a summer groove style tune titled “Love In Me”. For some reason makes me think of the Bay Area with its easy melody, guitar lines, and happy convincing that “Baby can’t you see, the love thats here in me … “  The track fades out while the sounds of an ocean fade in setting up the start of “Seascape (instrumental)”.  A nine minute jazz odyssey of sorts that give all the horn players a chance to preach over this extremely laid back tune.  The trombone player impressed me the most with a tasteful solo.  The album closes with another slammer (in the tradition of paranoid funk songs) titled “Funky Things On Your Mind”.

So now that I’m hip to Con Funk Shun I’ve dug up some more of their albums and didn’t find them nearly as impressive as this gem. I find their later material to be a little too derivative of Earth, Wind and Fire, the Isley Brothers and 80s George Clinton.  This album has a distinct sound to it, both in song writing and production. Definitely recommended pickup.


David Axelrod – The Auction
Decca, 1972

Sat on this one for a while before I actually checked it out.  Another aquistion from my Pop’s stacks, I probably would have checked it out sooner if i had noticed the small “David Axelrod” on the back under the title.  The cover stands out; bold and disgusting with a black female in rags being auctioned off while 2 men stand beside her next in line for the block.  I presumed this must be a musical of some kind which is why I skipped over it for so long, and it is, but it’s more a concept record than anything like that, a concept record on American slavery.  The album starts and ends with traditional spirituals arranged by Axelrod with full chorus backing, but the middle is exactly what you’d expect from him in the early 70s, funky funky jams thrown down by a host of heavyweights including John Guerin, King Errison, Joe Sample, Ernie Watts and Cannonball Adderley.

Opening up the A side is a lively post-Civil War freedom song appropriately titled “Oh! Freedom”.  It quickly fades out to a modern funky drumset opening up the next track, the title track, “The Auction”.  A somber song recanting a slave auction scene anywhere in pre-Civil War America, or anywhere where slavery was still tolerated for that matter.  Ernie Watts takes killing tenor sax mini-solos inbetween verses until the drums and bass take over with a heavy-ass breakdown.  The chords to this tune remind me MJs “Thriller”, which was a weird juxtaposition once I noticed it (that has nothing to do with the song, just something I noticed).  Most of the song’s are “spoke/sung” with the singers reciting lines in an opera style.  Not in the sense of grandiose singing, but rather in a narrative way.  Almost every song contains more than a few lines which disregard meter or rhyming convention.   The next track “Sympathy” is a gorgeous ballad where the solo singer (Jessica Smith) laments to knowing “why the caged bird sings”.  Again, Watts throws down some tasteful horn licks, this time on flute.  Closing out the front side is my favorite track on the album simply named “Freedom”, opening with a nice rhodes cadenza the voices swell until the drums and bass come in so funky it hurts.  I think I like the words most on this tune … “If there on earth a slave, Are you really free and brave?”.  The song is basically an inciting remark to those who see wrong but do nothing.

On the flip it doesn’t get any less funky with “The Leading Citizen” opening up for a nice instrumental jam before the chorus takes over.  As you might have guessed, the song is an ironic statement of values, that the “leading citizen” in the community  is the one inflicting the most pain upon the enslaved percentage of the population.   Several of the songs on this album are given an additional writing credit of “adapted from the works of Paul Lawrence Dunbar” (sic). The next song “The Debt” is one of these songs. Unfortunately I haven’t read much of Laurence Dunbar’s (as it’s correctly spelled) work except for a few poems.  For those of you who don’t know, he was a leading African American figure in the early 20th century and if you wanna know ’bout him read up here.  Closing out the album is an “end-of-the-show” sounding track, “Be Proud, My Race!”.  Full chorus and full band blast through the tune with a positive vibe … you can almost hear the chorus being vamped during curtain call at the end of this musical “play”.

So yeah, this is a great album.  No idea how rare it is, but if you spot it and it ain’t too expensive, nab it.



Various – Rockers All-Star Explosion
Alligator, 1985

Well, I had to include one stinker in this installment of Strictly Vinyl Reviews. Not that it’s all bad, but this album really disappointed me. Housing names like Augustus Pablo and Junior Delgado this album is a sampling of Pablo’s Rockers International Records catalog put out by the Chicago based label Alligator. I hope these are all the B-sides and throw-away tracks from the mid 80s because no track is that great all the way through. They’re all good, not great … many go on for far too long with mediocre melodies, hooks and even playing! I counted no less then 3 tracks with huge snafus in the drum playing but the tape just kept running! The musicians are the usual lot, Robbie, Horsemouth, Earl Smith, Pablo and Vin Gordon (just to name a few) but there are a handful of drummers credited who’s names I didn’t recognize.

The album opens up with the happy melodica instrumental, “Jah in the Hills”. Good times, but nothing to write home about. Jah Bull comes up next toasting up the peace and unity, another nice track but starts to drag about half way through. Sister Frica puts her best efforts forward on “One in the Spirit” and this is by far my favorite track on the disc. Maybe because I’m partial to female singers, but mostly because this track clearly had the most “work” put into it. Several parts, several melodic lines, etc etc … it doesn’t get static and the binghi playing on it is killin.  Next up is Asher & Trimble with “Humble Yourself” … a spooky, dubby track in the style of Black Uhuru’s 70s material.  Again, the rhythm track is killing but the lyrics just repeat and repeat with almost no variation or even push to the end of the track. Also, not a big fan of the reggae tracks calling out specific nationalities for blame in their hardship, just kind of weird and borderline racist. Ahhh … well, Tetrack are my kind of guys … closing out the A side with “Love & Unity”. Unfortunately their singing aspirations are not met with talent and the track just sounds like 3 guys trying their hardest to cop the Heptones (more specifically, Carlton & The Shoes) but just not hitting the high notes or even singing in tune. Which is most sad as the track itself is well written, arranged, etc … ah well … I’d probably still play it at a party.

Pick up record, flip over and … Junior Delgado greets us with some epic wailing and moaning. “Away with Fussing & Fighting” is the name of the track and it’s pretty good, nice binghi playing in the background and trombone work from Vin Gordon. Again though, like many tracks, the lyrical content is good but repetitive and repeats itself a few too many times for me. Though when compared to the next track, “Freedom Sounds” by Ricky Grant, Delgado’s track is a wealth of words. A really nice bubbly steppers-reggae jam with pretty mediocre wordsmithing. Nice melodica accompaniment though. Augustus takes the reigns again next with “Straight to Ethiopia”. I like these tunes of his with the kalimba, melodica and clav on em. Delroy Williams hosts the next cut with big phat 80s synths on em, a decent track and the only one with a dub which is particularly good. Lots of space and dramatic entrances and exits of instruments. The B-side closes out with Norris Reid over the ever classic “King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown” riddim. I like this guys voice, and the track isn’t that bad … “Black Force” where he states (repeatedly) that they are the, black force …

So yeah, I think I got this disc for about 4 bux at a used record shop, recommended pick up in that price range, otherwise there’s stuff out there your money is better spent on …