Edikanfo – The Pace Setters
Label: E.G. Records
Catalog No: EGM 112
My Grade: B
The inside gatefold of this album touts Edikanfo as “African Super Band”. Combine that with a production credit to Brian Eno and hip Mingus/Dolphy-esque abstract art on the inside and there was no way I was passing this up. The Eno credit was surely to help sell albums in the US as the executive producer, Faisal Hewlani, is a giant of Ghanaian music with album credits stretching back to the 1960s. The band just sounds too tight for this to have been given serious “production” from a British minimalist/ambient musician… but what do I know. I just wouldn’t be surprised if this collaboration was more to benefit Eno’s musical experience and Edikanfo’s distribution. Whatever the case, this record is really slamming, and frustratingly the only record by the band to make it to the West. Recorded at an equally famous Studio One based in Accra, Ghana, and located in a defunct nightclub called “The Napoleon Club”, where many of Ghana’s top highlife and afro-pop bands cut records through the 70s and early 80s. The recording has the quality of being just a couple pre-synth-takeover in afro-pop. There is definite use, but not over-use of strange keyboard sounds.
The disc starts us off with a track written by the bass player, Gilbert Amartey, titled “Nka Bom”and has a real nice afro-disco feel to it. There’s something distinctly 80s sounding about this track but I can’t place my finger on what it is. The keyboarist Ishamael Odai really really surprised me with his very western/soul-styled playing on this track. It’s extremely understated (surrounded by pounding drums and disco hi-hats) and almost “gentle” but is extremely sophisticated. The next track, “Something Lefeh-O” is the weakest track on the disc. Going full-out disco in parts, the lyrics are just that sort of cliche “happy happy dance dance” style and the combination of the two just make for bad song writing. Last on the A-side is “Gbenta”, the most solid cut on the album. Written by the sax player Paa Akrashie, it has a nice quick 6/8 feel with funky keys and bass. Minimal vocals accompany the tune leaving most of the rhythm to be traversed by horns and soloists.
The flip side gets us started with “Blinking Eye”, a poppy disco-beat kind of track with all kinds of crazy little synth “pings” and lines. Again, the keyboardist Odai stands out taking a tasteful solo on the Rhodes (or a synth that sounds like a Rhodes as there’s no Rhodes credit). “Moonlight Africa” takes us into funky-highlife territory after a somewhat cliche’d opening. This track falls a bit flat comparatively, but still has that infectious driving beat. Rounding out the album is “Daa Daa Edikanfo”, a catchy tune written by trumpeter Osei Tutu. The use of some kind of snyth drum (or a live drum with some strange fx on it) is pretty funky but then annoying by the time the needle runs to the center. For the most part, a solid track (except for the trumpet wackery at the end).
This disc shouldn’t be that expensive if you can find it, and if you like African music you should definitely grab it.
The Esquires – Get On Up And Get Away
Label: Bunky Records
Catalog No: BS 300
My Grade: B+
This is sweet sweet soul music, plain and simple. It might not be the most original song-writing (the record does contain some commonly covered cuts), but this unique combination of Chicago-style soul and doo-wop makes for one great album. Originally hailing from Milwaukee, the group made tracks for Chicago in 1966, hoping to gain interest from Curtis Mayfield’s Windy C Records label (precursor to the very successful Curtom Records). Finding the group too derivative of The Impressions, Mayfield passed on signing them. Luckily another Chicago producer, Bill “Bunky” Sheppard liked what he heard and had the group re-cut their soon-to-be hit “Get On Up” in Chicago with Thomas Washington as arranger. The record was slated to be released on Sheppard’s Constellation Records, however Gene Chandler had recently left Constellation for Chess and sales declined heavily leaving the label vulnerable and and it’s collapse inevitable. Sheppard salvaged what he could from Constellation and formed “Bunky Records”, releasing “Get On Up” in 1967 with “Listen To Me” on the B-Side. The song killed in Chicago leading way to national distribution by Scepter/Wand. The group went on to national fame and through the 70s recorded for a variety of record labels including Scepter/Wand, Bunky, Capitol, Lamarr and Ju-Par. The group wrapped up their recording career in 1976 with “Get On Up ’76″ on the aforementioned Ju-Par Records.
I’ll refrain from an individual track evaluation of this album, but standout tracks include “Listen To Me” (a dancey/summer kind of jam), “How Was I To Know” (the classic happy/sad tune) and “No Doubt About It” (a sweet ballad). The singing is impeccable, the arrangements – driving and the overall vibe just makes you feel good … like everything’s gonna be ok …..everything’s gonna be ok …
Oscar d’Leon – El Discobolo
Label: TH Records
Catalog No: TH-AMF 2207
My Grade: B
I’m afraid this is gonna be a short review as I don’t speak Spanish and there’s not a ton of info on this guy on the internet I can read. What I do know for sure is that the guy is Venezuelan, and is known by most anyone that isn’t me. According to his Wikipedia entry .. “In Spanish, he is known as El Sonero del Mundo (‘the Improviser of the World’)”. He is also an accomplished bassist, having started his professional career playing in La Dimensión Latina .. a band that is estimated to have sold 30 million records since their founding in 1972. I found this album in a serious stack of Latin LPs and 45s at my Salvation Army… none were in good shape, but there had to be at least 100 LPs and 200 45s. I cherry picked what looked interesting having no real reference to go off but the cover or label. Anyway, I’m glad this album had such a crazy cover. The back cover is equally as awesome.