Saturday, August 4, 2012

Andujar reviews records, volume 1

Andujar reviews records
Here I present my column of insight into the deep, deep world of funk (and beyond) music. Here is the place where I can thank the bands and labels who provide me with so much good music. Here I am giving a direct, honest review of how my ears and person react to these fresh-pressed sounds. Here I shall admire all for the attempts to brighten life, regardless of my snot-nosed opinions!
Send me your vinyl! for more info.
My apologies to those labels who I promised reviews and I am late. here they are, with more forthcoming.

Electric Cowbell, specialists in eclectic 45s
---One of my favorite labels is Jimmy Thomson's (mostly) 45 label Electric Cowbell. This operation couldn't pass any more tests for me. 45rpm 7" with big holes? Check. Wacky sleeves? Check. Interesting, eclectic and leftfield music? Check. Old skool DIY feel? Check. Cowbell as label logo? How cool is that? 2012 has seen more nuggets added to their fine legacy. 

 ---NYC retro-boogaloo outfit Spanglish Fly bring us their 2nd EC disk, including a sexy bicycle-riding anthem that I'd love to play next to Queen's "Bicycle Race" 45 some day (there's a fun edition with "Fat Bottomed Girls" on the B, with sleeve photo capturing the spirit of both tunes in one single shot...but enough about Queen). There's a cop story theme called "The Po-Po" that worked well next to Blaxploitation sounds one day on Clandestino. And these guys are a lot of fun live, with a swinging horn section, seductive lead vocalist and good time party vibe. Looking forward to hearing the forthcoming Harvey Averne-produced recordings.
---I unfortunately had to miss Brooklyn's Super Hi Fi when they rolled thru Bishop's Lounge in June but I still obtained these cuts of live dub action. While the concept here isn't anything groundbreaking, it is a sound that I truly get into and I imagine it is quite impactful with the band live right in front of you. That was the first single. The split 7" (aw, the old two band split 7", a classic idea that the Cowbell rolls with on occasion) offers more classic dub moves, but maybe they took a bigger hit off the chalice this time, with a visit to deep space near the end of the side. On the flip Seattle's Polyrhythmics deliver some lyrical horns via a Budos vibe. Lots of bands are doing it, but judging from this (and "The Imposter" on Kept Records) they can do it as well as anyone.
---Chico Trujillo are a fun Chilean band that first came to my attention from the Grupo Fantasma guys raving about them to me. This single is a split release with Barbés Records. It makes sense that it would take two whole record labels to wrestle these motherfuckers into doing a record because the tempo on "Gran Pecador" is enough to get anybody into next-day hangover territory. That's how much fun it is. Like a Gypsy brass band playing an amped-up cumbia at a punk rock show, it is no sin to dance to this one. (Okay, maybe it is. That's why you will do it at the next party when I splat this platter on the decks. Can't wait to test it). "Caleta Vargas" sounds like a chicha-inspired spy soundtrack with some ska sprinkled in. This single is one of the year's best. Great pic sleeve too.

 ---Orquesta el Macabeo is a Puerto Rican band that took 5 labels to wrangle a 7" out of, but oh was it worth it! Sort of a funk/prog-salsa (I made that genre up in my head after hearing Cortijo's Time Machine--and it continues with groups like Bio Ritmo) jam with mucho sabor on the horns, electric piano and enough cowbell to be worthy of release on this label. Some of this reminds me of the funkier Fania stuff. Top shelf. My only disappointment here is with the lack of the big hole in the middle of the 45 itself. 

---CSC Funk Band's tribute to Guru & Gang Starr ("A Little Weight"/"A Little Planet") is a killer funk single with awesome sound quality. Seriously funky drumbeats all over the damn thing! The B-side has some sticky guitar and some kind of Eastern-sounding reed (is it an oboe?). This record is funky and hip-hop enough that I hope they get some rappers over these beats soon.---No BS Brass Band offer two sides of joyous blasts on their Electric Cowbell release. The version of "Take On Me" by A-Ha is just cheesy enough to put a smile on the face and it must be a showstopper when they play it to a live audience. But they prove to have a few more tricks up their sleeve as evidenced by the funky and wild jam "Dr Wily" on the flip. Menacing tuba and a New Orleans-meets-Eastern Europe-meets Looney Tunes concoction is my favorite of the two cuts.
---Electric Cowbell do nothing but put out great fucking records, one after another. 

Ethio hardcore
---Sublime Frequencies have released one of the most killer 45s I've heard all season with Hayvanlar Alemi's punkish uptempo take on Mulatu's Ethiopian classic "Yekermo Sew". This really fits my prediction some years back of an Ethio hardcore sound that has since been transmitted by the likes of Debo Band, The Ex and now these guys. Call me a dreamer but beefier guitars seem to be working well with this music, no? The group improv cut on the flip is further inspiration to check out their full length album. A contemporary band from Turkey rewarding us with anti-border purpose and we all can benefit. Fucking hot.

Memphis Soul
---Memphis Soul...An obscure 70s band with a raw (raw, yes) jaunt into the soul underground. This greasy venture featured the original drummer from Dyke & the Blazers (who stand as major figures in my love for true school R&B). "Don't Down Me People" is a severely direct deep funk number that takes up two sides. No info given on the group but I would be pleased to hear more from these sessions, shall something fruitful transpire. A very cool 45rpm release from The Numero Group.

Synchro-Rhythmic Ecclectic Language
---Jazzman--I picked up the recent 45 issue of Louis Xavier & Synchro-Rhythmic Ecclectic Language. Two long (and good) cuts of soul jazz. "Sipote" doesn't really give any indication of a Caribbean artist at work (Xavier originally hails from Martinique) but there's no denying this funky tune. "Suite" sounds like if Sun Ra produced a Oneness of Juju record in Africa. This is afro-jazz for an active dancefloor. The 45 sounds a bit muddy but is well worth a good spin. Give me more from this sound, please.

Good times at Dust & Grooves/Trópicalia In Furs party
---I attended a happening party at East Village vinyl spot Trópicalia In Furs (E 5th, btwn 1st & 2nd...across from the police station) for a cool event for Eilon Paz and his Dust & Grooves mission to make a photo book about record collectors, with some great shots of his subjects on the wall of this joint, which was HOT and PACKED but totally fun with DJs and a surprise set from hipster duo Hank & Cupcakes. It was great to see so many friendly faces. One of these was Joel Oliveira, the shop's owner and a subject of Eilon's who graciously allowed the party to happen in his spot. I made damn sure to pick up Joel's new 45 with his group Fumaça Preta. The single contains a searing hot Portugese-language version of one of my favorite tunes, "The Witch" ("A Bruxa") by The Sonics. This shit has funky drums powering it with appropriately tortured (and reverbed) vocals. The B-side is a groovy garage-psych number with a funky bassline and lots of sound effects and excellent percussion. It appeals to me almost like a lost Lee Perry session, except one that would involve an Am Rep band. (Look that one up kids). The lock-groove (and there are always bonus points for a lock groove) is a phone tone. Dutch label Music With Soul put the thing out, and while I've never heard of these folks, I can appreciate the concept through the label name as well as the ripping music. I hope to hear more from both Fumaça Preta and Music With Soul. 500 press, some on colored vinyl, some with sleeves (not mine, unfortunately). Recommended.

Daptone hit parade
---The soul 45 hit parade keeps rolling out of Daptone Studio and I had to get with a couple of cover tunes by Charles Bradley (on their Dunham subsidiary). This charming version of Neil Young's "Heart of Gold" is backed by the Menahan St Band and emits some classy horn lines. I was certainly thrilled to hear it note-perfect at the Green River Fest this year. "In You I Found A Love", the b-side, takes a dark run thru a lonely night of heartbreak.
On yet another platter by Bradley he gives us a legitimately inspired rendition of Nirvana's "Stay Away". Now I wonder if Bradley was actually a fan of the band when they were around? I couldn't say that Nirvana (or most covers of them) truly excite me in any major way but I am digging this psych-tinged version. B-side is the instrumental extention of the theme. Good stuff.

Diggin' the Colemine
---Colemine Records keeps on the 45 trail with Il Carbonaro. I always thought the Budos Band had a little Morricone in them, a little doom metal and a little afrobeat. This latest project from the songwriting team of Car-Del productions (Budos related/produced) brings us Il Carbonaro's single with another cinematic funk track "High Noon" and the reggae gem "Amigo de la Fuerte". Both tunes feature reggae elements and the dubby horns are a highlight for my inner membranes. I will try the b-side, with its eery melodica passages for my next reggae crowd (certainly stoned).
-----Another fun 45 pairs a couple of West Coast funk bands to good measure. The Monophonics offer a funky workout with organ and bluesy guitar. The hand percussion fills in nicely and when the horns do their thing you feel like you are in the right place. "Like Yesterday" should be the band's motto. I recommend their 60s-flavored funk LP available on Ubiquity. Destruments may share a member or two with the Monos, have a dark, yet sophisticated Blaxploitation feel to the cut here, with some jazzy flute. Not quite for a high energy dancefloor, this would fit in best with some Budos-type grooves. The vibes and synth give it a truly psychedelic flavor. Another smoky one from Colemine.

Funk kicks
---Record Kicks is a funk/soul label out of Milan, Italy that brings us music from all over the international soul scenes, representing their artists here with full length albums. Third Coast Kings out of Michigan give us a party funk sound (and a hell of a party this band could bring)! "Roughneck" is a wah-funk killer, the hard funk of "On The Reel" will surely rock you. "Tonic Stride" gets appropriately dirty. A tight band with a spot-on horn section will bring you where you need to be every time out. Can't wait to see them live.
---Sydney-based Dojo Cuts are yet another exciting exponent of the soul scene in Australia. Whether it is really a unified scene or not I wouldn't know 'cause I ain't never been there. But what I do know is that several labels are taking chances on bands from The Get Down Under. The likes of Alice Russell (now in the UK), Transatlantics, The Bamboos, Shaolin Afronauts, Dojo Cuts, etc are proof enough of major things happening. Dojo's latest album Take From Me features well-recorded funk and soul numbers played with precision. And Roxie Ray's voice is always a highlight. "I'd Rather Go Blind" proves they can play the blues better than any young American band. "Take From Me" is the late night cigarette of wonder-ahead.

Wild Belle
---Wild Belle --Natalie Bergman and her brother Elliot (along with some other members of Nomo) give us a cool nu-reggae floater with "Keep You", bari sax providing fire and some felt lyrics. I know the feeling: always we give and yet we struggle to get. "Take Me Away" sounds like something McCartney should cover if he knew what was good for him. Get this 12" EP from Sandhill Sound.

Cultures of Soul, Massachusetts represent!
The Cultures of Soul label digs up rare soul, as well as present a few newer artists. Several of the tunes issued on COS are made in Massachusetts.
---Fine soul singer Jordan Valentine & her Sunday Saints, out of Boston, do a beautiful, soulful take on "Tell Me What's On Your Mind" (Cyril Neville & the Meters, comp: Nocentelli). "Follow Me" is a gritty funk song. Both tunes appeal to me, good recording, nice horns and Jordan's powerful voice. 1000 press. Her ten-track CD features these cuts and other excellent tunes, including Etta's "Seven Day Fool" and Titus Turner's "Grits Ain't Groceries", as well as several originals. And may I add that the artist gave her own CD a nice design on the graphics? Clearly a soulful agenda and I'd love to hear the band live some time soon. 
---Chicago funk band Fabulous Fugitives ('75) up next. "What The World Needs Today" is a conscious funk groover with crisp and tight drumming.  "You Made Me Cry" is a danceable one with nice keys and a better vocal than the A-side. Transferred from vinyl.
---The Roy Roberts disk probably hits me the deepest of all that came in the package. This 45 contains "So Much In Love", a circa 1970-sounding soul tune that is completely new to me and is stunningly sublime. His delivery just oozes soul and makes the pedestrian lyrics seem honest. Sounds like an inspired song to me. After a smooth intro the B-side, "You Move Me", proves to be a tougher groove with gritty soul guitar and congas. Harder driving and no less great. Highly recommended single.
---I was excited to have finally gotten my long-desiring hands on a copy of Kelenkye's Moving World LP, via a recent Superfly reissue. And to find some unreleased material on the super cool format of double 7" (pic sleeve) was further treat.  Presented here as Afro Kelenkye Band, and in association with Voodoo Funk, we get four cuts of sophisticated afro-funk, including the fantastic "Mother Africa" with a near perfect execution of bliss-- Jagger Botchway's gorgeous guitar melodies over polyrhythms galore.  The group is tight and the horns are dancing all over the record. This Ghanaian band continues to delight me. Anyone who shares my unsatiable ear for 70s West African funk should look into this one.
---World's Funkiest Covers is a pretty big claim. So happens I am an expert in cover songs and a lover of funk from around the world. So let's investigate. The opening cut is an obscure late 60's Chicago soul band (Johnny Jones & the King Casuals) digging into "Purple Haze". Possibly the first artist from the R&B scene to record Jimi's original, the notes list a '68 date. A good listen but it doesn't top my secret selection for the tune. Following this are a German ensemble called Mighty Mo & the Winchester Seven (a Mocambo thing) offering a go-go inspired version of Grandmaster Flash's "The Message". Fruko's pet project Afrosound show up with "Jungle Fever", a tune that annoys me as a cover version as much as the OG (I don't prefer to hear orgasms on vinyl) and is also very much still in print with my homeboy DJ Bongohead's Afrosound of Colombia collection on Vampisoul. Fruko (con sus Tesos) continues with a psych-tinged version of New Swing Sextet's "Bang Bang". Alice Russell & Nostalgia 77 appear with "Seven Nation Army". (Personally I would've welcomed Grant Phabao's reggae remix of this cut more so than the version presented here.). Mongo Santamaria's version of "Cloud Nine" certainly pleases but is easily available on original LP. Ray Barretto's version of Stevie's "Pastime Paradise" is by no means rare and is somewhat a departure for Mr Hard Hands. A disco era funk-jazz cut with electric piano and a smooth vocal delivery, the tune is a classic of its time and I think I like the song a lot more than many of my friends. Williamsburg Salsa Orchestra have a fun time with Spoon's "I Turn My Camera On". I couldn't tell you what the original sounds like as I've never heard it. The obligatory "Light My Fire" does nothing to entice me. CD issue contains two extra tracks. I would love to compile volume two.
---Other goodies include a single by Boston area soul/funk band Original Black Sheep of the Family (unissued recordings from '78). I hope to keep up with the Cultures of Soul output.

Monsters of Nigerian rock
---Hot Casa-- Hear me now, I heard a great under-the-radar African reissue this year. Keni Okulolo played bass in Nigerian heavyweights MonoMono and even recruited band mate Friday Jumbo (congas) and trombonist Fred Fisher for a hot 33rpm big-hole 7" of slamming phaser'd Motherland disco funk. Despite less than superior sound quality and presentation, this is a slice of fantastic music, although crisper and on the 12" format would be desired. Perhaps the masters were non-existent? Hey, I'm not complaining. I love African funk. Recommended, especially for the blisteringly great composition "Call Me A Fool Today (I'll Be Wise Tomorrow)", located on the B-side.

---And while we're at it, Hot Casa's reissue of BLO's Step Three LP was quite a needed action. One of the first rock bands in Nigeria, their material leaned more and more toward the funk side of the tracks as time went on. A phenomenally awesome band with ace guitarist (and lead songwriter) Ike "Berkely" Jones standing out, their catalog reveals gem after gem all the way til the late 70s when they took on overtly disco influences. This album, the band's third, was originally released in '75 on Afrodisia, which I believe was a Nigerian subdivision of a major British label. I think an Afrodisia anthology with perspective on one of the greatest 70s African labels is in due order. On this disk, BLO are still ripping heavy afro-rock, albeit with less of a Cream influence as on their earlier work and definitely more on the funky side. There are some Moog moves for those spirited (such as myself). Stoner funk goes a long way with me, especially with authentic Afro percussion.

---I picked up a couple of Record Store Day special 45s, the series that pairs an OG classic with a cool cover version. I like that they keep the original labels on the wax. The first in the series I got was the Carolina Chocolate Drops covering "You Be Illin'", with the Run DMC original on the flip. The Drops offer quite a unique take on the string band tradition, with an ancient-to-the-future approach. Kazoos, rattles, banjo, etc make for a radically different arrangement of the 80s rap classic of my youth. The labels on this record are actually wrong, with the Run DMC Profile label on the CCD side.
---The other I picked up in this "Side by Side" series features the original (uncensored) version of MC5's "Kick Out The Jams", a proto-punk classic, paired with Afrika Bambaataa's 1986 electro-rock rendition. Bam can do no wrong in my opinion, being the citizen that he is (give him the Nobel Peace Prize!), and I can just picture the former gang leader in his jean jacket screaming away into the mic. My main complaint with this series is this: The awful thick gross slipsleeves that house the records actually MELTED into the records in the July humidity in my squat and therefore ruined the fucking records. And Record Store Day is kind of a hokey gimmick anyway.

Belated issue
---Truth & Soul recently dropped an interesting 7" of African Music Today. I'm pretty sure "today" means at least several years ago. Whatever the case with the origins of this idea, the music is pretty fucking funky. Lots of polyrhythms for the serious dancers. If heavy afro breaks in short-length format are your thing then you couldn't go wrong with these four cuts crammed onto a 33rpm 7". "King Mazaru" is a pulsing afrobeat jam, Original Brothers add a spicy Ethio-inspired nugget. The single is tied into a CD full length. Some background info would answer some questions. Nice sleeve, front & back.

Sahel Sounds
---What a treat to hear some rare Mauritanian music from 1970. A single on Sahel Sounds and Mississippi Records shows us guitarist El Hadrmy in action. Any info provided is in Arabic. Tasty lo-fi bootleg-quality North African beat music. The guitar is just gorgeous, the flute makes a nice melodic partner and a rock & roll influence is certainly detected. Cover shows pics of Hadrmy rocking out and people drinking tea. Anyone into psych guitar fused into ethnic musics should give an ear.
---Mdou Moctar is from Niger and reportedly had a huge underground hit in West Africa in recent times with "Tahoultine", a bassy but rootsy song with some nice strings and a heartbeat pulse. Believe or not, the Autotune voice is actually quite welcome in this context and works in the stew naturally. A fantastic surprise! You should give it a chance. A remix on the B-side takes it into space (or at least some dark urban underground club.) Both sides are out-of- left-field cool sounds. 500 press in a funky stamped brown thin sleeve, released in conjunction with Boomarm Nation/Sahel Sounds.

Jungle Fever
---My Western Mass homie Mike P of Mass Trópicas has been the go-to guy for deep jungle sounds out of the Peruvian Amazon. Sensación Shipibo treats us to syn-drum cumbia with lots of reverb, especially on the vocals. This is a raw production, which of course works great. The band consumes ayahuasca before their gigs. I can see why Mike got himself hooked on this stuff. This single looks punk as fuck and came inside a Los Jharis LP (review next time).
---A pic sleeve 7" featuring the voice of Carlos Ramirez Centeno is another grip of cumbias. I believe these are old tunes by different groups featuring Centeno. Pretty fun stuff. Mikey P loves his Amazónian cumbia as much as he does his Colombian hardcore. Dude's got an appetite for wacky tunes and a Peruvian wife who may find all this silly. Credit him.

Voodoo Funk
---A sweet series of singles with the trusted Voodoo Funk stamp have upped the ante for awesome West African 45 reissues. In addition to the aforementioned Kelenkye 2x7" (as well as a handful of stellar LPs), we are overjoyed to be able to hear such groups as Stoneface & Life Everlasting, Tex Soul & the Bayonets and The Apostles (yeah, I've never heard of 'em either). Raging 70s afro combos and good presentation (nice sleeves!) give you a sure chance for success. The fact that these are put out by US labels make them cheaper for those Stateside to acquire. And knowing what a shit hole the USA is, an $8 list price for some heavy fucking music is a reasonable price. 
---The Stoneface record is from Nigeria ca '73 and fits right in with a lot of the psych and funk influenced Afro Combos that were active at the time on many college campuses. Side one "Love is Free" has a hippy vibe to it, which is certainly charming. But the flipside switches into a gruffer-voiced affair with voodoo rhythms. I definitely want to hear the remaining tunes the band recorded.
---The first thing that jumps out about The Apostles single is how loud the pressing is. Just the way we like it here! The band reminds me of MonoMono and other Nigerian rock bands of the time. Awesome and deep rhythms, driving organ, psych guitar and a vocalist belting it out with hard-edged soul. This is my kind of music. Both tunes are crucial.
---The orange-covered single by Nigerian ensemble Tex Soul & the Bayonets are another unknown combo who are not lacking in talent and songmanship. More guitar/organ combo and heavy percussion driving this sucker. The bassline on "Osi na Ngada" kills me.

Off the Grid
---Finally we go off the funk grid completely with an off-the-grid concept. Craig Colorusso is a musician/artist/instrument-builder and ex-football player who created several solar-powered tone generators. The Sun Boxes, as they are known, each have a pre-recorded note with intensity driven by the life-giving sun. These lovely wood boxes drink in the warmth and deliver various changing improvisations depending on positioning and sun action. The whole concept, when witnessed in person, is truly astonishing and highly recommended. The 7" (along with CD, digital download and cellphone app) offers the joys of the Boxes sonic movement, as slight as it may be at times. A "mellow" listen on a great idea. Craig wants to hit all 50 states with the Sun Boxes. Coming to a field or canyon near you.

See ya next time!


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