Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Now Again and Cultures Of Soul do reissues right

Stanton Davis photo by Richard Conde

Being based in Los Angeles, Now Again mainman Eothen "Egon" Alapatt was determined to make his compendium of California's best small label soul, funk and disco joints from the golden era the last word on the subject. And from the looks of it, the 15-track Soul Cal collection of rare and unreleased tracks (spanning 1971 to 1082) spread over 2 LPs that comes packaged with an 80-page book documenting each band’s unlikely-but-true story with period snapshots is as close to a definite survey as you'll ever get.

While other reissue operations seem to have no qualms about tossing off similar scene retrospectives in a weekend and then moving on to the next, Egon spent a full decade piecing Soul Cal together – tracking down tough-to-find group members, digging up master tapes and looking through dresser drawers for small fragments of photo evidence to complete the mammoth project.

The relatively obscure artists profiled – including Stanton Davis' Ghetto Mysticism, the UPC All Stars, Pure Essence, Anubis, Freedom Express and others – are the bands that kept the funky soul alive during the darkest days of pre-fab corporate disco. Recording and self-releasing their masterworks to an indifferent audience during the late 70s, most of this music would remain largely unheard until Egon came along with a plan to restore and recirculate these important lost artifacts.

Starting in 2003 with You Can Be A Star b/w To Be Free by the Luther Davis Group, Now Again began reissuing these choice jams on 12" vinyl with generic sleeves through their Soul Cal Records subsidiary and continued with 12 more through 2008 with the last being Mixed Feelings' Sha-La-La.  

Of course as we now know, that was merely the set up for the full-on Soul Cal experience – a gatefold double LP and CD with an 80-page perfect bound book printed on heavyweight stock. Here's the complete track listing:

Soul Cal: Disco and Modern Soul Masterpieces, 1971-1982
You Can Be A Star - Luther Davis 4:44
Don’t Get Discouraged - UPC All Stars 3.36
Wake Up - Pure Essence 6:10
Ecology - Anubis 3:57
Put A Smile On Time - Rhythm Machine 3:52
I’m Gonna Miss You Girl - Ellis and Cephas 2:53
Bad Feeling - Mixed Sugar 3.:04
Free Your Mind - Record Player 3:51
Sha-La-La - Mixed Feelings 3:28
Love Is (Full Version) - Leon Mitchison and The Eastex Freeway Band 4.40
Keep Running Away - Clifford Nyren 4:24
Things Cannot Stop Forever (Remix) - Stanton Davis' Ghetto Mysticism 4.46
The Stranger (Edit) - C. Henry Woods 8:35
Get Down - Freedom Express 3:26

Those intrigued enough by Egon's dope remix of the stellar Stanton Davis track Things Cannot Stop Forever to want to hear more from his Ghetto Mysticism ensemble really need to check out the recent Cultures Of Soul reissue of the Boston-based combo's incredible jazz-funk epic Brighter Days album from 1977.

Some may already be familiar with the Ghetto Mysticism's magic from the tune Space A Nova, a club spin of UK celebrity selecta Gilles Peterson who comped it on 2009's Freedom Rhythm & Sound: Revolutionary Jazz & The Civil Rights Movement 1963-82 (Soul Jazz) but unlike many indie jazz LPs of the period, every track on the album is a winner. From the furious paced original version of Things Cannot Stop Forever to the hard bumpin'Funky Fried Tofu and the majestic title track all the way through to the deep closer High Jazz, the whole Brighter Days album is exceptionally solid. And Cultures Of Soul head honcho Jeff Swallom has done a superb job of mastering the limited-run vinyl reissue – which sounds better than my original copy – and same goes for the first-ever CD release.

In quick succession over the last three years, Cultures Of Soul have knocked out an impressive assortment of soul and funk rarities on seven-inch vinyl in strictly limited quantities including a Northern corker from Kentucky garage crew Explosive Dynamiks. The topside screamer Whole Lotta Loving and the soul ballad flip I Need You were originally recorded in Lexington back in 1966 for the Lemco label also known for the swinging organ instrumental twin-spin Hush Puppies b/w Sweet and Sour by The Titans.

Using his Deano Sounds alter-ego, Swallom also curated the World's Funkiest Covers collection which brings together some old classics like Ray Barretto's version of Stevie Wonder's Passtime Paradise and Mongo Santamaria's percussion heavy blast through Cloud Nine along with more recent revisions like Nostalgia 77's jazzy swing at the White Stripes' Seven Nation Army.

Perhaps the most anticipated Cultures Of Soul project ever is their forthcoming Jungle Funk 7" set of unreleased vintage material from Ghanaian funk bashers the Afro Kelenkye Band. Assembled with the assistance of Frank Gossner of Voodoo Funk fame, the recordings date back to the peak period of Jagger Botchway's band, just after they put out their classic Moving World album in 1974. So the story goes, the group went back into the studio while still hot to record more tracks but ran out of money. The recordings were shelved and gathered dust for the next 40 years until they were brought to Gossner's attention who in turn tipped Swallom to the incredible find.

The double seven-inch Jungle Funk pack has been mastered from the original reel-to-reel tapes and comes housed in a period-appropriate sleeve designed by Gossner in the style of Augustus Kerry Taylor's dope original cover for Moving World. It's due out on May 8th but you may want to pre-order a copy directly from Cultures Of Soul (see LINKS below) because they're only pressing 1,000 copies and dealers will no doubt be stocking up to flog at ridiculously inflated prices once it sells out.

Now Again http://www.nowagainrecords.com/announcing-soul-cal/
Cultures Of Soul http://culturesofsoulrecords.com/
Egon's Soul Cal podcast

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