OBSCURE ARTISTS MAKE BEAUTIFUL MUSIC ON “Eccentric Soul: The Deep Six Label" CD
by Ben Windham
of The Tuscaloosa News http://tuscaloosanews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20051230/NEWS/512300301/1005
One of my great pleasures in life is rummaging through stacks of battered old 45-rpm records in junk shops, hoping to find a long-lost treasure from the likes of Atlanta’s Mighty Hannibal, Detroit’s Andre Williams or even Montgomery’s Bobby Moore and the Rhythm Aces.
I know, I oughta be golfing. Call it nerdish, if you like. I prefer to cast my lot with the good folks at Numero Group records, who call it Thrift Shop Soul.
Thousands of these soul and rhythm-and-blues recordings poured out of the Deep South in the 1960s, when I was growing up. Only a few ever charted. Most of them were ordained to instant oblivion -- not because they were bad records, but because they were pressed in minuscule quantities, poorly promoted or distributed haphazardly.
Finding these gems in a thrift store is a hit-or-miss affair. Many of the artists, songs and labels are so obscure that you have to proceed on a sense of intuition, born of hours of immersion in this soul soup, to pull out the winners.
With their beautiful series of releases on Numero, collectors Tom Lunt, Rob Sevier and Ken Shipley have removed the guesswork for those of us who can’t get enough of this stuff.
“The mission was simple:" reads a press release for the label, “to dig deep into the recesses of our record collections with the goal of finding the dustiest gems begging to be released from their exile on geek street. No longer would $500 singles sit in a temperature-controlled room dying for a chance to be played. No more would the artists, writers and entrepreneurs who made these records happen go unknown and unappreciated."
With the compilation CD “Eccentric Soul: The Deep City Label,"
the project lives beautifully up to that promise. It focuses on records made in Miami in the early to mid-1960s by entrepreneurs whose musical roots were in Florida A&M University’s Incomparable Marching 100 Band.
Most of the songs and artists will be unknown even to hard-core collectors. Few of these records made it north of Alligator Alley. But all are worth hearing, and some can hold their own with the best R&B hits of the era.
In terms of recording artists, the heroine of the collection is Helene Smith, a dazzlingly talented singer who once ruled as Miami’s First Lady of Soul. Her plaintive, deeply emotive reading of “I Am Controlled by Your Love" is a stone Southern classic, while she gives New Orleans’ Irma Thomas a good run for her money on Allen Toussaint’s “Pain in My Heart."
But up-and-comer Betty Wright wasn’t far behind. It’s fascinating to hear her in these early recordings. Though she was just a young teenager, her style already was fully formed. On a ballad like “Paralyzed," she shows an emotional depth that seems far in advance of her years.
Sixteen-year-old Freda Gray, backed by the city’s top soul band, The Rocketeers, sounds like a little girl by comparison. Still, her “Stay Away from My Johnny" is a fun, bouncy slice of Detroit soul, with bows to The Marvelettes’ “Don’t Mess with Bill."
Her tune, like most of the songs on the album, was co-written by Clarence Reid, who went on to become a disco mogul in the 1970s. If you listen closely, you can hear some of the roots of the disco sound in the songs on the ’60s compilation that he wrote with Willie Clarke and Johnny Pearsall.
His “It’s My Baby," however, sung manfully by Paul Kelly, was purloined from The Temptations, whose “My Girl" topped the charts a month earlier. “The Upset," another Kelly vehicle, is much more original. It was inspired by Cassius Clay’s surprise win over Sonny Liston.
Though some elements of the music are consistent -- the Marching 100’s influence on the rhythm sections is especially noticeable -- the soul music styles on this collection are all over the board. The Moovers, for example, a deep harmony group, find a Carolina beach groove in “One Little Dance," while Frank Williams and the Rocketeers’ “Good Thing Pt. 1," with its bumpy organ and nervous beat, is a precursor of acid jazz.
“There is no 'Numero’ sound;" the company’s release says, “instead, Numero offers an aesthetic."
The Chicago-based company already has produced releases ranging from French electro-samba to Central American pop. “Deep City," culled from the collection of Florida music historian Jeff Lemlich, is the third in a series of thrift shop soul releases.
Even in your best days at the thrift store, the chances of finding any of these singles are slim and none.
The CD presents them in exceptionally clear quality, warmly remastered. My advice is to get ’em from Numero while you can; the CD itself has future rarity written all over it.