Ben Sidran – Don’t Let Go (1974)

Ben Sidran
Don’t Let Go
1974 Blue Thumb BTS 6012 


A1 Fat Jam 3:23
A2 House Of Blue Lites 3:08
A3 Ben Sidran’s Midnite Tango 2:40
A4 The Chicken Glide 3:43
A5 She’s Funny That Way 3:34
A6 Monopoly 1:27


B1 Don’t Let Go 3:18
B2 Hey Hey Baby 3:30
B3 The Foolkiller 3:45
B4 The Funky Elephant 3:27
B5 Snatch 3:48
B6 Down To The Bone 1:08

Alto Saxophone – Bunky Green
Bass – Kip Merklein (tracks: B4), Phil Upchurch, Randy Fullerton (tracks: A1 to B3, B5, B6)
Drums – Tom Piazza (tracks: B2)
Drums, Percussion – Clyde Stubblefield, George Brown, Phil Upchurch
Guitar – James P. Cooke, Phil Upchurch
Harmonica – Jerry Alexander
Organ – Jim Peterman
Piano, Vocals – Ben Sidran
Tenor Saxophone – Sonny Seals
Horns arranged  by Sonny Burke

Strings arranged by Les Hooper
Art Direction – John P. Schmelzer

 

Vinyl; Pro-Ject RM-5SE with Audio Tecnica AT440-MLa cartridge; Speedbox power supply); Creek Audio OBH-15; M-Audio Audiophile 192 Soundcard ; Adobe Audition at 32-bit float 96khz; clicks and pops removed individually with Adobe Audition 3.0; resampled using iZotope RX 2 Advanced SRC and dithered with MBIT+ for 16-bit. Converted to FLAC in either Trader’s Little Helper or dBPoweramp.  Tags done with Foobar 2000 and Tag and Rename.

Possibly it is because of his uncanny resemblance to Neil Innes – or the suspicious fact that nobody has ever seen them both in the same place, at the same time – but  sometimes I don’t know how seriously to take Ben Sidran.  But I doubt that fact would bother him, because he’s been far too busy accomplishing an insane amount of things in his long and prolific career for my perplexity to concern him at all.  Although at this point in his life as an artist, Ben Sidran is pretty firmly ensconced in the “jazz” area of your local record store, his overall vision and his diverse body of work taken as a whole is pretty hard to categorize, and there is a touch of whimsy to much of it.  Plus, his records are always fun, a word that doesn’t get paired with “jazz” nearly enough.

In his early days, he flirted with the life of rock stardom when he teamed up with his old college friend Steve Miller.  Sidran contributed extensively to his most interesting record (Brave New World), co-wrote his most charming hit single (Space Cowboy), stuck around for a few more records before going back to his old home base of Madison, Wisconsin, where he has essentially stayed ever since. He published his doctoral dissertation (which he earned in England in the 60s while moonlighting as a session man) as a book, back when dissertations were actually readable,  called ‘Black Talk’.  He hosted a late-night television show as idiosyncratic as he was, called “The Weekend Starts Now,”  in which he had guests like Kinky Friedman and Jane Fonda when she was at her anti-war finest, as well as jazz heavies like McCoy Tyner and Danny Richmond.  He’s worked with Tony Williams, Jon Hendricks, Phil Upchurch (who appears on the album here), and produced records for Mose Allison, Van Morrison, and Georgie Fame.  And somehow he has managed all this while also hanging out with Eric Idle and George Harrison and producing an entirely separate body of work under the name Neil Innes.

On his own albums, Sidran’s stable of musicians was always interesting.  For “Don’t Let Go” we have fellow Madison resident Clyde Stubblefield on drums, Phil Upchurch on bass and guitar, and saxophonists Sonny Seals and Bunky Green all joining the party.  Jim Peterman, a colleague from his Steve Miller days, provides some organ on a few tracks. The original songs here are all compelling, and Sidran seamlessly blends in jazz chesnuts from other composers: a very free and liberal interpretation of fellow Wisconsin-ite Freddie Slack’s “House of Blue Lites” seasoned with some profanity and jabs at New York snobbery,  a similarly stylized “She’s Funny That Way” (recorded by Gene Austin), Bud Powell’s brief ‘Monopoly’, and “The Foolkiller” from Sidran’s most obvious musical idol, Mose Allison. The original tracks span jazz, funk, and even soul in the song “Hey Hey Baby,” which is almost catchy enough to be a hit, as soon as understated Mose Allison-like beatnik crooning comes back into style.    Allison’s “Foolkiller” is arranged in an unrecognizable way and ornamented with greasy slide guitars and harmonica.  The only track that really nods to his past as a denizen of 60’s swinging London is the group composition (mostly likely emerging from an improvised jam) titled The Funky Elephant,which sounds like Dr.John dropping acid with The Beatles.  But not the 1968 Beatles so much as the 1974 Beatles, so basically a few years before they formed Klaatu, I guess.  The cut “Snatch” showcases Stubblefield at his best on the drum kit, tossed over a bed of mixed Wurlitzer and piano, and horn and string charts that make it all sound so easy. (It also makes an appearance on Flabbergasted Freeform Fourteen.)

A curious bit of trivia about the title track of the album: it was written for the original television series adaptation of “Serpico” but was shelved when the project was put on hold for several years due to legal complications.  When the show finally took to the airwaves in 1976 (for only one season, alas), Sidran’s track was not used.  It was written for a scene in which Frank Serpico is a given a surprise birthday party by the rest of his precinct and gets all teary-eyed and starts hugging and kissing everyone.*

Sidran appears to be, constitutionally speaking, a workaholic unable to simply take it easy.  He continues to record, perform, and write.  One of his most recent endeavors is a book regarding the role of Jews in the music business, titled “There Was a Fire: Jews, Music, and the American Dream.”  I’m sure archive-based historians might turn up their noses a bit at his interloping, but as a Jew and a musician I think he’s got a right to explore the subject, and seems to have kept busy on the lecture circuit talking about the book over the last few years.  You can catch some of his talks on his YouTube channel.  This channel, incidentally, is one of the more impressive artist channels I have seen on YouTube, as somebody (if not Sidran himself, then a stalwart staffer) has uploaded a ton of archival material, including lots of clips from the aforementioned television program from the early 1970s.  Check it out here.

(*Disclaimer: this trivia fact may or may not have any basis in our consensual reality.)

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B.T. Express – 1980 (1980)

 

B.T. Express
1980
Released 1980, Columbia JC 36333
 
 
 
Takin’ Off     3:52
Heart Of Fire     3:52
Does It Feel Good     5:43
Give Up The Funk (Let’s Dance)     6:25
Closer     3:35
Have Some Fun     5:23
Better Late Than Never     5:33
Funk Theory     4:22
 
Produced for Mighty M Productions
Mastered at Sterling Sound, N.Y.C.
Recorded and mixed at Counterpoint Studios, N.Y.C.
Additional recording at Music Grinder Studios, L.A.
Additional mixing at The Hit Factory, N.Y.C.
B.T. Express is:
Carlos Ward – Alto Saxophone, Flute, horn arrangments on ‘Give Up The Funk’
Rick Thompson – Guitar
Wesley “Pike” Hall, Jr. – Lead Guitar, Vocals
Bill Risbrook – Tenor Saxophone, Vocals
Dennis Rowe – Percussion, Vocals
Jamal Rasool – Bass, lead vocals
Additional musicians:
Buddy Williams – Drums
Gary Scott –  Arrangements and conducting, keyboards, synthesizer
Howard Westley “Butch” Stevens – keyboards
Recorded and mixed by Alan Meyerson and Gary Chester
Additional recording engineers – Gary Skardina, Ryan Ulyate
Assistant engineers – Ben Wisch, Karl Westman, Michael Ruffo
Mixed by – Gerry Block
Mastered by Greg Calbi
Additional production and arranging – Morrie Brown
Concertmaster – Marcy Dicterow
Executive Producer (supplied the coke) – Fred Frank
Barcode and Other Identifiers
    Matrix / Runout: AL 36333
    Matrix / Runout: BL 36333

If you’ve never listened to a record by B.T. Express, this probably isn’t the place to start.  Not that it is a bad album, it’s just not a really good album – but the good cuts on it are pretty damn good.  The quintessential 1970s funk sound of the band’s classic years is being “updated” for a new era here, complete with futuristic themes in the cover art and a little bit of the music.  Take the opening cut, “Taking Off!”, which appears to be about getting an aerobic workout in outer space.  It’s important to stay healthy in zero gravity, after all.   This song only becomes listenable after about the two-minute mark, when a blast-off of delay on the vocals signals that it’s time for the Express’ best asset, slinky horn lines.  Over all, though, the song is pretty awful, flirting with a “yacht rock” sound that is absurdly becoming hipster-trendy and undergoing a “revival” by certain contemporary music artists  who want to argue for it’s musical sophistication while they tell their audiences not to yell out during concerts or show up in football jersey’s because that’s too low-rent for their wine connoisseur pretensions.  Seriously, “yacht rock” and AOR are the new crate-digging frontier?  What’s next, Madlib remixes of Barry Manilow tracks?  Sorry but I’ll pass and wait for the next fetish they come up with, I ain’t biting on this revival.

Oh right, I was discussing a B.T. Express album.  Well, the Michael McDonaldisms get put away and things get more enjoyable.  There are a lot of non-band members on this record, most likely assigned to it by Columbia  after their previous album failed to do much on the charts.  There is something shameless about the interference in the band’s work ethic here, and the attempts at FM-crossover hooks in the choruses doesn’t always work for me.  I mean the second track is called “Heart Of Fire,” for Pete’s sake.  It’s almost like it was intended to confuse a slightly drunk person at a jukebox looking to for Earth Wind & Fire’s “That’s The Way Of The World” aka Hearts Afire.  Aside from the title, though, the similarity ends there.  It’s a good disco-funk burner, and has subtle poetry in lines like, “But my love for you, it keeps on comin’ and comin’ and comin’ and comin’…”    The third song, however, sounds to my ears like almost a direct theft of the tune “Don’t Hold Back” by Chanson to a degree that would even embarrass  Robin Thicke and Pharell.  I can’t objectively say anything about this tune.

The big track that people remember from this album, the one that charted, is “Give Up The Funk,” which sports another profoundly unoriginal title.  Thankfully there are no Parliament ripoffs to be found here, and no references to “the bomb,” as the sound is 100% B.T. Express with an updated sound, including the ray gun ‘pew pew pew’ of electric tom tom drums.  The tune also brings back the Express’s best trademark:  long, darkly-hued horn phrases used to punctuate the jams in a an understated  way, as if Maceo Parker took a few Valium and was trying not to be noticed off somewhere near the back of the stage.  Sax player Carlos Ward may have shunned the spotlight, but it’s the big failing of this record – and evidence of typical major label short-sightedness – that the one and only track that he arranges is also the only one to be a hit.  The others are all arranged by outsiders Morrie Brown and Gary Scott.  It should be noted that this cut contains an unusual spelling, “F-F-U-F-U-N-K”, which the band determined was the way our Alien Overlords were going to spell their favorite genre of music, due to their leader having a chronic stutter.

Side Two opens with the ballad “Closer,” the first ballad of the album.  I was talking to a friend a few weeks ago about how so many albums from this period would open with a tight, upbeat song for four minutes to get you dancing, then on the second track they would go all Barry White.  Too soon, man, not even Barry moves that fast.  So bonus points to B.T. Express for holding back until the second side.  This track is melodic and smooth, but not overdoing either one of those qualities.  The best thing about it is a completely nonsensical saxophone solo at the end, which begins each bar all Grover Washington but ends all Eric Dolphy.  What would Barry think of that?  Barack?

“Have Some Fun” is a good mid-tempo roller-skating tune, and the only time they dust off the old Hammond organ that featured so prominently on earlier albums.  Again, the chorus sounds written by committee, a formulaic hook that is pretty forgettable an hour later.   It has a nice breakdown with cool riffing on flute, organ, and guitar that makes me pretty happy, though.  It’s probably been sampled a bunch of times.   The next song, “Better Late Than Never,” probably could have just gone with “never,” I don’t have much to say about this tune either.  In fact you could probably just stop the record after “Have Some Fun” and preserve a better memory of this album, because the closer “Funk Theory” is pretty bad.  While  putting together this post I noticed that it seems reasonably popular on YouTube, so what the hell do I know?  The title sort of says it all, it’s as if a bunch of number crunchers wrote a program in DOS that would churn out FM-friendly funk hits, with lyrics that would look better on a chalk-board written a hundred times by an errant, unfunky student.

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African Music Machine – Black Water Gold 1972-74 (2000)

 
African Music Machine
Black Water Gold
2000 Soul Power – LPS 3317
Collection of singles released 1972-3

A1 Black Water Gold (Pearl) 2:59
A2 Mr. Brown 2:48
A3 A Girl In France 2:25
A4 The Dapp 2:40
B1 Never Name A Baby (Before It’s Born) 3:10
B2 Tropical 2:20
B3 Making Nassau Fruit Drink 2:26
B4 Camel Time 2:50

   Bass, Vocals – Louis Villery
Drums – Louis Acorn
Guitar – Jumbo
Percussion – Osman
Piano, Organ – Obitu
Producer – Louis Villery
Saxophone [Tenor] – Tyrone Dotson
Saxophone [Tenor], Flute – Ete-Ete
Trumpet – Amal
Written By – Bell
Written-By – Louis Villery

————–

Vinyl-> Pro-Ject RM-5SE turntable (with Sumiko Blue Point 2 cartridge,
Speedbox power supply); Creek Audio OBH-15; M-Audio Audiophile
2496Soundcard ; Adobe Audition at 32-bit float 96khz; Click Repair light
settings; individual clicks and pops taken out with Adobe Audition 3.0 –
resampled (and dithered for 16-bit) using iZotope RX Advanced. Tags
done with Foobar 2000 and Tag&Rename.




 This group released  4 singles between 1972 and 1974 on the Paula subsidiary label Soul Power Records, and they were collected on this LP posthumously.  New Orleans funk-soul band formed by bassist Louis Villery that sounds sometimes like James Brown meets Muscle Shoals meets early Chicago (the band)/Blood Sweat & Tears.  The opening cut is fantastic, and the arrangements on most of the cuts are inventive enough to keep things interesting.  Most of it is instrumental, and the vocals on a couple of tunes are kind of superfluous.  A couple tunes (A Girl In France & Tropical) have a kind of Meters-like feel mostly due to the rhythm guitar.  I could sort of imagine these guys playing a double bill in NOLA with The Meters.. in the opening slot, of course.   The tune Camel Time has a Santana-esque vibe, or maybe it’s a Malo vibe… crossed with some random outtake from the first Funkadelic record.


Well that is enough genetic-musical-splicing for one blog post.  In the end the music here is nothing to flip out over but it ain’t bad either.  In fact the first time you play it, it’s pretty damn enjoyable, but in my opinion it doesn’t quite hold my interest in the long-term after repeated listens.  I am sure if I were one of those freaks who only plays 45’s, I would love it more.



These are all mono mixes, but since the vinyl pressing is not truly cut in mono, I opted not to use the mono fold-down option in Clickrepair, it seemed like it do result in some weird phasing issues.  This stuff is pretty low-fi and it’s really more of an EP – 8 songs in about 20 minutes.  Personally, the 16-44.1 version
of this is good enough for me.  Maybe it’s the limitations of my speakers, or my ears, or the fact that I drink enough coffee to
sometimes give me tinnitus, but I just don’t there is enough sonic information here to make  huge difference.  Still, this was ripped in 24
bit – 96 khz, and I have the files, so why not share, cuz the internetz must have thems!

 

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The New Birth – Blind Baby (1975) 24bit / 192khz

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THE NEW BIRTH
Blind Baby
1975 Buddha Records (BDS 5636)

    Blind Baby     4:30
Dream Merchant     4:20
Forever     4:45
Granddaddy     3:55
I Remember Well 5:21
Blind Man     4:45
Why Did I     4:30
Epilogue     2:37

Produced for Basement Productions, Inc.
Recorded at Sunwest Recording Studios, Hollywood.
Mixed at Wally Heider Studios, California.

Austin Lander – Baritone Saxophone, Percussion, Backing Vocals
Robin Russell – Drums, Percussion
Charlie Hearndon – Guitar
Leroy Taylor – Guitar
Carl McDaniel – Guitar, Backing Vocals
James Baker – Keyboards, Trombone, Piano, Tuba, Clavinet, Timbales, Percussion
Alan Frey – Percussion, Congas, Vocals
Tony Churchill – Tenor Saxophone, Vibraphone, Backing Vocals
Robert Jackson – Trumpet, Percussion, Backing Vocals
Londie Wiggins – Vocals, Percussion
Leslie Wilson – Vocals, Percussion, Mandolin

Engineer – F. Byron Clark
Photography By – Ed Caraeff
Producer – James Baker, Melvin Wilson
Art Direction – Milton Sincoff
llustration – William S. Harvey
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Ripping specs:
Vinyl; Pro-Ject RM-5SE turntable (with Sumiko Blue Point 2 cartridge, Speedbox power supply); Creek Audio OBH-15; M-Audio Audiophile 192 Soundcard ; Adobe Audition at 32-bit float 192khz; Click Repair; individual clicks and pops taken out with Adobe Audition 3.0 – dithered and resampled using iZotope RX Advanced (for 16-bit). Tags done with Foobar 2000 and Tag and Rename.

Artwork at 600 dpi (for hi-res), downsampled to 300 dpi for Redbook

This is The New Birth’s first album after leaving RCA, made for Buddha Records, and it’s probably my favorite record by the group. The tunes are strung together like a concept album; it’s not really a concept record but it does have a Mellotron on it. “Blind Baby” is graced with great original songwriting that had come a long way
since their first early 70s efforts, all played and sung with chops and
passion and captured brilliantly by the wizards at Wally Heider Studio.  The tunes span from gritty funk, to sweaty soul jazz, to sweet soul
balladry.  “Dream Merchant” was the hit off the record but there isn’t a
bad song on it.  The firecracking “Grandaddy” was featured on Flabbergasted Freeform Radio No.3.   The New Birth had a sickly huge twelve-person lineup at this point, expanded with members of The Nite-Liters, and they never sounded better.  One secret weapon among many was lovely vocalist and Louisville native Londie
Wiggins, who occasionally hits high notes in whistle-register Minnie Ripperton territory.  She carries the lead on “Forever” and “Why Did I.”
Her intonation isn’t always spot on but, you know, they didn’t have
Autotune in 1975 to make everyone sound as equally “perfect” and bland
as everyone else.   The New Birth made quite a few records and I’m sure other people have their own particular favorites, but for me this one is the cream of the crop.

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From top left to bottom right: Londie Wiggins, Carl McDaniel, Alan Frey, James Baker, Robin Russell, Leroy Taylor, Robert Jackson, Tony Churchill (who is a Pisces), Leslie Wilson, Melvin Wilson, Austin Lander, Charlie Hearndon 

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100% Pure Poison – Coming Right At You (1974)

100% Pure Poison
Coming Right At You
Released 1974 EMI-UK

A1 You Keep Coming Back (3:24)
A2 No More City, No More Country (6:54)
A3 Boarding Pass (3:46)
A4 Holes In My Shoes (3:42)
A5 My Little Someone (4:28)
B1 Windy C. (5:35)
B2 (But You Say) You Want To Make It With Me (4:31)
B3 Don’t Let Your Pride, Overpower Your Love (4:37)
B4 (And When I Said) I Love You (5:15)
B5 Puppet On A Chain (3:53)

Bass: Lawrence Reynolds
Composed By: Danny Leake , Lawrence Reynolds , Marvin Daniels
Guitar: Danny Leake , James Williams
Keyboards: James Williams
Organ: Steve Maxwell
Percussion: John Jackson, Pie Harrison
Producer: Danny Leake , Rick Hartung
Saxophone: Jackie Beard
Trombone: Slide Beard
Trumpet: Marvin Daniels
Vocals: Jackie Beard , Marvin Daniels , Pie Harrison , Slide Beard

Produced by Danny Leake and Rick Hartung

RIPPING INFO (Euripedes)

Original UK LP 1st pressing, EMI International, INS 3001, Matrix Numbers: A: INS 3001 A-2 1 R / B: INS 3001 B-2 1 M RJL
Equipment:
Vpi HW-17F Record Cleaning Machine
Technics SL 1210 Mk II
Rega RB 300 tonearm (Origin Live! mod)
Denon DL 304 M/C Cartridge
NAD 3101 (M/C phono section)
Outboard M-Audio Profire 610 Multichannel A/D
Adobe Audition 3.0

The song “Windy C”

This legendary album has long been out of my financial reach on vinyl and I have had to content myself with the a 2002 CD reissue. Kudos to Soul Brother for releasing it and making it accessible to a broader public beyond greedy collectors with deep pockets, but the sound quality was pretty much crap. I must say that the record gained a new lease on life when I found a really nice needledrop from a skilled vinyl ripper. I don’t typically like sharing other peoples’ vinyl rips here but the quality of both the music and the audio, coupled with the fact that I will most likely never own an original copy, compelled me to break my loosely-held rule. So, all credit goes to Euripedes for the transfer.

The band 100% Pure Poison, formed by US serviceman while stationed in Germany, only recorded this one record. I knew nothing about their back story until reading the liner notes on the reissue, and in fact I had always thought they were a Chicago band based on the track “Windy C.” The great playing and funky grooves on the album would have been enough to get the crate diggers reaching for their charge cards, and the quality songwriting helps put it a cut above the rest. The record opens with the very dance-worthy bit of Northern Soul, “You Keep Coming Back,” an immediately catchy tune that ought to be on all the AM radio dusties stations but isn’t. About half the songs here are sweet soul ballads, which personally makes things drag a bit in places for me, because as might be expected I prefer the funkier stuff on here. And that material does not disappoint. “No More City, No More Country,” is like.. Post-modern funk or something, where all categories of the black american experience, rural and urban, are declared passé and “everything is space, man.” Complete with a jazzy scat break at the end of every verse. Listen to the way the organ is mixed waaaaaaay in the background in a cushion of reverb. It’s the loosest and most jam-oriented of the tracks here and sort of a mind blower after the tightness of the opening track. “Holes In My Shoe” brings more funky northern goodness, but “Windy C” makes the obvious center-piece of the album. Both because it really is splat in the middle of the album but also because it shows off the group firing on all its creative cylinders – soul tunefulness, marinaded in heavy funk, and brushed with jazz before serving. “Don’t Let Pride Overpower Your Love” may be a mouthful of a title, but it might be my favorite ballad on the record, structured with crescendos that leave the tune positively soaring. The secret weapon of the whole album, though, may be “Puppet On A Chain” which hits all my pleasure centers relentlessly. The arrangement is both lush and lean – horns and strings and guitars and electric piano and Persian carpets of reverb in just the right places. Great lyrics and vocal performances. Four minutes of perfect. The kind of a track that has to go at the end of an LP because there just isn’t any way to follow it up. Thank you and goodnight!
You can do an A/B of the two versions for yourself, but makes sure to give Euripedes’work a listen.
2002 version
 password: vibes