Rabbits & Carrots – Soul Latino (1969)

Rabbits & Carrots
“Soul Latino” 1969
Reissue on Vampisoul 2007 with extra tracks (Vampi CD 088)

1. Pais Tropical
2. Hip City
3. Romeo Y Julieta
4. Funky Chicken
5. Jarabe
6. Las 4 Culturas
7. Everyday People
8. Oh Calcuta!
9. Los Pelos Tiesos
10. Workin’ On A Groovy Thing
11. Spill The Wine
12. We Got More Soul
13. Sex Machine
14. Express Yourself

The first time I heard this all-instrumental record I was skeptical. Why bother, I asked myself, covering James Brown and Sly Stone in the late 60s when those artists were still putting out great music at incredible levels of productivity? The second time I listened to this, I asked myself, “Why the hell not?” This record is a lot of fun, even if the hype from Vampisoul about the hip DJ’s who spin it doesn’t do anything to excite me (in fact its more likely to make me ignore it..)

How can I *not* like a record that opens up with a soul-jazz take on País Tropical with a slightly-overdriven pseudo-Wes Montgomery guitar lead playing the vocal melody? If you can’t find that catchy then you’re hopeless. On first hearing this record I had thought that maybe these guys were Nuyorican because of the emphasis on black American music. Imagine my surprise to find out they were a bunch of Mexicans. Rabbits & Carrots were basically a nightclub / bar band in Mexico City, founded by Salvador Aguero with his brothers, that included mostly a lot of anglophone contemporary hits in their repertoire. But whereas there were tons of Mexican rock bands at the time with fuzzed-out guitars playing psychedelic or progressive rock with long wanky guitar solos, English lyrics, and beards, these guys were enamored with soul and funk music. Jorge Ben, Rufus Thomas, Kool & The Gang… Neil Sedaka.. Oddly enough the liner notes mention that the song “Las Quatras Culturas” is the one original composition on the album, somehow “about” the May 1968 massacre of students in Mexico City, when really the song is a blatant James Brown rip-off. But no matter, it’s still pretty cool albeit a little too upbeat for a song ostensibly about state repression. My favorite tune on here is an arrangement of a traditional tune, “Jarabe” that shows off just how well this band could cut loose in a style that really did blend a Latin rhythmic sense with soul from its northern brothers. On the whole this record has a lounge lizard, rather cheesy quality that must be what the ironic hipsters are enamored with, but the band approaches their material with enough inspiration (and some serious jazz chops from saxophonist Ramón Negrete) to make them stand apart from just a generic bar band.

 

The last four tracks on this disc come from an EP released years later by their label Musart. The band rather tragically abandons the exclusively instrumental approach they had adhered to in favor of incorporating a singer, identified only as “Max” in the typically ramshackle liner notes provided by Vampisoul. Although I can appreciate the effort of attempting to translate “Sex Machine” into Spanish, this guy is no James Brown. The results are kind of hilarious, but still doesn’t qualify as “so bad it’s good.” In fact I would have to say that these four tracks are just fucking godawful. Repeated listens only confirm how awful they are. The version of “Spill The Wine” just makes me want to pull out my Eric Burdon & War LP from my dusty archives. These songs require a vocal swagger and charisma that the singer just lacks, and I must say the results of the translation are questionable. They fall flat, and are rather embarrassing, and I think Vampisoul would have done these guys a service by leaving them off the album. But they are kind of a sketchy label anyway, seemingly consulting with nobody on these reissues (they have even been sued by Fania, for example), but they have been unearthing some nice treasures from the musicial seen of D.F., Mexico, for the rest of the world.

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Jimmy McGriff – Soul Sugar & Groove Grease (1971)

Jimmy McGriff
Soul Sugar / Goove Grease
Two albums both released 1971 on Groove Merchant
Reissue on Groove Hut Records 2007 (GH66704)
McGriff

1 Sugar Sugar
2 Ain’t It Funky Now
3 Signed Sealed Delivered I’m Yours
4 Dig on It
5 Bug Out
6 Now Thing
7 You’re the One
8 Fat Cakes
9 New Volume
10 Spirit in the Dark

McGriff

11 Groove Grease
12 Bird
13 Plain Brown Bag
14 There Will Never Be Another You
15 Canadian Sunset
16 Mr Lucky
17 Moonglow
18 Red Sails in the Sunset
19 Secret Love

I think the only way these two records could make me happier is if they opened up with a soul version of “Yummy Yummy Yummy I’ve Got Love in My Tummy.” Since it does not I suppose I can accept “Sugar Sugar” in its place. If this disc was any more fun it would be illegal. Before Jimmy Smith thought of covering pop and soul hits with marvelously funky results, Jimmy McGriff was already laying down cuts to make the jazz purists wince while turning up their erudite noses. McGriff didn’t care and doesn’t seem to have been restrained by such labels, often positioning himself as more of a blues player anyway. I have been meaning to do a post here about another fabulous Groove Merchant disk he did with soul-blues singer Junior Parker that is just amazing. All in good time, even though I’ve been thinking about doing that post for over a year now…

Since a great deal of songs on these two albums are all-instrumental covers of hit songs, you can feel free to use it at your next karaoke party. That is if you are not only prepared to tread the same musical ground as James Brown, Stevie Wonder, Sly Stone, and Aretha Franklin, but also spar with the infectious chops of Mr. McGriff. My guess is that he will upstage you. But feel free to give it a go.

A glance at the lineup on these two platters may not cause any names to jump out at some of you. But his musicians here all have a pretty impressive pedigree, having played with the likes of Nina Simone, Eric Dolphy, Ahmad Jamal, Art Tatum, Stan Getz, Pharoah Sanders, B.B.King, Lonnie Liston Smith, Lonnie Smith, Charles Earland, among others and many more. Particularly noteworthy is bassist Richard Davis who just dominates these two albums like the monster he was. He sometimes plays with a phasor enevelope-follower effect on his bass that adds a nice subtle twist to his tone.

Both albums also have fabulously tacky blaxploitation jackets, the better to arouse you with.

Weird side note: according to a friend of mine, the first three tracks of Groove Grease on this reissue are HDCD encoded. Although it’s not uncommon to find HDCD coding on discs that don’t mention it on the packaging, it is somewhat mysterious why they would encode three tracks and stop. I actually have an HDCD player packed away in a storage shed full of audio gear but I am not about to drag it out to verify this. I will take my friend’s word for it, and pass it on to you for what it’s worth.

I think anybody with a pulse will find themselves enjoying this music. And I promise I will have that collaboration with Junior Parker here before the year is out..

McGriff

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Hugh Masekela – Home Is Where the Music Is (1972)

HUGH MASEKELA
Home Is Where The Music Is
Original release 2xLP on Blue Thumb BTS 6003
Reissue 2008 Verve B0011230-02

Part Of A Whole 9:37
Minawa 9:38
The Big Apple 7:52
Unhome 5:20
Maseru 7:12
Inner Crisis 5:52
Blues For Huey 6:26
Nomali 7:20
Maesha 11:49
Ingoo Pow-Pow (Children’s Song) 6:47 Continue reading