Mass Production – Believe (1977)


1977 Cotillion Records SD 9918

Free And Happy     5:20
I Believe In Music     6:46
Being Here     6:20
We Love You     0:40
Keep My Heart Together     3:58
Cosmic Lust     5:53
Superlative     4:33
People Get Up     5:43

Bass – Kevin Douglas 
Drums – Ricardo Williams   
Keyboards – Tyrone Williams
Lead Guitar – Rodney Phelps
Lead Vocals – Larry Marshall , Tiny Kelly 
Percussion – Emanual Redding  
Rhythm Guitar – Coy Bryant
Saxophone – Gregory McCoy
Trumpet – Otis Drumgole

Producer – Ed A. Ellerbe
Engineer – Dave Whitman, Michael Frondelli
Design [Logo] – Gerard Huerta
Mastered By – Dennis King
Photography By – Anthony Loew
Art Direction – Abie Sussman

Produced for Pepper Productions
Recorded & mixed at Electric Lady Studios, New York
Mastered at Atlantic Studios, New York, N.Y.
Manufactured by Atlantic Recording Corporation

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 manually 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.

I know I am badly overdue for some Brazilian posts, but I feel a responsibility to write stuff and give half-informed commentary on those, and I’ve been just barely treading water in real life and unable to give the kind of TLC that the blog deserves.  So I’m opting to post one or two things that are just good fun while I catch up on work.  I don’t know why I’m worried about making sloppy half-assed posts of Brazilian music, since the Olympic committee doesn’t seem too stressed about things like preparing rooms for the athletes or non-toxic shit-free water, but let’s not get off track here.  Except that I will take the opportunity to say, if any Olympians are reading this, I have a friend with a kitchenette to rent out in Rio, right in the Copa a few blocks from the train.  He’s a really great guy.  Gymnists are preferred, not because of any fetish or anything, but because y’all are small and he can fit more of you in there.  Just call +55 21 2224-4607 and ask for Eduardo.

02 - Believe back

Now on to this record from this ten-piece band from Virginia.  Any “disco sucks” people who stumbled on this blog can just click through this and move on, unless of course you are willing to open your mind and trust me that this record will neither turn you gay nor black (the root fear of most disco-phobia).  Mass Production was also a solid funk and soul outfit but they had their own approach to rescuing dance music from the blahs, and that was to show ’em how it’s really done.  A couple of these cuts are unarguably disco, and they jam so much you’ll want to call them Smuckers.  I don’t know if maybe its the difference between a band playing a disco groove, and a bunch of session musicians assembled by a producer, but I like it.  On this record Mass Production reminds me of Gary Tom’s Empire on the upbeat cuts and maybe Frankie Beverly & Maze on the mid-tempo material (their Firecracker-era stuff often gets compared to Brass Construction).  Singer Tiny Kelly adds a nice touch, especially to “Being There”, salvaging a schmaltzy ballad with genuine feeling (“long as you’re here/nothing matters” is wonderfully succinct).  She’s no Minnie Ripperton, and tends to go off pitch when reaching for some of the high notes, but in this age of Auto-tuned everything, this imperfection is actually kind of refreshing.  Note: I’m referring to the original use of the Auto-tune plug-in, and not the modulated effect that sounds like a malfunctioning Vocoder that was on every modern R&B song for a while.   The actual purpose of Auto-tune was to correct the pitch of vocalists in the studio, to greater or lesser degrees depending on their skill and on just how sterile and slick a production was desired.  I’m only some anonymous voice on a blog, but to my ears, when literally everything sounds “perfect” all the time, I find myself profoundly bored in about two minutes flat.    So, bring on the slightly sharp or flat high notes, Tiny Kelly, and remind me that you are all living and breathing humans making these glorious sounds.  I can handle it.

Most people are going to gravitate to the rump shakers on the disc, though.  I am pretty sure the first track, Free and Happy, was the inspiration for one of Weird Al Yankovic’s early pastiche singles, Gotta Boogie.   The secret weapon of this album is the instrumental cut called “Cosmic Lust,” which nowadays sounds like it could be a brand of synthetic cannabis (melon-flavored and with aphrodisiac properties), but in 1977 was actually a hit single off this record and huge club favorite.  Love these warbly analog synths from the space age, and the saxophone solo by Gregory McCoy (who wrote the song) is nice too.

Cosmic Lust

Mass Production’s first album was in 1976, but the idea for the band was actually hatched during some house parties thrown by Frankfurt school theorists Max Horkheimer (d.1973) and Theodore Adorno (d.1969).  The two were renowned for throwing wild get-togethers involving Hollywood celebrities, music luminaries, piles of cocaine, and stag films on 8mm.    Reportedly after hearing Eddie Kendrick’s 1973 solo album, Horkheimer confessed from his death bed that one of his main regrets in life was that he was about to miss one of the crowning achievements of human creativity, the efflorescence of disco funk.  Entrepreneur and producer Ed A. Ellerbe, a regular attendee of the Frankfurt exiles’ bacchanals,  assembled the group Mass Production in his honor.

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B.T. Express – 1980 (1980)


B.T. Express
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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Tim Maia – Tim Maia (1977) (repost)

tim maia

Because a neo-colonial gringo record label released a compilation of Tim’s material a while ago, heavily promoted by hipster-indie icons to sell CDs and overpriced vinyl to the trendy gentrifiars of American urban spaces, all of my Tim Maia blog posts got shut down on the same day.  I am reposting them for historical, archival purposes complete with my inane writings of the time they were originally posted.  Make sure to read all the appreciate comments and you will thank me later.

1 Pense menos

(Paulo Ricardo – Tim Maia)

2 Sem você

(Paulo Ricardo – Tim Maia)

3 Verão carioca

(Paulo Roquete – Reginaldo Francisco – Paulo Ricardo – Tim Maia)

4 Feito para dançar

(Paulo Ricardo)

5 É necessário

(Tim Maia)

6 Leva o meu blue

(Tim Maia)

7 Venha dormir em casa

(Tim Maia)

8 Música para Betinha

(Carlos Simões – Reginaldo Francisco – Paulo Ricardo – Tim Maia)

9 Não esquente a cabeça

(Carlos Simões – Tim Maia)

10 Ride twist and roll

(Tim Maia)

11 Flores belas (Instrumental)

(Tim Maia)

12 Let it all hang out

(Tim Maia)

Tim Maia – Vocal, drums, congas, acoustic guitar, percussion
Paulo Ricardo R. Alves – 6 and 12-string guitars, vocals,
Reginaldo Francisco – Acoustic and electric piano, organ, arp, vocal
Paulo Roberto R. Nazareth – guitar & vocal
Carlos Simões – bass
Geraldo – trumpet
Darci Seixas – trombone
Sebastião – alto saxophone
José Mauricio – guitar, vocal
César Fernando – congas, vocal
Paulo do Couto – cowbell
Guto Graça Mello – string arrangements

Production, horn and vocal arrangements – Tim Maia

Released on Som Livre 1977, reissue

According to Nelson Motta’s biography of Tim Maia, “Vale Tudo,” this record had a working title of “Verão Carioca” and marks the period where Tim began imbibing large quantities of coke. Whatever, Motta’s book is in fact poorly written, lacking any kind of sources, or even a comprehensive discography (or a partial one, for that matter). What is for certain is that this is the record where disco begins to be felt in his music in a positive way. Rug burners like “Feito Pra Dançar” nestle alongside heavy funk like “E Necessario.” Another highlight is “Não Esquente a Cabeça” which has memorable hooks and melodies, and tasty electric piano and guitar work over a smokey post-bossa pan-latin groove. It’s probably the catchiest song on here. This is prime material by polymath Tim Maia — producer, multi-instumentalist, and arranger on this record.

Motta does relate an anecdote about the rehearsals for the album, when there was construction going on right next door and all the songs ended up being arranged to the tempo of a jack-hammer. There is a reference to this on the ‘thank you’ section of the original album’s back cover.


Tim Maia – Nuvens (1982)

Tim Maia
Released 1982 on Seroma LP-TM-009
Reissue 2011 on Editora Abril

1 Nuvens
(Deny King, Cassiano)
2 Outra mulher
(Tim Maia)
3 Ar puro
(Tim Maia, Robson Jorge)
4 O trem – 1ª parte
(Tim Maia)
5 A festa
(Tim Maia)
6 Apesar dos poucos anos
(Beto Cajueiro, Tim Maia)
7 Deixar as coisas tristes para depois
(Pedro Carlos Fernandes)
8 Ninguém gosta de se sentir só
(Tim Maia)
9 Hadock Lobo esquina com Matoso
(Tim Maia)
10 O trem – 2ª parte
(Tim Maia)
11 Casinha de sapé
12 Sol brilhante
(Rubens Sabino, Tim Maia)

 Tim Maia would have been 70 years old today! So in spite of the efforts of US corporations imposing their mentality on the rest of the world, I am dedicating one more post to the grande mestre.

In his biography of Tim Maia, Vale Tudo, Nelson Motta called this album the best Tim Maia record that nobody ever heard.  Similarly the notes on this reissue go to great pains to point out its small cult following and contrast it against its lack of commercial impact.  Motta is prone to hyperbole in general, and the shoddy liner notes from Editora Abril on their series of Tim reissues can’t be taken too seriously.  But I remember the first time I ever heard this album, at the house of a guy who had an autographed vinyl copy.  I hadn’t even known of its existence, and the rather unflattering photo of Tim entering his Marshmallow Man phase had me skeptical.  So I was surprised at hearing all these new solid tunes, and after much beer and churrasco on that lazy Sunday afternoon I was probably ready to acclaim the album in similar hyperbolic terms.  It would be years before I was able to hear it again.  Does it deserve to be better known?  Most certainly.  Is it one of Tim’s best albums?  Depends on the listener, but its obviously well crafted and a mostly strong set of songs.  (However it is hard to reflect on the music when you can BARELY HEAR what is going on — see below!)  The thing about “Nuvens” is that you can’t call it a “commercial failure” because, as Motta said, nobody really got the chance to hear it.  So even Brazilians who were fans before Tim received the recent surge of hipster interest were by and large unaware of this album.

At this point in his career, Tim had pretty much alienated everyone in the music business through his often volatile temperament, penchant for not showing up for high profile gigs, and appetite for hedonism.  Label execs and promoters were wary of dealing with him.  During the 70s, however, Tim was one of the first Brazilian artists to control the publishing rights for his own material: perhaps taking inspiration from some of his North American soul music counterparts, he recognized music publishing as one of the most egregious forms of exploitation and set up his own company, SEROMA, to publish his songs.  Seroma was a publishing company first and only later an occasional record label, in which capacity Tim consistently lost money.  In many ways Tim was a shrewd businessmen but a horrible administrator, promulgating the motto that Seroma was the only label that “pays on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays after 9 o’clock.”  He kept the label’s treasury under lock and key in his own apartment, was known to occasionally pay musicians with drugs in lieu of money, and seems to have decided what to pay his band Vitória Régia based on his mood.  The decision to make Seroma a label in the first place was practically an accident, developing after RCA rejected the double-album project with which they had lured Tim away from Polygram.  This was what would become the two Racional albums, the sessions for which started out as straightforward soul and funk songs until Tim was introduced to his new-found (and short-lived) religion in Cultura Racional, after which he discarded all the lyrics and any vocal tracks, replacing them with bizarre musings on the world of Animal Energy and commands to “Read the Book, the Book of Life!”   The second Seroma release came a few years later with a wonderful little album, 1978’s “Tim Maia Em Inglês.”  Seroma would stay dormant as a label for a while afterwards, with Tim putting out records on major labels again (plus one on Som Livre in 1977).  Once more disenchanted with the music industry’s vampiric practices, in 1982 he resolved to release yet another album himself and prepared for it by putting out a single that yielded a huge hit, “Do Leme ao Pontal,” and then funneling all the profits from it into the new record.

Unfortunately for Tim, without a distribution deal, Tim was essentially doing all the legwork for the promotion and distribution himself, work for which he clearly was not suited.  The record went largely unnoticed, and was subsequently overshadowed by the phenomenal ‘O Descobridor das Setes Mares’ from the following year.

So, when I first heard that this record was at long last being reissued in 2011, I was very excited.  Until I began to actually hear the results from Editora Abril, that is.  Ed.Abril is actually a publishing company, responsible for the likes of trash-news magazine Veja, and their reissue series was originally intended to be sold at news stands.   In spite of having had a few cool series on LP (the informative História da MPB composers series), they are an empire of paper, and it shows.  The reissues had 50 page “booklets” that were light on information but full of garish graphic design and superfluous photos probably culled from their vast archives (Lulu Santos? Gretchen? why??).  And the sound was PAPER THIN.  Conspicuously avoiding any mention of master tapes or remastering, they managed to somehow downgrade the sound for the records that were previously widely available on CD at one time, such as his first four albums on Polydor.  This isn’t just the nit-picking of an obsessive audio junkie either.  Compare the Ed. Abril versions with any of those, or in fact the newer releases from the Universal boxset, and you will be forced to admit that Editora Abril did something very very bad to the audio.  All the more tragic in the case of ‘Tim Maia em Inglês” and “Nuvens” because those two titles have been long out of print. and fetching ridiculous prices from collectors.  It is painfully obvious that used subpar source material, and then applied a heavy-handed “noise filter” that makes these tracks sound like low-bitrate mp3s even when you are listening to 16-bit PCM WAVs.  Now that the the Abril editions are also out of print, I have been seeing vendors on Mercado Livre (a place notoriously out of touch with reality when it comes to pricing records) selling those pitiful reissues for questionable amounts of money justified by the catchphrase “out of print”.. Time to put a stop to that by any means.

Whether all this preamble above is necessary before talking about the actual music is debatable, but I will say this:  the experience of listening to this shoddy reissue is so much less enjoyable than hearing it on the original vinyl on that lazy Sunday afternoon, that it makes any kind of objective assessment nearly impossible for me.  That is in fact why I waited a year to even write this post – my disappointment was so profound that it killed completely killed my enthusiasm about the record.

Working again with his frequent collaborators Cassiano and Hyldon, Nuvens is from the start an organic set of soul tunes.  The production is slick but avoids the pitfalls of so much early 80s music (contemporary records by icons like Chico Buarque, Caetano or Gil sound positively silly by comparison).  Acoustic guitar, electric piano, percussion, meticulous horn arrangements.  The opening title cut has Cassiano’s melodic stamp of mellow soul all over it, and the next three tunes are pure Tim.  In their original analog form this is a record for breezy summer days.  “Ar Puro” picks up the tempo to get the dance floor moving, and the instrumental funk workout ‘O Trem’ is tremendous, although oddly divided up between the first and second sides.  The magic is broken by the turkey “A Festa” which is ruined by overdubs of giggling women, and even without them the song is the equivalent of Tim ‘phoning it in’.  “Apesar De Poucos Anos” was not written by Cassiano but sounds as if it were, his falsetto backing vocals adding to that feeling.   It could be an affect of the lousy CD reissue but Tim’s lead vocal is almost completely lost in parts of this song, making for a very odd mix.  The ballad that follows is really one of Tim’s best.   “Deixar As Coisas Tristes Prá Depois” opens with a baroque-tingued acoustic guitar figure by Pedro Carlos Fernandes, very brief but very unlike anything else in his discography, and which continues throughout the tune.  The production and arrangement is majestic — or rather it would be if it weren’t stifled by Editora Abril.  The few bars of acoustic guitar and saxophone at the minute and a half mark just slay me.  Next is an awkwardly direct, autobiographical “Ninguém Gostar De Sentir Só” that gives a glimpse to the loneliness hidden behind Tim’s ebullient personality.  It’s also a great tune.  The next is a turkey – “Hadock Lobo Esquina Com Matoso” pays tribute to a São Paulo streetcorner and Tim’s days ‘before the fame’ hanging out with Roberto and Erasmo Carlos.  It’s honestly pretty awful.  O Trem (part 2) continues the funk workout from the first side.  “Na Rua, Na Chuva, Na Fazenda (Casinha de Sapé)” is Hyldon’s signature song and the title of his first album.  Tim is a natural choice for recording this song (which has suffered some awful remakes in recent years) and his voice is much more powerful than Hyldon, but I prefer the original for being more emotionally satisfying and better arranged.  The closing number “Sol brilhante” has a riff that is uncannily similar to the Tom Tom Club’s “Genius of Love.”  It could be just my imagination or coincidence but it wouldn’t be the first time Tim lifted something directly from US music.  It’s a light and fluffy bit of summer breeze that blows shut the window pane on this little treasure of a record.  Hopefully it won’t be another 20 years before somebody gives this one the reissue it deserves.  I listen to this disc much less than I would if it sounded even halfway decent.


Labelle – Nightbirds (1974)


LaBelle – Nightbirds
Released 1974
Epic (KE 33075)

1. “Lady Marmalade” (Bob Crewe, Kenny Nolan) – 3:56
2. “Somebody Somewhere” (Nona Hendryx) – 3:25
3. “Are You Lonely?” (Nona Hendryx) – 3:12
4. “It Took a Long Time” (Raymond Bloodworth, L. Brown, Bob Crewe) – 4:03
5. “Don’t Bring Me Down” (Allen Toussaint) – 2:48
6. “What Can I Do for You?” (Patti LaBelle, Hendryx, Sarah Dash, Edward Batts, James R. Budd Ellison) – 4:02
7. “Nightbird” (Hendryx) – 3:09
8. “Space Children” (Hendryx) – 3:02
9. “All Girl Band” (Allen Toussaint) – 3:50
10. “You Turn Me On” (Hendryx) – 4:37

Featuring – Meters, The
Guitar – Rev Batts, Leo Nocentelli
Organ – Arthur Neville*
Bass – George Porter, Jr.
Piano – Bud Ellison* (tracks: 4, 5, 9)
Producer [Executive] – Vicki WickhamProducer, Arranged By, Keyboards, Percussion, Guitar – Allen Toussaint
Alto & soprano saxophone,clarinet – Earl Turbinton
Alto axophone – Clarence Ford
Baritone, saxophone – Carl Blonin
Tenor saxophone, Flute – Alvin Thomas , Lon Price
Trombone – Lester Caliste
Trumpet – Clyde Kerr Jr. , Steve Howard

Recorded At Sea-Saint Studios, New Orleans

Engineer – Ken Laxton
Produced by Allen Toussaint

I think everyone on the planet knows the song “Lady Marmalade” unless they’ve been living under the proverbial rock. Actually I think even them, along with some basement dwellers, probably know this song and can even sing all the words for you. But much lesser known is the album that it came off. The first time I put this on my turntable, I didn’t bother to look at the credits, but by the second or third song I was thinking — damn the arrangements on this sure do sound like Allen Toussaint… And lo and behold, they are! In fact it is a strike against my musical credibility that I did not already know that he produced one of the biggest #1 funk / soul / proto-disco hits of the first half of the 1970s, and Labelle’s biggest album. His trademark keyboard and piano work is all over this album, as is his characteristically New Orleans brass sensibility. Hell, this album even has The Meters on it! By `74, Toussaint was producing them along with Dr.John, and this record has plenty of sweaty southern soul stank on it. The first six cuts on this are all fantastic, with a heavy vibe of Stax and Muscle Shoals but filtered through Mr. Toussaint’s bayou universe. A particular favorite of mine is the mellow Philadelphia soul of “It Took a Long Time,” just gorgeous, bittersweetly tender soul about finally meeting the “right” person. The tune makes great use of one of Labelle’s biggest strengths – the backing vocal harmonies of Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash singing a different set of complementary lyrics. Although it is the least funky of the bunch, it’s possible this song is my favorite track here – for me, it’s a perfect amalgamation of soul and pop music where everything about it works.

The album does have a few clunkers on it, but even those are enjoyable due to the great vocal and production work. Basically the first side of the original LP is just much stronger than the second half, where the songwriting just doesn’t quite make the cut. Opening up with the very strong “What Can I Do For You?”, which was their other hit tune off this record, the record kind of loses steam after that. Nona Hendryx is more than deserving of my respect and admiration but I’m just not too crazy about the title cut ‘Nightbirds’, penned by her, which incidentally seems to have stolen some of its melody from Neil Young’s “Old Man.” The tune “Space Children” is just plain silly, but I can’t help but like it in spite of myself mostly due to the way Patti sings “spaaaay-e-ahyy-e-ace childreh-heh-hehn” in a couple places. The lyrics are pretty disposable – they might be a critique of drug use, or of hippies, which would ordinarily score some points with me, but they just aren’t very good. But not as bad as Toussaint’s “All Girl Band”, which contains completely ridiculous lines like, “And there was Mary / Quit her job at they dairy / Took up the name Blackberry”…. Is this so bad it’s good? No, it’s just bad. Toussaint had some great work under his own name but he was a much better producer-arranger-musician than he was a songwriter (his ‘Don’t Bring Me Down’ fares better but still suffers from dumb lyrics and a cheesy hook). But not everybody can “do it all” — Donny Hathaway he is not…

The closing cut, “You Turn Me On,” is a slow soul burner that grows increasingly erotic as it goes on (“I cum like the pouring rain / Each time you call my name / It’s good what you’re doin’, what you’re doin’…”). This song is really, really good and essentially makes up for the mediocrity of the two (or three) songs in front of it. I don’t believe this blog features too many records than went Platinum. Even with its flaws, this one deserves the kudos.


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