Mass Production – Believe (1977)

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MASS PRODUCTION
Believe
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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Manchild – Power And Love (1977)


Manchild
Power And Love
1977 Chi Sound Records  CH-LA765-G

A1     Red Hot Daddy  3:25
Written-By – A. Johnson, K. Ferrell, R. Griffin
A2     (I Want To Feel Your) Power And Love   3:46
Written-By – C. Bush, S. Johnson
A3     Especially For You      6:06
Written-By – C. Bush
A4     Takin’ It To The Streets     4:04
Written By – M. McDonald

B1     You Get What You Give    2:31
Written-By – A. Johnson, K. Ferrell
B2     We Need We      4:06
Written-By – R. Griffin
B3     These Are The Things That Are Special To Me 3:37
Written-By – D. Simmons, K. Edmonds
B4     Funky Situation      5:46
Written-By – K. Edmonds

Recorded At – P.S. Recording Studios
Remixed At – Universal Recording Studio
Mastered At – Capitol Mastering

   Acoustic Guitar, Rhythm Guitar, Handclaps, Backing Vocals, Vocals – Kenny Edmonds (tracks: B4)
Backing Vocals – Harold Gooch (tracks: A1, A3, B1)
Bass Guitar, Effects [Mutron], Handclaps – Anthony Johnson (8)
Congas, Bongos, Percussion, Handclaps, Backing Vocals – Daryl Simmons
Drums, Handclaps – Robert Parson
Electric Piano [Fender Rhodes], Piano, Piano [Acoustic], Synthesizer, Strings [Ensemble], Handclaps, Backing Vocals, Vocals – Chuckie Bush (tracks: A3)
Handclaps – Dwayne Johnson (tracks: A1, A4), Thomas Henderson (tracks: A4)
Rhythm Guitar – Harold Gooch (tracks: A1, B1)
Tenor Saxophone, Soprano Saxophone, Lead Guitar, Soloist [All Solos], Rhythm Guitar, Clavinet, Piano [Acoustic], Handclaps, Backing Vocals – Reggie Griffin
Vocals, Backing Vocals, Handclaps – “Flash” Ferrell

Producer – Sonny Sanders
Co-producer – Sid Johnson
Mastered By – Wally Traigett
Photography By – Pamoja Photos
Engineer – Paul Johnson (5), Paul Serrano, Scott Rowley
Remix engineer – Bruce Swedien

Recorded at P.S. Studios, Chicago, Illinois.
Remixed at Universal Studios, Chicago, Illinois.
Mastered at Capitol

==================================================

This is a solid funk record in the vein of mid-70s Kool and The Gang or EWF, with a couple of well-crafted slow-jam ballads, one of which has a strong Commodores flavor to it. What the material lacks in originality, it makes up for in execution. These guys are tight and the record stays entertaining throughout. If they can make me actually enjoy the song “Takin’ It To The Streets,” then they’ve got something good going on. The socially-conscious lyrics sound more convincing when not coming from Michael McDonald’s beardy-face full of yacht sea-foam, too.  I know it is still tempting to skip right over it after those first few measures, but trust me that there’s a funky breakdown at the end that makes it worth hanging around at least once.

From the looks of it, I believe they got their name because these guys were all teenagers when they started. This Midwestern group featured a young Kenny Edmonds, later known as Babyface. Well he really earns his nickname here (see photo below). After two records with these guys, he would go on to be a member of The Deele in the 80s, and then obviously on to super-stardom in the 90s on his own, when he continued to collaborate with Daryl Simmons from this group. Babyface only sings on one tune here, the closer “Funky Situation,” which also happens to be the most complex funk-fusion jam on the album.  Most of the lead vocals are handled by one Chuckie Bush. The smokey, Moog-enchancing slow-burner “Especially For You” was a minor hit for these guys.  They probably would have had more success if the record had come out a few years earlier, as this sounds a lot more like a hard funk album from 1974 than 1977 in a lot of ways. It was reissued once on CD but for some reason the song “We Need We” was dropped from it. This is odd not only because it is one of the best tunes here, but also because its omission from this short album brings its running time down to slightly under 30 minutes.  It was written by multi-instrumentalist Reggie Griffiths, who also has a crapton of album credits with all kinds of artists, as well as being responsible for a monster electro jam called “Mirda Rock” in 1982.

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http://flabbergasted-vibes.org/fv/917C45D240C03073.rar 

p/w: vibes

Black Ice – Black Ice (1977)

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Black Ice
“Black Ice”
1977 HDM Records (HDM 2001)
A1     Shakedown     7:06
A2     Blind Over You     3:36
A3     Girl, That´s What I Call Love     2:51
A4     I Feel The Weight (Over Losing You)     4:07
B1     The Wine Is Bitter (But The Grapes Are Sweet)     4:08
B2     Touch     3:35
B3     Making Love In The Rain     3:15
B4     I Want You Back     3:12
B5     You Got Me Going In Circles     2:46
    Producer – Hadley Murrell
Black Ice is: Antone Curtis, Gerald Bell, Cleveland Jones, Frank Willis, Ralph Lars
Associate producers: Ray Jackson and Eddie Horan
Arranged by Ray Jackson
Strings by Bill Henderson
Audio engineers: Angel Balestier and Dennis Sands (ALB Productions)
Mastered by Bob Mac Leod and Kevin Gray (Artisan Sound)
Distributed by Amherst Records, Buffalo NY

This is the sole sentence that somebody has entered into the Discogs entry for Black Ice: “A funk and soul unit from US who never sustained much commercial success or had any lasting aesthetic impact.”  Ouch. Sounds like somebody who is owed royalties or is otherwise carrying around a grudge opened up a Discogs account just to write that.  If I limited my listening habits only to artists who had a “lasting aesthetic impact,” my library would be much smaller. After all, all that ‘seminal’ stuff has to impact something, right?

Black Ice, who only made three albums spread out between 1976 and 1982, do come off a bit like a group in search of an identity, and their sound on this first record was slightly anachronistic.   Although the perfectly-cropped erotic cover of this album may have still been contemporary with 1977, the music recalls the early to mid 70s, a combination of  The Spinners and a less complex version of early Kool and The Gang.  In fact a listen to the best-known (and best) track off of it, “Breakdown” – recorded and released as a single before the rest of the material – is likely to give the impression that you are in for a wilder, funkier ride than you will actually get.  That song is a raw, uncut funk monster (which incidentally features a riff that is only a few sixteenth-notes shy of being Jungle Boogie).  Although the remaining tracks on the record can get pretty funky too, there is nothing nearly as heavy, nor anything where the band are given the space to cut loose as they do on this track.  So my own first reaction on buying this LP was a bit of anti-climax, based on the expectations of this first cut.  Most of the other tracks are slower or mid-tempo ballads.  But being influenced by or even emulating The Spinners or The Four Tops is not a bad thing at all, so it didn’t take long for me to readjust the parameters of my listening.  The fact is that Black Ice were a really solid vocal group and these are solid songs.

The first three minutes of “Shakedown” can be found here (the album version is 7 minutes!)

As harsh as the anonymous Discogs critic might have been, he or she is kind of right.  In the compressed time-space of popular music, this kind of group probably seemed a bit old-fashioned by 1977, and the sound of their next album, which didn’t come out until two years later – the wonderfully titled “I Judge The Funk” – reflects a consciousness of that and a desire to update their sound.  This had mixed results.  That record has its moments in the way of a few well-written ballads and at least one monster jam (the somewhat goofy ‘Play More Latin Music’), but there are also stabs at disco-funk that are not quite convincing.

Short of having a visionary in the group (or someone determined to leave “a lasting aesthetic impact), vocal groups frequently need a good producer to set an agenda and direction.  The small HDR Records seemed to lack this, although most of the tracks on their first two records have a writing credit from “Associate Producer” Eddie Horan.  I also don’t know anything about Horan, but he apparently recorded an album of his own in 1978 (which I have not heard), released on HDR but also picked up by TK Records out of Miami – oddly enough, a label that I would have recommended to Black Ice had I been around and had anybody asked me.  I am not even a blip on the map of soul music crate-digger scholarship, so what do I really know.  But TK Records (and their large family of affiliated subsidiaries) had a knack for taking artists who may have cultivated regional interest in clubs or local radio and getting some modestly-successful commercial recordings out of them.  With no releases between 1979 and 1981, the intervening history of Black Ice is unknown to me.  But their last album (also titled simply Black Ice) once again shows a stylistic shift, this time into the early 80s with bass synths and perhaps a mild influence of electro-funk – once again, these are elements that make up many a great record in my collection, but not ones which Black Ice were necessarily good at incorporating.   In my imagined, filling-in-blanks history of the group, I propose a narrative of  the group slipping into an undefined hiatus while some of them attempt solo careers, not having much luck, and then reconvening around 81-82 for one last reach for the stars.  This final album also involved a switch to a new label, Montage, who with artists on their roster like Rose Royce represented a potentially higher profile for the band.  Things didn’t seem to work out too well for them at Montage either.

 Is this ’77 record a lost classic?  I don’t  know.  But the opening track is pretty phenomenal, and the rest of it holds up well after repeated listens.  My one gripe might be the gratuitous female groaning during “Making Love In The Rain” that is mixed twice as loud as the music and makes me reach for the volume knob if there is anyone within earshot with whom I am not getting freaky.  It sounds like a producer’s afterthought, and the song doesn’t need it.

This was another vinyl transfer I had sitting on my hard drive for two years, reluctant to share because I didn’t like the audio quality.  My copy is kind of crispy, my stylus and cartridge at the time were a bit on the bright side, and there is one track with the hi-hat mixed so high that it might kill you (“decapitation by hi-hat” was a finishing move I tried to pitch to the creators of Mortal Kombat but nobody seemed to think it was as cool as I did).  While typing up this post, I noticed that one of the mastering engineers was a young Kevin Gray, which explains why (hi-hat on one track notwithstanding) the album actually sounds really good.  Gray has gone on to become one of the most respected mastering engineers out there, and in particular has been working on stellar reissues lately released by a few audiophile labels. 

To make my delay in this post even more shameful, a reader specifically requested this album after I played ‘Breakdown’ on one of my first podcasts.  I told him I planned to get around to it… Well here it is!

Flabbergasted Freeform Radio Hour # 8

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FLABBERGASTED FREEFORM No.8
April 2014

Well it’s about time for another podcast.  I hope you enjoy it.  You can listen to it on either Mixcloud , or get yourself a direct download from these links.

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Playlist

Lord Nelson – Garrot Bounce
Alejandro Duran – Cumbia Costeña
Latin Fever – Chirrin Chirran
Sly and The Family Stone – Jigsaw Puzzle
Chubby Checker – Gypsy
Gabor Szabo – Theme From Valley Of The Dolls
Shorty Rogers and His Giants – Chega de Saudade
João
Gilberto, Miúcha, and Stan Getz – Isáura
Conjunto
Ajiruteua De Marapanim – Da Cacaia
Blue Mitchell – Flat Backing

———–

Nelson Sargento – Primavera
James Moody – You Got To Pay
Paco de
Lucia – Quizás, quizás, quizás
Jackson do
Pandeiro – Nortista quatrocentão
Raul Seixas, Sergio Sampaio, Edy Star – Quero Ir
Isaac  Hayes –
Chocolate Chip
Alberta Hunter – Sugar
Prince Buster – Don’t Throw Stones (or Rude Rude Rudie)
Olodum –
Vinheta Cuba-Brasil
The J.B.s – The Grunt Pt. 1
Golden Gate Quartet – Same Train
Som Três – Oh Happy Day
Maysa – Quizás, quizás, quizás
Ijahman Levi – Are We A Warrior

in 320 

Go to the PODCAST ARCHIVES PAGE

Bettye Crutcher – Long As You Love Me (1974)



Bettye Crutcher
Long As You Love Me
Original release 1974 Enterprise / Stax
Reissue 2013 Ace Records
Remastered by Duncan Cowell at Sound Mastering



01 – As Long As You Love Me
02 – When We’re Together
03 – Passion
04 – A Little Bit More Won’t Hurt
05 – Sunday Morning’s Gonna Find Us In Love
06 – Sugar Daddy
07 – Call Me When All Else Fails
08 – Up For A Let Down
09 – So Lonely Without You
10 – Sleepy People

BONUS TRACKS

11 – So Glad To Have You
12 – Don’t You Think It’s About Time?
13 – Make A Joyful Noise
14 – We’ve Got Love On Our Side
15 – Walk On To Your New Love
16 – I Forgive You

Rhythm by Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section
Horns and strings by The Memphis Symphony Orchestra

Produced by Bettye Crutcher and Mack Rice
Arranged by Johnny Allen
Engineers – Pete Bishop, Jerry Masters, Steve Melton
Cover design and creative direction – The Stax Organization
Mastering – Larry Nix
A Very Special Thanks to: Bobby Womack
Photography – Frederic Torna
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Unless you are the type who habitually reads the credits on album jackets, you’ve probably never heard of Bettye Crutcher.  A victim of both a chauvinistic industry and a mismanaged label at the end of its lifespan, as a recording artist her one and only album fell between the cracks of Stax and has been relegated to a cult object for the last few decades.  It was finally issued on CD last year, together with a smattering of bonus tracks that include a few demos – this is, as far as we know at present, the entire recorded legacy of Bettye as a performer.

As a writer, however, she left a much larger body of work.  She penned a ton of hits for the likes of Johnny Taylor, Carla Thomas, Soul Children, William Bell, The Staple Singers and others.  She formed part of a triad of writing partners, We Three, that was a bit like the Stax version of The Corporation, cranking out great tunes for their roster of artists.  For this album she worked with Mack Rice as a writing and producing partner, and the material is more low key, with even the funkier tunes coming out mellow.

Fabulous production and arrangements, filled with just enough patches of strings and horns and Isaac Hazey flute riffs, would make this a joy to listen to even if the songs were mediocre.  But the songs are excellent and Bettye has an alluring personality as a singer.  Like a sort of southern soul Carole King, her voice isn’t quite ideal for the funkier tunes on the album but she approaches them with enough charm to make them work.  You might notice that a lot of her vocals are double-tracked to give her voice a thicker sound (this is a studio technique that I like quite a bit, so mind you I am not bashing it).  The opening track is probably the strongest thing here and sets the bar really high, meaning that what follows may take a few listens for its goodness to fully reach you.  There are no throw-away tunes on it, and a lot going on to keep your ears busy and happy.  Swinging effortlessly between deep southern funk, delicate ballads, and AM-radio pop-soul bliss, it is baffling that this album received no attention at the time.  It may not qualify for breathless declarations of “lost genius soul classic” but it is easily as good as dozens of other albums released in 1974 that received critical and financial compensation, and a lot of it really is brilliant.

Unlike Carole King, there are no re-recordings of her famous compositions recorded by other artists, and the liner notes shed no light as to why not (artistic choice of Bettye’s, or contractual stuff with other Stax artists?).  In fact Stax shamefully did not even release a single off this album in the US (they did release “Sugar Daddy,” a track I do not feel is representative of Bettye as a performer, a year later in the UK).  Just as puzzling is the existence of four completed recordings of very high quality that never saw the light of day until this reissue, where they are included as bonus tracks.  “So Glad To Have You” and “Don’t You Think It’s About Time” are exhilarating songs that would have been ideal singles.  Four tracks, two A and B sides – these aren’t even rough mixes, but rather polished, finished product.  Liner note author Tony Rounce muses that it might have been Bettye’s life situation as a single mother, unable or unwilling to go out on the road, that made Stax reluctant to promote her.  But Stax was so close to bankruptcy at this point that it is almost a pointless exercise to try and guess the logic behind anything going on in their disorganized offices.  Two demos tacked on to the end of the disc are solid, but we know nothing about them – when and where and with who they were recorded.  But as I said at the outset, this disc represents the entire legacy of Bettye as a recording artist unless someone finds some tape reels hidden away under their bed, so you’d better enjoy every last second of it.

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Bettye sitting in between We Three partners Homer Banks and Raymond Jackson and a stack of what look like Universal Audio compressors.