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
———————————————————

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.

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.

 

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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24bit