Friday, June 19, 2009

Brooklyn Funk Vol. 4- Truth & Soul Records

Here it is, the final chapter in my Brooklyn funk saga. So far I've gone through Desco, the label that started it all, Soul Fire, the label that kept it all going and Daptone, the label that brought it all to the spotlight. Now it's time to go through the last label. This one, like Daptone, is still going strong.

Truth & Soul was born out of the ashes of Soul Fire. It is run by Jeff Silverman and Leon Michels. Jeff Silverman was Desco's DJ; he spun records at all the NYC Desco shows. Later on he became involved in Soul Fire with Phil Lehman. He also played drums and bass on the JD & the Evil's Dynamite Band album. Leon Michels first came into the scene as a member of The Mighty Imperials recording for Desco then with El Michels Affair for Soul Fire.

When Soul Fire went under, Silverman and Michels teamed up and started Truth & Soul in 2004. For more info about Jeff Silverman, you can read an interview he did in 2006 here and for more information on Truth & Soul you can check out their website here.

TSCD-001 El Michels Affair- Sounding Out The City (2005)

This is El Michels Affair's debut album. The album consists of their patented brand of hard hitting yet polished instrumental soul. The horns are really in the forefront of this entire album. The rhythm section keeps it solid and interesting throughout each of the songs but all of the melody is in the horns and they're arranged beautifully. This album blew my mind the first time I heard it. I had never heard anything that sounded like this before.

TSCD-002 Various-Fallin' Off The Reel vol. 1 (2006)

This is Truth & Soul's first singles collection. The first single released on the label was an afrobeat split 7". It featured Soul Fire's Bama & the Family and Asiko. The Asiko track is all drums and percussion. Next up are 3 songs by Bronx River Parkway playing the latin-funk they do so well. Following them are 2 laid back soul tunes by Timothy McNealy, originally released in 1972, reissued here by Truth & Soul. Next up are two beautiful ballads by the one and only Lee Fields followed by 2 El Michels Affair tracks which were on the Sounding Out The City album. After El Michels Affair comes two instrumentals by The Expressions who back Lee Fields in all of his Truth & Soul endeavors. Closing out the album are two Wu Tang Clan covers by El Michels Affair, two more reissues, this time from the Funky Music Machine, and a song by Evil D, a band I would imagine has some relation to JD & The Evil's Dynamite Band, but I don't know for sure.

TSCD-003 Tyrone Ashley & The Funky Music Machine- Let Me Be Your Man (2007)

This is a reissue of the work of Sammy Campbell, a Plainfield, NJ native. He grew up singing doo wop in a group called the Del-Larks whose biggest competition was a local group called The Parliaments led by George Clinton. Eventually Sammy started making soul music under the moniker Tyrone Ashley and sometimes Tyrone Ashley and the Funky Music Machine. This album compiles previously released and unreleased instrumental and vocal songs from the Funky Music Machine. Bernie Worrell said that he, "had a voice like velvet," and I have to agree. Certain members of George Clinton's funk mob even make appearances on this album, including Eddie Hazel and Billy "Bass" Nelson.

TSCD-004 Various-Fallin Off The Reel vol. 2 (2008)

Here is volume 2 of Truth & Soul's Fallin Off The Reel series. This time we've got 4 singles by T&S bands, 3 reissue singles, and 2 bonus tracks. Of the new singles, there are 4 shortened single versions of songs from Bronx River Parkway's debut album, San Sebastian 152, 2 songs by Lee Fields, and 4 from El Michels affair, one of which is a hip hop song featuring Raekwon. As far as the reissues go, we are given 2 more by the Funky Music Machine which can be found on their album, two more great Timothy McNealy songs, and 2 by a female soul group called Black Velvet. The two bonus tracks are an interlude by Truth and Soul mainstay and former Inspecter 7 bassist Quincy Bright and a previously unreleased song by Soul Fire's The Fabulous Three.

TSCD-006 Bronx River Parkway and The Candela Allstars- San Sebastian 152 (2008)

This is Bronx River Parkway's debut album. They've been around for quite some time and released singles on Soul Fire records. The band features scene regulars Thomas Brenneck, Leon Michels, Nick Movshon, and Quincy Bright and is fleshed out by the Candela Allstars. The album consists of 10 songs done in that unique Bronx River Parkway style, mixing hard edged funk grooves with Latin music. The music varies from being more on the funky side of things, to being more on the Latin side. The percussion is spot on, and the horns never miss a beat.

FB5127 El Michels Affair- Enter the 37th Chamber (2009)

Though this album isn't technically a Truth & Soul release I'm including it anyway. This was released by the Fat Beats label in conjunction with Truth & Soul and is an entire album's worth of El Michels Affair's Wu Tang covers. They are (almost) all instrumental interpretations of songs from the Wu Tang catalog, though ODB's "Shimmy Shimmy Ya" features a chorus of children singing the refrain "Shimmy shimmy ya shimmy yeah shimmy yay/gimme the mic so I can take it away". For a Wu Tang fan this album is A LOT of fun. But even if you're not a Wu Tang fan or just don't know their music too well the album stands alone as a beautifully produced El Michels Affair album.

TSCD-007 Lee Fields and the Expressions- My World (2009)

My World is Lee Fields' third full length album with the Brooklyn funk crew. His first, Let's Get A Groove On, released on Desco Records, played to his James Brown-ish tendencies. His second, Problems, released on Soul Fire Records, really fit in with the entire Soul Fire catalog. It went back and forth between great soul tunes and gritty funk like only the Soul Fire guys could do. This time the album has that undeniable Truth & Soul sound. It's a beautiful soul album that really let's Fields' vocal prowess take the lead. The band backing him, The Expressions, reads like a Truth & Soul/Daptone's greatest list: Leon Michels, Nick Movshon, Quincy Bright, Homer Steinweiss, Tommy Brenneck, Jeff Silverman, and Michael Leonhart. Other notable members of the band include The Del-Larks, a Plainfield, NJ doo wop group and rivals of George Clinton's The Parliaments. The Del-Larks included Sammy Campbell, sometimes known as Tyrone Ashley who Truth & Soul released a compilation of back in 2007. The other notable member of the band is conga player Johnny Griggs, who played with James Brown way back when. The combination of the best musicians from the scene and some of the strongest material of Lee Fields' career makes this an album you cannot pass up. Some of the tunes worth mentioning are "Money I$ King" and "These Moments" which some of you may remember as instrumentals by The Expressions from the compilation Falling Off The Reel Vol. 1, another beautiful version of "Honey Dove" from Problems, and the haunting title track.

TSCD-008 El Michels Affair- A Tribute to Isaac Hayes (2009)

El Michels Affair have supplied us with yet another masterfully done album of cover songs, this time from the repertoire of the late, great Isaac Hayes. Technically it's an EP, however it's a 27 minute EP, which only comes in 6 minutes behind Sounding Out The City anyway. "Shaft" is a very bare bones instrumental while "Walk On By" is definitely the sexiest song they have ever recorded. "Hung Up On My Baby" is the most indicative of the El Michels Affair sound we have all come to expect. All in all, this is a fantastic tribute to Isaac Hayes and like Enter the 37th Chamber a great album for all El Michels Affair fans.

TSCD-009 Michael Leonhart and Avramina 7- Seahorse and The Storyteller (2010)

From the opening of the first track, "Seahorse and The Storyteller", with its dark and ominous yet funky guitar/bass line you know you're in for something completely new and original the likes of which have never graced the catalog of Truth & Soul Records before. The song begins to build with the addition of drums and some spacey background sounds. Then come the vocals, always at least 2 voices singing every word found on the record, one low and one singing harmony in a much higher register and you realize that nothing has ever sounded like this before. Throughout the song different textures are added that set the scene for the entire album to come: horns, strings, noises, sounds that might be voices, and instruments that cannot be identified just by listening. As the album progresses styles change, different instrumentation comes and goes, but the two things that stay constant are the breakbeat style drums and the amazingly original vocals. Throughout the song cycle the music shifts from experimental pop/funk with heavy afrobeat tendencies(The tile track and "Scopolamine") to beautiful and haunting ballads ("The Story of Echo Lake"), to exotic, vaguely soul/funk tunes("Gold Fever", "Jaipur", "Madhouse Mumbai") to songs that leave me completely unable to categorize them. This is a concept album and instead of trying to capture it in a sentence or two I'll give you what is written on the back of the package itself: "Seahorse & The Storyteller is the story of two mythical creatures who meet, fall in love and begin piecing together the mysteries of each other's past. They set off on an adventure that will lead them to the ends of the world. Along the way, they encounter a cast of colorful characters who will forever change them". All of these different musical styles I have mentioned already are used perfectly to convey the story of the Seahorse and The Storyteller. There are songs that will make you want to leap out of your seat and start dancing, there are songs that are creepy and dark to convey certain parts of the story and exotic sounding songs that paint a picture of the exotic creatures the two main characters meet along their journey. Every song pulls you into the next and you won't be able to pause it in the middle even if you wanted to. It all leads up to the last song on the album, "Here Comes The Dragonfish", an uplifting and beautifully written, produced and performed pop song. I honestly think it is the best song on the album simply because the entire album leads up to it so perfectly. When it comes, you feel relieved because even though you weren't aware of it yet, you had been waiting almost 40 minutes to hear that specific song.

TSCD- 010 Various- Fallin Off The Reel Vol. 3 (2011)

Yet another installment in the fantastic Fallin Off The Reel series. Volume 3 brings us the latest and greatest of the limited edition 45's Truth & Soul have been putting out since Volume 2 hit the shelves. It opens up with two smooth, disco-y funk tunes. The second track being the most disco but also my favorite as it's an 8 minute trombone/flute duet. Then we get some new Quincy Bright, including "Stay The Night" which is an actual song with a structure and vocals as opposed to his usual short instrumental sound collages. The following two songs are two more Timothy McNealy reissues. These two being heavier and funkier than anything on volumes one or two. I really hope they will eventually put an entire disc's worth of Timothy McNealy tracks together for a proper full length. I'm going to skip around a bit now. The next new band to be featured are The Olympians. They offer up their own brand of smooth, cinematic soul. It's El Michels Affair-esque but different enough to be really exciting.

TSCD-011 Lee Fields- Problems (2002)

This is a Soul Fire reissue. For a review see my article on Soul Fire Records.

TSCD-014 Various- African Music Today (2010)

This album is a compilation of rare and unreleased modern afrobeat music, though you will think you're listening to a collection centered around 1970's Nigerian bands. There is no information about any of these bands to be found within the packaging of the CD, however I do know that the Bama & The Family and Jojo Quo and his Challengers tracks were pulled from the Sou Fire vaults. Besides those songs the album is comprised of amazing, obscure afrobeat which just get better and better as the album progresses.

TSCD-017 The Fabulous Three- The Best Of The Fabulous Three (2010)

Those of you paying close attention to the Brooklyn Funk articles will recognize the Fabulous Three from the Soul Fire article and earlier in his article about Truth & Soul. The Fabulous Three were a Soul Fire band in every sense of the word. They shared members with just about every band on the label, they were all friends, and they made soul music that was as heavy as it was beautiful. It is only fitting that they finally receive a full length reissue on Truth & Soul since most of their members are still active in the label's output to this day. The album opens up with "Answer Me Softly Pt. 1" and "Answer Me Softly Pt. 2" which both appeared on Soul Fire's Up From The Vaults Vol. 1 after being released as a 45rpm single. Of the following 11 songs, all but one, "Odyssey Revised" which was included as a bonus track on Falling Off The Reel Vol. 2, are seeing daylight for the first time. The drum beat mixed with the handclaps and clave pattern on "Nightbird" is mesmerizing. The organ melodies on "Whitesands Pt. 1," "Whitesands Pt. 2," and "No Name Bar" will be stuck in your head forever. All in all we are finally given the chance to fully appreciate the distinct sound of The Fabulous Three. These songs sound like nothing that came before them and nothing that has come since (although I noticed today that the JD and the Evil's Dynamite Band album does come pretty close). The minimalism in the instrumentation is what sets them apart from everything else. Most of the songs only feature drums, bass, organ and sometimes flute and some horns. Only five of the tracks actually have guitar. Most of the tracks are mixed in a way that the drums are way up front and it gives them a fullness I have yet to hear on anything else. It also gives the song a completely different personality because the mixing is telling you the drums are the focal point of this recording which is something you don't often hear.

As a little bonus, here's a small list of some Brooklyn funk guest appearances.

New York Ska Jazz Ensemble- Skaleidoscope (2005)

NYSJE are veterans of the ska scene. Their first album came out on Moon Ska Records way back in 1995. The band is centered around sax/flute/vocalist and former member of the Toasters, "Rocksteady" Freddy Reiter. This album features the beautiful vocals of Sharon Jones on the songs, "Makin' Whoopee," "Isn't It Funny," and "Making Love."

The Scorchers- Stuntin' (2005)

The Scorchers are a traditional ska band from Brooklyn featuring two ex members of the Slackers. Their debut album features the saxophone and organ of El Michels. The album is about half instrumental, half vocal. El Michels also helped record the album as well, giving it a bit of that Truth & Soul analog feel.

Amy Winehouse- Back to Black (2006)

This woman needs no introduction. You either love her or hate her, depending on how much celebrity gossip you pay attention to. I personally don't care what kind of person is, I think she has an amazing voice, and the songs are extremely catchy. It also doesn't hurt that the music on this album, and the subsequent tour, was provided by Daptone's own The Dap Kings.

That's it for my Brooklyn funk chronicles. I'm going to do my best to keep these updated as Daptone and Truth & Soul release more and as I get the ones I don't already own. A lot of these bands are still playing shows, and you should really go out and see them if you ever get the chance. I've only gotten the chance to see Budos Band, but my friends have seen Sharon Jones, Lee Fields, Sugarman 3, and Menahan Street Band and I've never heard a bad review. Read more about the Brooklyn funk scene with my articles on Daptone, Soul Fire, and Desco.

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