Photo by Beth Herzhaft
Act 1 (Luv N’ Haight)
SONS & DAUGHTERS OF LITE
Let the Sun Shine In (Luv N’ Haight)
Warning: These two re-ishes by Ubiquity’s Luv N’ Haight imprint are strictly for ultra-hard-boiled R&B/soul freaks, and the casual reader is advised to move on to another review.
The Turner Singers were an obscure family gospel group in the ‘50s originally from Columbia, South Carolina, who segued into doo-wop at Chess after relocating in the early ‘60s to Indianapolis, where they eventually renamed themselves the Turner Brothers Showband. By the ’70s they’d grown out the ‘fros and traded the sharkskin for flared rhinestone jump suits straight outta Dolemite, in keeping with doing whatever it took to get the gigs on the pre-disco chitlin soul-lounge circuit and opening various tours headlined by Rufus Thomas, Tavares, the Chi-Lites and the Ohio Players.
The Turner Bros.
Real Audio Format
Running in the Rain
Please the People
From doo-wop it was a natural progression to soul and then on to lascivious instrumental funk, a gamut represented in this previously impossibly rare album originally released on the band’s own Music Book label in 1974, toward the end of R&B’s rawest DIY ghetto-populist funk period. It was a smash in Indianapolis, and nowhere else, it seems. Recommended most-fun tracks: “Running in the Rain” is absolutely the ultimate grand orchestral opening-credit theme to any generic ’70s blaxploitation movie, while “Please the People” is another gas instrumental with dubbed-in applause to give an amped-up live concert feel, and “Sound of the Taurus” is a slow, sleazy dope-organ riff welded to a Ziggy Modeliste/Meters–style syncopated groove. Several wack ballads and a sincerely flattering Womack imitation in “Sweetest Thing in the World” round out this short but sweet joint. The T. Bros may never have pushed the envelope in the originality department, but they had heaps of soul — something that didn’t grow on trees back then any more than it does today. Hardcore R&B fans, sampling vampires and music supervisors looking for cool period source music will rejoice over this one, and you betcha, three great cuts on one budget-price CD is a lot these days.
Sons and Daughters of Lite
Real Audio Format
Let the Sun Shine In
Meanwhile, over in Oakland circa 1978, the Sons and Daughters of Lite, led by multireedman and Nairobi College music teacher Basuki Bala, with their Afro-Meta lyrics, epitomized the politicized dashiki-’n’-sandals spiritual jazz-funk of the time. The band’s name crops up in ancient Egyptology, and they were well-known for playing numerous benefits for community causes, including several Panther organizations. They also opened shows for Sun Ra, Fela Kuti, Freddie Hubbard and Stanley Turrentine, and the influences of the former two are most evident. Raw, jammy and jazzy, “Let the Sun Shine In” (neither of the two well-known songs of that same title) features harmony vocals and a Roy Ayers–like vibraphone vibe and builds into an all-out percussion groove, but the keeper party track is “Darkuman Junktion,” which seduces sneakily after each listen.
All hail Ubiquity! (www.ubiquityrecords.com)
Supreme Clientele (Epic/Razor Sharp)
After a string of anemic solo releases exemplifying the sophomore slump of its individual members, the Wu-Tang Clan finally get the groove back thanks to Ghostface Killah. Supreme Clientele is not just the best follow-up album from one of the Wu family, it’s the best Wu album in at least four years. For an artist who once lurked in the shadows behind Raekwon, Ghostface comes into this set full throttle, exciting, delighting and restoring the fame to the Wu-Tang name.
Rather than trickle out a stream of consciousness, Ghostface pours out a flood. Packed with a blend of 5-Percenter phraseology and a lexicon of street iconography, Ghostface’s flow is a buckshot spray of verses, dense and daunting. Decipher a line from his “Apollo Kids”: “This rap is like ziti/Face and be real TV/Crush at high speed/Strawberry kiwi.” His delivery borders on delirious at times, but it’s an exhilarating display of self-confident flair. Ghost running the mike is like Kobe running the break.
Equally important, Supreme Clientele returns to the essence of the Wu-Tang sound: sinfully soulful, its sampling of cries, moans and yells twisting the Holy Ghost from reverence to villainy. On “Child’s Play,” RZA engineers a haunting melody of piano snippets and searing strings, inflecting the track with an affecting nostalgia. “Ghost Deini” (produced by the Blaquesmiths) lifts faint guitar licks and minor-key chords from some forgotten soundtrack, while RZA returns to boost Baby Huey’s raucous riffs from “Hard Times” to power the Wu-Tang posse cut “Buck 50.”
The past few Wu-Tang albums have been tense with premillennial paranoia, but Supreme Clientele is all about release — an explosive package of nuevo-blaxploitation that buries all thuggish rubbish. Protect ya neck. (Oliver Wang)
Ah, what a fine day for a wine-enhanced Parisian lunch. Or how ’bout a big bowl of hot, steamy coffee, and a freshly rolled phatty to follow it up? Some chocolates, maybe? Throw in dreamy lava-lamp textures and a dash of tranquil funk, and you’ve got the sensual nucleus of Groove Armada’s Vertigo.
The genius of Groove Armada’s Tom Findlay and Andy Cato lies in their knack for dropping retro grooves onto trancey embers of atmospheric acid jazz, funk and house music. You might see a David Nagel portrait during the opening “Chicago,” but it’s shadowed by composed coolness. Then, like a flash, a funky guitar riff spawns visions of Robert Palmer music videos with all those harems of guitar-pluckin’ models in tow. If you’re in the mood for “sand dunes and salty air,” slip into the nostalgic aura of “At the River,” where an introspective trombone takes a solemn trek across an expansive field of contemplative, jazzy chords.
Combining live instrumentation with sequenced samples, Groove Armada goes from subzero chill on tracks like “Dusk You & Me,” “Private Interlude” and “Inside My Mind (Blue Skies),” to scalding funk with two versions (original and Fatboy Slim remix) of their current underground club anthem “I See You Baby (Shakin’ That Ass).” But Fatboy’s take on “I See You Baby” alone is enough reason to purchase this disc; featuring a hell-raisin’ Gram’ma Funk on the mike shouting out, “Funk if ya nasty, darlin’,” Fatboy makes the track come even more alive with his heavy barrage of tight drum-machine rolls, pounding bass and spliced-in Sly Stone guitar riffs. Stone’s influence on Groove Armada is also evident on the freestylin’ dance-floor cut “If Everybody Looked the Same.” All in all, it’s a diverse set soaked in the spirit of flower-power groovin’. Care for a sniff? (Derrick Mathis)
PEDRO THE LION
Winners Never Quit (Jade Tree)
Maybe indie rock was always bogus, what with its major defining quality being a whiny singer. Sebadoh, Superchunk and Elliott Smith could all get away with it because of their skill at conveying their wussy feelings about girls in a heart-rending fashion. Even second-generation whiners like Quasi, Track Star and Ben Lee could pull off being overly sensitive without being annoying. But indie rock never compared to the music that preceded it, which was called “alternative rock,” before that term was purchased by various media conglomerates. The alternative scene of the late ’80s and early ’90s, which included bands like Jawbreaker, Ween, Nirvana, Cop Shoot Cop, the Pixies and the Butthole Surfers, was truly an alternative to the horrendous music being played on commercial radio. When it watered down, sold out and disappeared, it was replaced by indie rock, a genre that was always inferior and that is now almost spent.
But there’s one last whimpering indie-rock dude with emotional problems who has something to contribute. His name is David Bazan, and he’s got a sort-of band called Pedro the Lion, though on his latest record, Winners Never Quit, he sings and handles all the instruments. He adds fancy, tasteful flourishes to his drumming, and his guitar playing is all hooks and resplendent melodies. “Never Leave a Job Half Done” has a magnificent chorus, while “Slow and Steady Wins the Race” has Bazan picking out the lovely melody on acoustic guitar. It’s all very precious stuff, sounding like some of Sebadoh’s best material. Kids who’ve eaten up the whole indie-rock thing thus far will go bananas over Pedro the Lion. In a genre known for lo-fi self-indulgence, Bazan manages to create a concise, radiant album, which certainly merits a spot for him in the indie-wuss pantheon. (Adam Bregman)
at the Lobero Theater, Santa Barbara, March 15
A Richard Thompson show, a little like a Dead show, has evolved its own classic development. It starts with a few wisecracks (“Quaint little town, quaint little theater,” Thompson gibed to his fans at the Lobero Theater, which pissed a few people off), moves through all the songs aficionados respect but don’t adore (“Bathsheba Smiles,” “Two-Faced Love”), peaks with some showoffy ensemble picking and solos (this time using “Hard on Me” from Mock Tudor as a foundation), and finally unravels into fun. “I’m just wondering when the last time was that someone had the nerve to get up here and play a slow foxtrot,” Thompson mused just before launching a loping version of “Hard Times,” with bassist Danny Thompson and drummer Michael Jerome plunking deftly along. From then on, thrills rolled in like a marine layer on a March evening: a rollicking “Tear-Stained Letter” and a fully orchestrated “Sights and Sounds of London Town,” both with pauses for audience participation; “I Feel So Good,” with the very serious Pete Zorn spinning out the tune’s familiar Celtic-infused riff on soprano sax (one of a small mountain of instruments onstage around him); a heart-rending “The Ghost of You Walks,” deepened substantially in tone and meaning by Danny’s bowed string bass.
But the treasure-trove of any Thompson show is always in the encores — he does four or five of them, and crams three songs into each appearance, and you still hate it when he quits — and those encores have never been better than they were in this small, acoustically friendly theater, whose audience members give the collective impression that they and R.T. go way, way back. (Last year he played this local music series, “Sings Like Hell,” without the band; this year, producer Peggie Jones invited the whole audience to hang backstage.) “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” was expected, as was a sturdy, rocking “Wall of Death.” But Thompson alone on his ’70s classic “Dimming of the Day,” sung in a smoother baritone with broader harmonies than ever before, was an unexpected gem, and a near-perfect one, too — another testament to Thompson’s capacity to improve on his exquisite gifts with every passing tour. (Judith Lewis)