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Archive for March 14th, 2013

Numero Serves Up “Dynamic” Soul From Deep In The Heart Of Texas

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Eccentric Soul - Dynamic LabelThe very first release from the musical archaeologists at The Numero Group was an Eccentric Soul compilation focusing on the small Capsoul label of Columbus, Ohio.  Subsequent volumes have turned their attention to other regional labels including Deep City, Big Mack and Bandit, and producers and collectives like Mighty Mike Lenaburg and The Young Disciples.  The latest Eccentric Soul release arrived from Numero on March 12, focusing on the Dynamic Records label.

No. 043 in the Numero series, Eccentric Soul: The Dynamic Label tells the story of just one label in local mogul Abe “Abie” Epstein’s San Antonio music empire.  If Dynamic is remembered at all, it’s likely for The Commands, who charted a minor hit single in 1966 with “No Time For You.”  Epstein, who died in 2012, produced records not only by The Commands but by The Royal Jesters, Rene and Rene, and Joe Bravo, to name but a few of his musical charges.  It was Epstein who helped created what’s thought of as the “West Side Sound” of San Antonio, a heady Texan brew of R&B, rock-and-roll and plenty of soul often with a healthy dollop of reverb.  During Dynamic’s two-and-a-half year run, Epstein broke racial barriers by inviting whites, blacks and Latinos alike to his studio on General McMullen Drive.  Epstein’s records were characterized by powerful horns, grooving organs and a cross-cultural flavor.

More details, the complete track listing and order links follow after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

March 14, 2013 at 16:05

Kickstart Our Hearts? Thoughts on Crowd-Funding Catalogue Music

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In a move guaranteed to enter the history books in entertainment for 2013, Rob Thomas, creator of the cult-classic television show Veronica Mars, surprised fans with an idea for a cinematic continuation of the long-cancelled series. What made it worth noticing, regardless of one’s opinion for the show, was the method in which it was funded: with a script in hand and a cast ready to block out time for a theoretical production, Thomas got Warner Bros.’ blessing to approach fans to fund the project via crowd-funding site Kickstarter; the goal of $2 million was shattered in under 12 hours, giving the team another 29 days to rake in additional cash from the series’ loyal fans.

Discussing the genesis of the idea on the project’s page, Thomas cited the successful deluxe reissue of Cotton Mather’s underrated power-pop gem Kontiki as one of his influences to fund the film through fan efforts. This, of course, brings up the question: can this model work in the world of catalogue music?

A common and worthy criticism of putting the Kickstarter model on a pedestal for musicians is simple: these models are facilitated with the help of the entertainment business’ traditional label/studio establishment. Indie musician Amanda Palmer has frequently championed Kickstarter as the future of music distribution, but it’s hard to believe she wouldn’t have so much success with the site had she not been signed to a major label for several years. Even watershed moments like Radiohead’s “it’s up to you” pricing model for 2007’s In Rainbows were only possible because the band had built up a savvy fan base while signed to Parlophone/EMI during the decade prior.

Of course, most of what reissue fans would want to see unearthed is in the hands of the majors, so it’s not really about sticking it to the man. What it is about is getting labels to mull the possibilities of crowd-funding and use it to their advantage. To that end, there’s a few things I’d think would be most important:

  • Understand the audience. A catalogue-savvy audience is not necessarily a new-media savvy audience. The Second Disc’s web traffic has always been higher than our Facebook or Twitter traffic (though not for lack of trying!); what that likely means is that not all catalogue music fans are social media users. That means, were you to fund a reissue or box set through Kickstarter, you have to try  maybe a little harder to reach the fans you want to reach.
  • Understand the processLast year’s deluxe B.B. King box set had its own PledgeMusic page. Was it cool? Absolutely. Was it clear why the project had anything to do with crowd-funding? Err…less certain. The incentives didn’t stretch further beyond a bonus Blu-Ray that was available separately before the box was made public. Something tells me the B.B. King set (either the four-disc version or maybe even the 10-disc deluxe variant) would have come out regardless of PledgeMusic’s involvement; however, the same could not be said about, say, Squeeze. Picking artists to Kickstart or Pledge to with small but savvy fan bases would actually be fun and gratifying – projects thought impossible might have a better shot at existing.
  • Make it fun! With the right people on the job and projects in the works, seeing a catalogue label make the move toward crowd-funded projects could actually be a blast. Think of the incentives (credit in a box set booklet, special memorabilia) – or, more importantly, the chance to feel closer to a title by helping it come to fruition.

It may take some time to figure out if true grassroots works of art can rise up and be counted like “mainstream” projects with the help of sites like Kickstarter. But there’s no harm in thinking about mainstream projects branching out even more with the help of crowd-funding, wouldn’t you say?

What do you think? Would the Kickstarter model work for reissues and box sets? What sort of catalogue titles would you like to see on sites like those? Sound off in the comments below!

Written by Mike Duquette

March 14, 2013 at 13:40

Review: The O’Jays, “Ship Ahoy: 40th Anniversary Edition”

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O'Jays - Ship AhoyJames Barkley’s rear cover artwork for The O’Jays’ 1973 Philadelphia International LP Ship Ahoy depicts a mighty vessel sailing on the sea, but the reflection in the water isn’t of the boat itself.  Rather, ghostly figures of abandoned souls populate these waters.  The setting is the Middle Passage, the infamous crossing in the “triangular trade” that saw Africans shackled and shipped as slaves to the Americas.  Those spectral presences loom over the visages of Eddie Levert, Walter Williams and William Powell on the cover, too, as well as throughout this daring and innovative LP that may well the high watermark of the vocal legends’ long tenure at Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff’s storied record label.  Big Break Records has recently reissued Ship Ahoy (CDBBR0207) on the occasion of its fortieth anniversary, with three bonus tracks appended.  It remains a stunning exemplar of Gamble and Huff’s “message in the music,” as well as of what truly defines soul.

Nearly two-and-a-half minutes elapse before the lyrics begin in the sprawling title track, a companion of sorts to Billy Paul’s 1971 epic “East,” also overseen by Gamble and Huff.  The stage for the O’Jays’ entrance is set by disquieting creaks, booming thunder, a cracking whip.  There are cries of “Ship ahoy!” before the group launches into a snap-to-action verse that pulls no punches.  Just the right caustic edge is applied: “As far as your eye can see, men, women and baby slaves, coming to the land of Liberty, where life’s design is already made.  So young and strong, they’re just waiting to be saved.”  Attention must be paid.  For the duration of the nearly ten-minute opus, a tale that can’t be whitewashed unfolds, taking in both poetic imagery of nature – the cold wind, the fish in the sea, the waves – and harsh reality: “I’m your master and you’re my slave.”  Gamble and Huff even quote from Show Boat’s “Ol’ Man River,” a fact that doubtless would have pleased its socially conscious lyricist, Oscar Hammerstein II.  “Ship Ahoy,” set to a roiling melody accented by searing stabs of electric guitar and trademark symphonic soul hallmarks as arranged by Norman Harris of MFSB, was quite unlike anything else recorded by The O’Jays to that point.  There’s no sugarcoating, no redemption and no optimism.  It crystallized Philadelphia International’s commitment at the crossroads of art and commerce, making serious themes accessible and musically palatable without sacrificing verisimilitude.

The balance of Ship Ahoy is as deft as the group’s first long-player, Back Stabbers, which was anchored by its own title song as well as by “Love Train.”  The themes of both “Back Stabbers” and “Love Train” resonate on Ship Ahoy, as producers and chief writers Gamble and Huff were still very much interested in espousing the gospel of peace and love as well as exploring the vicissitudes of relationships familial, fraternal and romantic.  Hit the jump for more! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

March 14, 2013 at 10:05

Posted in Reissues, Reviews, The O'Jays

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