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BBR Round-Up: “It’s Happening” With Bebu Silvetti, Foxy, Vernon Burch

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Silvetti - Spring RainThe masterminds at Big Break Records certainly like to keep fans of great soul music on their toes!  In addition to the delicious soul-jazz hybrid Reality from Monk Montgomery, the label has recently unveiled another quartet of adventurous soul, dance and R&B reissues.

Two of BBR’s latest hail from deep in the Salsoul Records vaults.  1977’s Spring Rain, credited to The Sensuous Sound of Silvetti, was the brainchild of Argentine pianist, composer, arranger and conductor Bebu Silvetti (1944-2003).  Silvetti was active in the Latin music scene through the early years of the 21st century, even picking up a Latin Grammy in 2003, the year of his untimely death at the age of 59. The multi-hyphenate artist wrote the entirety of his second Salsoul album Spring Rain, collaborating on just one track with Sylvia Riera Ibáñez.  Production was handled by another Latin music legend, Rafael Trabucchelli.  Though created by Silvetti and licensed by the Cayre Brothers for release on Salsoul like Silvetti’s 1976 label debut World Without Words, Spring Rain was remixed for American listeners by Tom Moulton at Philadelphia’s Sigma Sound Studios. 

Though the music is stylistically dissimilar, it’s not hard to connect the dots from Spring Rain to Salsoul’s lush, made-in-Philly records.  With Silvetti’s own piano out front (as it is on the entire album), the sophisticated title track went Top 40 Pop/Top 5 Disco upon its U.S. release.  It envelops the listener with cooing, wordless female vocals, elegant and sweeping strings, funky guitar licks and a ready-for-dancing beat.  Light and cool as the breeze that might accompaniment the title’s seasonal rainstorm, Spring Rain flirts with the Latin-percussion “Salsoul sound” (“Primitive Man”), sweet samba (“A Smile at Dawn”), keyboard-driven pop-jazz fusion (“Two Cups of Coffee”), emotional yet smoky balladry (“Fortune Teller”), and bright disco (“Voyage of No Return,” “Contigo”), all in refreshing, melodic and frequently cinematic arrangements.

This effervescent collection has been remastered by reissue producer Wayne A. Dickson and annotated by Matt Bauer.  One bonus track has been added, the single edit of “Spring Rain.”  (Its B-side, “Travel Check” from Silvetti’s previous Salsoul album, is absent.  Perhaps a reissue of World Without Words will arrive next?)

From another diverse corner of the diverse Salsoul label, BBR has also delivered Sons of the Gods from the quintet Ripple.  The 1978 release was the multi-racial funk band’s sole release for Salsoul and only its second album following 1973’s eponymous debut on GRC Records.  Simon Kenneth Carter (vocals/bass), Walter Carter (lead vocals/percussion), Brian Sherrer (vocals/drums/timbales), Victor Burks (vocals/keyboards) and Barry Lee (lead guitar) teamed with producer Floyd Smith for Ripple’s to the studio; this line-up appears to be modified from the ’73 line-up, with vibraphonist/keyboardist Curtis Reynolds, saxophonist William Hull and lead singer Keith Samuels all absent from the credits on Sons of the Gods.  (Simon Kenneth Carter, Walter Carter and Brian Sherrer played on the debut album produced by “Big” Dee Irwin.)

Like Spring Rain, Sons of the Gods isn’t your typical Salsoul platter; it actually begins with a slow and soulful cover of The Masqueraders’ “Call Me the Traveling Man.”  It’s not the only pure ballad here, either.  Burks’ slow-burning “Facts of Life” – complete with spoken interlude – is equally impassioned.  Throughout, Ripple demonstrates their versatility in a variety of idioms on both vocal and instrumental tracks.  The funk and disco flourishes of the raucous “Today” brought the party, while “Victorious” is a jazzy jam with bold horns, prominent electric keyboard and percussion traveling from one stereo channel to the other.  An upbeat seventies-style update of Wade Flemons’ 1958 oldie “Here I Stand” might have been a surprise, but it was mere prelude for the song that followed it on the album’s second side. 

“The Beat Goes On and On,” penned by Smith and the group, is the album’s most overt nod to disco, and it has all of the irresistible qualities of the genre’s best.  A non-stop, rhythmic and brassy call to the dancefloor with a soaring string arrangement, “The Beat” didn’t crack the pop charts, but respectably placed at No. 91 R&B/No. 13 Disco.  Its release on 45 preceded the album by a couple of months; Sons of the Gods took its title and sci-fi cover imagery from its 9+-minute cover of Charles Earland’s funky song of the same name.  Earthier business was also at hand, though.  Burks penned Sons’ closing track, the very topical and ironically up-tempo “Do What You Wanna Do,” reflecting frankly on inner-city life: “She’s got three kids but she claims only two…” or “There goes my brother, he’s standing in the breadline/Smokin’ weed is his favorite pastime…”

The eclectic, electric Sons of the Gods is also annotated by Bauer and remastered by Dickson.  Bauer accurately asserts in his liner notes that Ripple’s history “seems shrouded in mystery,” and his assertion in the notes that Keith Samuels and Curtis Reynolds are heard on the album is oddly contradicted by its credits.  But the music speaks for itself.  One bonus track, the single version of “The Beat Goes On and On,” has been added.  After the jump: a look at reissues from Vernon Burch and Foxy, plus full track listings and order links for all four titles!

Vernon Burch - When I Get Back HomeIf Vernon Burch’s 1977 Columbia album When I Get Back Home, just reissued by BBR, sounds suspiciously like a lost Stevie Wonder gem, there’s a reason why – Wonder contributed keyboards to three of its tracks.  Burch, a virtuosic guitarist-singer-producer-arranger who once played with the Bar-Kays, surrounded himself with top-tier personnel for his Columbia debut and second solo album.  In addition to Wonder, Greg Phillinganes also played keyboards, Nathan Watts of Wonderlove joined on bass, Susaye Greene of The Supremes sang backing vocals, and former Gamble and Huff associate Gene Dozier co-produced this funky R&B set with Burch.

When I Get Back Home followed Burch’s United Artists release I’ll Be Your Sunshine.  Though Burch had worked with the Bar-Kays and Isaac Hayes, the album’s theme really came from Stevie Wonder.  As he admits in Matt Bauer’s notes, “the whole theme of the album was ‘Living in the City.’”  Like Wonder, Burch explored funk (“Sexasonic,” “Good to Me,” “Ghetto Penthouse”) alongside dreamier compositions (“Paradise,” “Mr. Sin,” the tropical “Bye, Bye, Baby”), bright, up-tempo workouts (“To Make You Stay”) and atmospheric ballads (“Leave Your Spirit Behind”).  “Leaving You is Killing Me” melded stomping percussion with jazzy horns and a catchy chorus, leading to its release as the album’s first single.  (Alas, it only reached a peak of No. 95 R&B.)  Wonder wasn’t the only influence here; title song “When I Get Back Home” opened with a “What’s Going On”-esque dialogue.

Vernon Burch moved from Columbia to Chocolate City Records, and recorded a few more albums before retiring from the music business grind in 1982.  He returned in 2011 as The Reverend Vernon Burch with The Inside Out Project.  Fans of Wonder, Gaye and Donny Hathaway (Burch’s other central influence) will likely find plenty to love on When I Get Back Home.  Sean Brennan at New York’s Battery Studios transferred the original master tapes for the Columbia LP, and Nick Robbins remastered in London.  The single versions of both A-sides (“Leaving You is Killing Me” and “Sexasonic”) have been appended as bonus tracks.

The final title in this BBR quartet is a bit more carnally-minded.  Foxy’s Get Off was released in 1978 on Henry Stone’s Dash Records imprint, and thanks to its naughty title track, the album made it all the way to No. 12 Pop/No. 3 R&B.  Though often referred to as a disco band in the manner of TK’s reigning kings KC and the Sunshine Band, Foxy’s sound was actually much more diverse.  In the generous and comprehensive liner notes by J. Matthew Cobb, the band’s guitarist/lead vocalist/songwriter Ish Ledesma confesses that the choice was deliberate to downplay disco on Get Off.  So while there’s certainly an uptempo dance vibe on tracks like “Ready for Love,” you’ll also hear (in Ledesma’s colorful words) “a reggae number, a Michael McDonald-sounding ballad, it’s all sorts of shit in there…”

Get Off followed the band’s 1976 self-titled album for Dash.  Vocalist/percussionist Carl Driggs joined the original members of Foxy – Ledesma, Arnold Paseiro on bass, Richie Puente Jr. (son of Tito) on percussion, Charlie Murciano on keyboards, woodwinds and vibes and Joe Galdo on drums, percussion and vocals – for Get Off.  Its uninhibited title track made it all the way to No. 1 on the R&B chart, No. 9 Pop and No. 18 Disco.  The story behind the song, as recounted in Cobb’s notes, is as entertaining as the iconic song itself, which captures its particular place and time even as Ledesma laments its limiting classification as disco.  It’s of a piece with the Latin dance sound of “You,” with its exclamations of “Love the way you squeeze, love the way you please me” as strings swell.  There’s also plenty of grunting and heavy breathing on the sleek and sensual “Goin’ Back to You.”  The album’s surprise is that “Michael McDonald-sounding ballad,” “It’s Happening.”  Foxy’s versatility is evident on this funky and passionate soul showcase.

Foxy broke up in 1980, but Ledesma persevered both in front of the microphone and behind the scenes.  He released a solo album for TK and scored successes with the bands Oxo and Company B.  Big Break’s reissue of Foxy’s seminal Get Off includes three bonuses: the 12-inch disco version and single edit of “Get Off,” and the instrumental single of “Tena’s Song.”  Nick Robbins has remastered Get Off.

Each of these four albums is available for order now, at the links below!

Silvetti, Spring Rain (Salsoul LP SZS-5516, 1977 – reissued Big Break Records CDBBR 0231, 2013) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

  1. Spring Rain
  2. Primitive Man
  3. A Smile at Dawn
  4. Two Cups of Coffee
  5. Voyage of No Return
  6. Coconut Rain
  7. Fortune Teller
  8. Contigo
  9. Spring Rain (Single Version) (Salsoul single 2014, 1977)

Ripple, Sons of the Gods (Salsoul LP SZS-5514, 1978 – reissued Big Break Records CDBBR 0240, 2013) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

  1. Call Me Traveling Man
  2. Today
  3. Victorious
  4. Here I Stand
  5. The Beat Goes On and On
  6. Facts of Life
  7. Sons of the Gods
  8. Do What You Wanna Do
  9. The Beat Goes On and On (Single Version) (Salsoul single 2057, 1977)

Vernon Burch, When I Get Back Home (Columbia LP PC-34701, 1977 – reissued Big Break CDBBR0242, 2013) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

  1. Sexasonic
  2. Mr. Sin
  3. Paradise
  4. Good to Me
  5. When I Get Back Home
  6. Leaving You is Killing Me
  7. To Make You Stay
  8. Leave Your Spirit Behind
  9. Bye, Bye, Baby
  10. Ghetto Penthouse
  11. Leaving You is Killing Me (Single Version) (Columbia single 10564, 1977)
  12. Sexasonic (Single Version) (Columbia single 10609, 1977)

Foxy, Get Off (Dash LP D-30005, 1978 – reissued Big Break CDBBR0241, 2013) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

  1. Tena’s Song
  2. Ready for Love
  3. Madamoiselle [sic]
  4. You
  5. Get Off
  6. Lucky Me
  7. Goin’ Back to You
  8. It’s Happening
  9. Get Off (12” Disco Version) (TK Disco single TK-88, 1978)
  10. Tena’s Song (Instrumental Version) (TK Disco single TK-88, 1978)
  11. Get Off (Single Version) (Dash single 5046, 1978)

Written by Joe Marchese

September 20, 2013 at 10:37

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