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Purple Reign: Numero Anthologizes Early Minneapolis Funk Bands

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Purple SnowIt was something like Sly Stone or James Brown for the New Wave set: tight, sparse R&B jams peppered with funky guitar and pulsating bass, sweetened with electronic accoutrements in the percussion section and dazzling synthesizers where a horn section might be. The “Minneapolis sound” changed soul music dramatically in the ’80s, with Prince and his collaborators, associates and followers (The Time, Andre Cymone, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Alexander O’Neal) helping rewrite musical style for a new generation.

With much of Prince’s recent material partially focused on retrofied jams (his last studio albums in the U.S., 2009’s LOtUSFLOWER and MPLSound, were heavy on the Linn LM-1 drums and Oberheim OBX synths that propelled the likes of 1999 and Purple Rain into pop immortality), and an entire wave of activity surrounding the Tabu Records catalogue with the help of Edsel Records this year, the time seems right to revisit just where that sound came from. Enter cratedigger label extraordinaire Numero, whose double-disc compilation Purple Snow: Forecasting the Minneapolis Sound takes listeners back to the earliest days of the funk revolution.

Many of the 32 tracks herein feature names familiar to Prince fans, but the leadoff track features The Purple One himself. “If You See Me” is a long-circulating outtake by 94 East, a band formed by local musician Pepe Willie, who was married to a cousin of Prince’s. The teenager was encouraged early on by Willie, who recruited both Prince and a childhood friend, bassist Andre Cymone, to play in his band. Prince would of course find success producing, writing, arranging and performing his own material when signed to Warner Bros. in 1978 – but he took Cymone with him in his live backing band. (Cymone was not an official member of the famed Revolution, eventually being replaced by bassist Mark Brown, though he did sign to Columbia Records shortly thereafter and cut three albums, most famously 1985’s The Dance Electric, with a title track written by – you guessed it – Prince.)

The notable names don’t stop there. Purple Snow features cuts by Flyte Tyme, a funk outfit that featured among its ranks keyboardists James Harris III and Monte Moir, bassist Terry Lewis and drummer Jellybean Johnson. Lead singer Cynthia Johnson would depart the group for Lipps Inc. (it’s her pipes that grace dance classic “Funkytown”), and she would be replaced by another Twin Cities up-and-comer, Alexander O’Neal. Those five would be considered for a project Prince was allowed to produce for Warner Bros.; ultimately, he kept all but O’Neal, whom he replaced with Morris Day. Adding guitarist Jesse Johnson and percussionist/comic foil Jerome Benton (and downplaying his writing-producing-performing output under the pseudonym Jamie Starr), Prince created The Time, arguably his best spin-off project. (Jam and Lewis were ejected from the band before the release of Purple Rain, in which The Time figure heavily; the band split up shortly thereafter but briefly reunited for new albums in 1990 and 2011.)

Jam and Lewis, of course, used the Flyte Tyme moniker to get their producing career off the ground in the middle of the decade, working for Tabu Records (writing and producing for O’Neal, Cherrelle and The S.O.S. Band) before hitting it big collaborating with Janet Jackson. But even before that, Jam was a principal member of Mind and Matter, another local outfit honored both on this set (with both sides of their only single and another outtake) and another forthcoming Numero title: 1514 Oliver Avenue (Basement), a compilation of nine unreleased home demos largely written and produced by the future Jam. Mind and Matter were, perhaps, a more organic alternative to the Minneapolis sound, and it’s a fascinating listen/companion piece to the mighty Purple Snow.

Purple Snow will be available as a 2CD or 4LP set, each packed in hardbound packages with copious liner notes and essays. The first 500 pre-orders from Numero’s website get an additional, Prince-ish vinyl treat: a 7″ single featuring “Twin Cities Rapp,” David “T.C.” Ellis’ 1985 single in tribute to the by-then internationally-renowned Minneapolis acts of the day. (T.C. would later affiliate himself with the Prince camp, co-starring in the bizarre Purple Rain sequel Graffiti Bridge in 1990 and releasing a full-length, True Confessions, on The Artist’s Paisley Park label a year later.) It’s in stores December 3, while Mind & Matter’s 1514 Oliver Avenue (Basement) is available now. After the jump, you’ll find the full track lists for both!

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Written by Mike Duquette

November 7, 2013 at 13:39

Andre Cymone’s “AC” Gets Double-Disc Treatment from Funkytowngrooves

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Andre Cymone ACWay back in January 2012, The Second Disc reported on Funky Town Grooves’ planned reissue of former Prince bassist André Cymone’s 1985 Columbia breakthrough record A.C., which yielded the Top 10 R&B hit “The Dance Electric.”  This long-aborning reissue from FTG finally arrived last week in an edition expanded from its original planned track listing.

A.C. received its first-ever CD reissue from the U.K.’s Big Break Records label in 2011; BBR’s deluxe edition appended a generous five bonus tracks to the original eight-song album, among them 12-inch mixes and single edits.  BBR and Funky Town Grooves have both served their respective markets with expanded reissues of Cymone’s complete three-album output for Columbia Records, and the newly-upgraded A.C. marks the conclusion of FTG’s series for the artist.

Of course, the careers and lives of Prince Rogers Nelson and André Cymone (born André Anderson) are inextricably linked.  Prince’s tumultuous childhood resulted in his living at one point with Anderson’s family.  And so Prince’s cousin Charles Smith called on both Prince and his close friend André (while both were still attending high school!) to join his nascent band Grand Central, which also counted Morris Day among its members.  When Pepe Willie, the husband of Prince’s cousin Shauntel formed the band 94 East with Marcy Ingvoldstad and Kristie Lazenberry late in 1975, both Prince and Anderson were called on to record with the band.  By the time it came for Prince to form his first proper band, Cymone took his place on bass alongside Dez Dickerson on guitar, Gayle Chapman and Doctor (Matt) Fink on keyboards and Bobby Z. on drums; this unit made its debut on January 5, 1979 in Florida, a long way from the music’s Minneapolis roots.  (Of course, Doctor Fink, Bobby Z. and Dickerson would all join Prince in his most famous band, The Revolution.)

After the jump: what will you find on FTG’s 2-CD expansion?  Hit the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

March 12, 2013 at 14:05

Release Round-Up: Week of March 5

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Hendrix - People, Hell and Angels

Jimi Hendrix, People, Hell & Angels / The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Are You Experienced (200-Gram Mono Vinyl) Axis: Bold As Love (200-Gram Mono Vinyl) (Experience Hendrix/Legacy)

Not only does today see the release of a new posthumous Hendrix compilation, comprised of newly unearthed outtakes from the vaults, but the original mono mixes of his first two LPs (including both U.S. and U.K. editions of Are You Experienced) make their first appearances on vinyl since their initial releases.  Read Joe’s review of People, Hell & Angels here!

People, Hell & Angels CD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
People, Hell & Angels LP: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Are You Experienced LP: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Are You Experienced LP – U.K. sequence: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Axis: Bold As Love LP: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

Otis Redding - Deepest Soul

Otis Redding, Lonely & Blue: The Deepest Soul of Otis Redding (Stax/Concord)

A new “concept compilation” that explores Otis’ deep cuts in a decidedly retro fashion, down to the aged album jacket.  Read Joe’s review here!

Lonely and Blue CD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Lonely and Blue LP: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.


André Cymone, AC: Expanded Edition (Funkytowngrooves)

This onetime Prince collaborator (whose big hit off this LP, “The Dance Electric,” was written and co-produced by Mr. Purple Rain himself) issues a double-disc edition of his last album for Columbia, featuring all the B-sides and remixes plus a slew of tracks from the vault. (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Sheena Twofer 2

Sheena Easton, You Could Have Been with Me + Madness, Money and Music A Private Heaven + Do You (Edsel)

Two new two-disc sets compile four of the Scottish chanteuse’s albums from the ’80s, two of them sweet and poppy, another two more on the down ‘n’ dirty (and Prince-ly) side.

You Could Have Been…/Madness, Money…Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
A Private Heaven/Do YouAmazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

O'Jays - Ship Ahoy

Donna Allen, Perfect Timing / Black Slate, Amigo / Delegation, Deuces High / George McCrae, Diamond Touch / O’Jays, Ship Ahoy (Big Break)

Five newly expanded titles from BBR, anchored by a 40th anniversary edition of The O’Jays Ship Ahoy, which spun off Top 10 hits in “Put Your Hands Together” and “For the Love of Money.”

Donna Allen: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Black Slate: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Delegation: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
George McCrae: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
O’Jays: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

Rock of the Westies Gold

Elton John, Rock of the Westies (24K Gold CD) / Scorpions, Virgin Killer (24K Gold CD) / Yes, Close to the Edge (SACD) / Rush, Counterparts (SACD) (Audio Fidelity)

The latest from Audio Fidelity: gold discs of Elton’s 1975 LP, featuring “Island Girl” and “Grow Some Funk of Your Own,” and the Scorpions’ fourth album (the one with that extremely not-work-safe cover, although this version does not replicate that image); plus hybrid SACDs from a prog band at the top of their game and a Canadian trio’s highest-charting album in America.

Elton: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Scorpions: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Yes: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Rush: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

Written by Mike Duquette

March 5, 2013 at 10:52

Release Round-Up: Week of February 21

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Various Artists, ZTT: The Art of the 12″: Volume Two (ZTT/Salvo)

A double-disc set of rare and unreleased dance mixes of vinyl classics, with a few rarities thrown in for good measure – and, as our post later today will explain, at least one Beatle!

Simple Minds, Simple Minds x5 (EMI)

The first five Simple Minds LPs – all pre-The Breakfast Club – expanded with vintage B-sides and remixes.

Gilbert O’Sullivan, Back to Front: Expanded Edition (Union Square Music/Salvo)

Gilbert’s 1972 sophomore album plus three bonus tracks, including hit single “Alone Again (Naturally).”

André Cymone, André CymoneSurviving in the ’80s: Expanded Editions (Funky Town Grooves)

Blood, Sweat & Tears, In Concert / Phil Everly, Star Spangled Springer / Mel Brooks, Greatest Hits (Wounded Bird)

Some great LPs, all rare or new to CD, coming from Wounded Bird.

Various Artists, Complete Pop Instrumental Hits of the Sixties, Vol. 2: 1961 (Complete ’60s/Eric)

A three-disc set of every instrumental song that ever charted in 1961. The second in a volume of a series we’ve covered before.

Various Artists, David Merrick Presents Hits from His Broadway Hits (RCA Victor/Masterworks Broadway)

Ann-Margret joins John Gary and the Merrill Staton Voices in this vintage tribute to the legendary impresario behind such musicals as Hello, Dolly! and Gypsy.

Diana Ross, Diana Ross: Deluxe Edition (Hip-o Select/Motown)

The latest set from Select is a heavy-duty expansion of Miss Ross’ 1976 album, which featured “Theme from ‘Mahogany’ (Do You Know Where You’re Going To?)” and “Love Hangover,” two classic singles from a classic career. Alternate mixes, rare singles and early versions abound on this set.

Doin’ It for Themselves: Funky Town Grooves Plans Major Expansions for Aretha and Andre

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As independent reissue labels go, Funky Town Grooves has long been a pioneer in cratedigging through scores of forgotten soul and R&B favorites, many from the fertile period of the 1980s. This year, the label has announced two expanded releases that may be among their most ambitious, for two of the best-loved R&B albums of the decade.

First up, this March will see an expanded edition of Who’s Zoomin’ Who?, the major comeback by The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin. Aretha had ended the 1970s leaving her longtime home at Atlantic for Clive Davis’ Arista label. Her early albums, while boasting a host of talent (namely producer Luther Vandross), never caught on with an increasingly future-forward young audience.

With 1985’s Narada Michael Walden-produced Who’s Zoomin’ Who? The Queen planted herself into the consciousness of the MTV generation, thanks to colorful videos for the wildly catchy singles “Freeway of Love” (a No. 3 hit, her first Top 10 since 1973); “Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves,” a duet with New Wave duo the Eurythmics from their Be Yourself Tonight album and the Top 10 title track of the album. This touched off a major rediscovery of Aretha, which culminated with her induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987 and arguably hasn’t cooled since. FTG’s double-disc presentation of the album remasters the original album and provides 17 bonus tracks – every remix, extension, edit and dub of the album’s five singles.

It’s onto a noted Prince associate – and just a spot of reissue drama – after the jump!

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Written by Mike Duquette

January 17, 2012 at 13:37

Jackson, Cymone, Hendryx Move to Funky Town

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It seems that the rush of catalogue titles for 2012 is starting earlier than normal. This week, we’ve already seen a lot of announcements and plans from the major labels, the likes of which are probably going to get us through the rest of the calendar year as day-to-day news goes.

The advance notice trend is hitting some of the indie labels, too – Funky Town Grooves just announced a bumper crop of expanded releases for January and February. And we think some of them will be right up your alley.

In the tradition of Big Break’s expanded edition of André Cymone’s A.C., FTG announces expansions of the other two of the former Prince bassist’s solo albums for Columbia. While Livin’ in the New Wave (1982) and Survivin’ in the 80’s (1983) don’t feature any contributions from His Royal Badness (as A.C. had the Prince-penned “The Dance Electric”), they’re definitely essential listens for those interested in the forging of the Minneapolis sound. Each title is expanded with four single-only remixes apiece, some of which were only released on promo discs.

Another pair of releases is also coming from Nona Hendryx. Though she’s probably best known as a third of LaBelle, she had a moderately successful career in the mid-’80s with a series of danceable LPs, first on Epic and then RCA. The latter label saw her first brush with chart success, as 1982’s Nona placed on both the pop and R&B album charts and spawned a minor hit in “Keep It Confidential.” Nona and its successor, The Art of Defense, will each be expanded with seven vintage remixes and edits. (The final RCA album, The Heat, was reissued by FTG earlier this year.)

Finally, the first quarter slate also brings news of a Jackson: La Toya, whose 1986 obscurity Imagination will get the red carpet treatment from Funky Town Grooves. While her previous LP, 1984’s Heart Don’t Lie, was a relative critical and commercial success, Imagination is often forgotten thanks to its release on the Private I label, which was in the process of folding just about the time the album was released. Three remixes of the title track and an instrumental of the single “Baby Sister” are added to the disc.

All titles have been remastered from the original master tapes and are able to be pre-ordered at the links after the jump (current pre-orders will get a discounted price of $2 off each title). Imagination and Nona have a street date of January 14, while the others are due out February 20.

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Written by Mike Duquette

November 22, 2011 at 10:48

Release Round-Up: Week of September 6

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John Coltrane, The Impulse! Albums Volume 4 (Hip-o Select/Verve)

Five discs encompass five of Coltrane’s posthumous releases for the venerable jazz label. (Hip-o Select)

Frank Sinatra & Count Basie, The Complete Reprise Studio Recordings (Concord)

All 20 of the legendary performers’ tunes together on one disc. (Concord)

Various Artists, Godspell: 40th Anniversary Celebration (Sony Masterworks)

Just in time for the new Broadway revival, a two-for-one deal: the original 1971 cast album and 1973 film soundtrack. (Official revival site)

Various Artists, Where the Boys Are: The Songs of Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield (Ace)

The latest in the U.K. label’s Songwriter Series spotlights two great scribes of the early pop era, from “Stupid Cupid” to “Crying in the Rain” and beyond. (Ace)

Change, This is Your Time: Expanded Edition / Change of Heart: Expanded Edition / Linda Williams, City Living: Expanded Edition / Andre Cymone, AC: Expanded Edition (Big Break)

The latest Big Break slate includes one from underrated soul legend Linda Williams and a reissue with some actual Prince-oriented material on it (AC, which featured the Prince-produced “The Dance Electric”). (Big Break)

Heart, Greatest Hits / James Taylor, Sweet Baby James (Audio Fidelity)

The latest classics to get the gold disc treatment. (Audio Fidelity: Heart, James Taylor)

Written by Mike Duquette

September 6, 2011 at 08:18

Big Break’s Full Summer Slate Includes Isleys, Pointers, Prince Partners

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The fine folks at Big Break Records have got another large batch of new titles for release in the U.K. on July 25, and we figured now was a good time to share not only the track lists and details with you, but look ahead at some of the huge titles they’re prepping for next month.

There are a few really great, underrated titles from some big-name acts in next week’s batch, including expansions of The Isley Brothers’ Between the Sheets (1983) and I Can See Clearly Now (1972) by Johnny Nash. But there are some deeper titles for cratediggers, all augmented with bonus tracks. Particularly, two discs from the Total Experience Records catalogue (Prime Time’s Flying High (1984) and The Gap Band’s Gap Band 8 (1986)) and some other dance/soul classics from around the Sony Music catalogue (The Nite-Liters, Keith Barrow, The Joneses).

But August is just as exciting a month for the label, featuring some Prince-ly project and the what may be Big Break’s most ambitious release yet. Read all about it after the jump!

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Written by Mike Duquette

July 13, 2011 at 12:29