If I get an extra couple Jacksons stuffed in a Christmas card this year, I’ll be heading out to buy myself what sounds like the best box set in quite a while: What It Is! Funky Soul and Rare Grooves (1967-1977). Reminding me of the scenes from the fantastic documentary Scratch where DJ Shadow is digging through dusty old basements and stacks of unloved records at a Davis, CA record store, this is a collection of castoff funk & soul lovingly assembled from the vaults at Atlantic and Warner Records by Rhino Records producers Mason Williams and Matt Abels.
I first saw this mentioned in Rolling Stone, the story of all the best parts of musical archaeology brought to life. Williams and Abels spent the better part of a year unearthing songs that time has mostly moved on from: one-hit wonders, side projects of well-known artists like Sly Stone or The Meters, alternate versions of songs from soul legends like Aretha Franklin. Some of the songs are total mysteries — that is, other than the pressing of the song that exists now, no additional information could be tracked down other than the fantastic 4 minutes they left behind.
The set includes almost 100 slinky funky bass-groovin’ songs on CD or vinyl (as well as a companion set of reproduction vinyl pressings of 25 of the original singles — including their b-sides). What I’ve heard of the contents so far is absolutely fantastic and, best of all, completely fresh. It’s all the great stuff you had a feeling was out there, but was never loosed from the vaults.
This could keep me happily shakin’ it for months.
You Gotta Know Whatcha Doin’ – Charles Wright
Jumpin’ Jack Flash (Stones cover) – Ananda Shankar
Getting Uptown (To Get Down) – United 8
Whew. Yeah, it’s that good.