April 19, 2009

Move on up: Eccentric Soul, live in Chicago for one bright night

chicago-april-2009-333Can ya hit it ten times?

–Syl Johnson (video/via)

The Park West is a veritable old Chicago theatre that’s been hosting events in classy style since the 1920s. A few Saturdays ago, I walked in under that mirror ball for the first time to see the Eccentric Soul Revue, curated by Chicago’s own Numero Group.


Recently named the best label in Chicago, I wholeheartedly believe that the Numero Group is one of the most clever and exciting labels releasing music right now. The handful of guys behind the releases operate out of a basement office, digging through their own (extensive) personal collections and hitting the road to track down the stories and sounds of forgotten music that still deserves to be heard.

They reissue sub-genres, niche sounds, and should-been-stars through series like the Eccentric Soul compilations, the scalding Cult Cargo line, and rich Local Customs releases.

the merch booth offerings!

The show they curated on April 4th was one of the most authentic and fun concerts that I’ve ever had the pleasure of attending. Numero pulled together a soulful lineup of legends from Chicago’s Twinight label (The Notations, Renaldo Domino, The Kaldirons, Nate Evans, and the legendary Syl Johnson) — some of whom hadn’t played a live show in thirty years.

As I stood there in the front row alongside my photog friend Natalie, we delighted in the the dusted-off shiny shoes, the matching blue suits (maybe with a button replaced here and there), the choreographed moves, and the gold belt-buckles emblazoned with first names. I want one:


The music from each group was tight and shimmering (backed by JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound), sets loaded with original classics like “Is It Because I’m Black,” “Not Too Cool To Cry,” and “Brotherman,” as well as covers like “Different Strokes” and the final hurrah with all the artists on-stage for Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up.” The sold-out crowd in attendance was a wonderfully eclectic blend of Pitchfork-reading indie kids and older folks who probably saw all these groups the original time around.






Every act brought their A-game, their yowls and grunts, their thrusts and slides (oh, how Syl brought the thrusts, about a foot and a half from my face). I found myself thinking as I stood there how very lucky we were to be seeing this slice of history revived in brilliant technicolor, and wishing Numero could find a way to bring their show on the road.

All my pictures are here. Oh what a NIGHT.

March 30, 2009

Monday Music Roundup, Numero Group edition


Barely having caught my breath from Texas, I prepare this week to board a jet plane to Chicago for a mostly-work-related (but fun) 5 days in the Windy City. I’m going to check out a semester study program that I help coordinate and timed my visit so that I could see the Numero Group‘s hotly anticipated Eccentric Soul Revue on Saturday night. I am thoroughly excited about it, since I adore most everything that this crate-digging reissue label has discovered, dusted off, and given new life to.

When I explain the Numero Group concept to friends, I liken it to musical archaeology of the raddest order. Founded in 2003 by Ken Shipley (an old high school pal of mine), Rob Sevier and Tom Lunt, the Numero Group relentlessly explores old vinyl singles and reels of tape from groups with potential who never made it to top 40 airplay, the unnoticed and unappreciated. Their goal is to create reissue libraries of varying niche genres and of the highest caliber, and to date this library feels like “a mix of thrift shop soul, skinny tie pop, Belizean funk, and hillbilly gospel.” In my mind they are one of the coolest labels currently in existence.

I’ll be visiting the Numero Group on Wednesday to see my student’s internship placement there that I hooked up. I look so forward to seeing what goes into making one of their excellent compilation albums. If you are looking to expand your musical horizons, to be schooled (humbly) through the exhaustive liner notes on genres you never even knew existed, and to hear some of the best music that was ever forgotten, check out the Numero Group’s catalog.

Today’s Monday Music Roundup is five songs from their brilliant library, with the goal to entice you to explore them further.

Gary Charlson

From the #24 Numero release It’s All Pop! (a compilation of songs from the Missouri Titan Records label) this song starts out pretty heartfelt for a power pop song, talking about their relationship and how well they know each other over a rich golden guitar riff. Then he segues in with the winner line, “Won’t you come over so we can make out in the dark?” SAY YES, mystery girl. Gary Charlson is a forgotten Missouri power-chord winner, along with all the other artists on this charmingly effervescent (and rockin’) compilation.

Shame, Shame, Shame

Oh man, this song is bursting with explosively hot Equatorial vibrancy. One of the Cult Cargo series, Belize City Boil Up was a breathless recommendation to me several years back by a friend out on tour with a band of an entirely different type. We found common ground on this blisteringly sexy hybrid of songs from the shores of Belize, calypso, funk, disco and soul all with a dash of the exotic. Restored from their original analog, as the Numero Group is so good at doing, this cut starts with an exhortation — “You know babe, I want you to feel that!” And I do, and you will too.

young-disciplesCountry Loving Country Style
Bobby McNutt

In 1967, Allen Merry formed a youth program in East St Louis through the South End Community Center. The Young Disciples aimed to channel kids towards making (soulful funk-drenched) music instead of bad decisions, and the good-beyond-their-years results are reissued on the Eccentric Soul series album of the same name. There’s nothing country about this song, other than that the singer comes from there and laments the women in the big city — but he does it with wails and certain gyrations.

Can’t Let You Break My Heart
home-schooledThe Quantrells

Another favorite of mine from the Eccentric Soul series, the Home Schooled: ABCs of Kid Soul collection recalls groups like the Jackson 5 in their dulcet, prepubescent hit-making talent. As the album notes ask, “You know Michael, Jermaine, Tito, Marlon and Jackie, but what about Altyrone Deno Brown, Michael Washington, or Little Murray & the Mantics?” No, I didn’t know about those Mantics, but now I do and I am a better (more funky) woman because of it.

recording-tapWe’ve Had Enough
Arnie Love & The Lovettes

The “heavy sugar boogie” of Recording Tap from the Don’t Stop Numero series includes the fluidly hot basslines and tribal drumbeats of this up-all-night burner, minus the white bellbottoms and spangles. With the eager chorus of women here on background vocals, and those strutting bass notes that reel out and glide back in, this is for those, as Chris says, who feel the new Hercules & Love Affair album just isn’t quite dramatic enough.

Tickets are still available for Saturday night’s show at the Park West. The performers are all from the defunct Chicago soul label Twinight, which was resuscitated on the 2006 Numero compilation Eccentric Soul: Twinight’s Lunar Rotation. Some of these groups are still actively performing, while others will take the stage for the first time in 30 years. According to the Numero breakdown of Saturday, “In true revue fashion, we’ve hired Chicago’s stalwart Uptown Sound to back the entire performance and expanded their tight rhythm section to include horns, backing vocalists, and strings. The show will be preceded by an interactive slideshow of photographs by Michael L. Abramson who document the Southside soul and blues scene in the mid to late 70′s and a DJ set from The Numero Group.”

Aw, come on! I’ll be there with my new camera lens (replacement for the casualty of SXSW) and eager ears. I would imagine there might also be some dancing.

Buy your ticket to the revue.

Also — subscribe to Numero Group for the entire 2009 year on vinyl or CD. You’ve spent $100 on less.

August 8, 2007

Memorable Moment: Jackson 5 audition for Motown Records, shimmy their way into our hearts

Okay, so I never really, truly got deep into Michael Jackson. I mean sure I adore singing along to “Man In The Mirror” in my car (shmoa) as much as the next girl, have roller-skated to “Rock With You,” and I do know the whole rap part from “Black or White” (I’m not gonna spend my life bein’ a color). However, I think I may be the only one of my generation that doesn’t know the Thriller dance (as was sadly evidenced at a recent wedding reception I attended), I was never tempted to wear a single white glove at any stage in my adolescence, and I can’t moonwalk. Truthfully, I can’t even really look at Michael anymore without thinking of that scene in South Park where his nose crumbles off.

But I do love me some Jackson 5. I have a weak spot for prepubescents singing sugarplum layers of pop-soul (that kinda sounded wrong but whatever). My fourth memorable music moment for the WXPN series is a cool snippet I unearthed showing a very young supergroup in the making, auditioning for Motown Records by covering some James Brown — and boy can Michael move even at that young age.

July 23, 1968: Jackson 5 Audition for Motown Records

The Jackson Five were signed to Motown after this audition was videotaped and sent to label founder Berry Gordy who couldn’t attend. After watching the above clip, he decided to sign them and in early 1969, the boys got to work recording in Motown’s Hitsville U.S.A. studio in Detroit.

The results of these sessions were mostly covers of other hits by artists in the doo-wop/R&B/soul catalog, such as Sly & The Family Stone’s “Stand!” and Smokey Robinson’s “Who’s Loving You.” They also recorded a new version of “You’ve Changed,” a song by Gordon Keith which they had recorded for his small Steeltown label before signing with Motown. Their songwriters (known as “The Corporation“) were working on penning their original soon-to-be megahit, “I Want You Back.”

As the Jacksons rehearsed and performed in clubs around L.A., the PR machines kicked into high gear and truth-telling was not at the forefront of the agenda in promoting this new discovery. The marketing team at Motown started changing facts about the band in press kits to increase their appeal. Michael’s age was lowered from 11 to 8 to make him “appear cuter”, two band members who were not related (Johnny Jackson and Ronnie Rancifer) became cousins of the Jacksons with the stroke of a publicist’s pen.

Diana Ross was also credited with discovering the group — a fanciful bit of wishful thinking, as she wasn’t even present for any of the performances or meetings leading up to their signing. In fact, the real credit goes to fellow Motown artists Bobby Taylor (who would go on to produce most of their first album) and Gladys Knight. Ross did, however, attach her name with their very first record to help vet this new group: Diana Ross Presents The Jackson 5 (1969). And they were off and running.

Stand! (Sly and The Family Stone cover) – The Jackson 5
You’ve Changed – Jackson 5
I Want You Back – Jackson 5

LISTEN AGAIN: This track stands up as one of my all-time favorite remixes ever. I love the way Z-Trip strips off everything from the beginning and just brings in each instrument one layer at a time so you can fully appreciate it. It actually reminds me of a funkdafied soul version of Pachelbel’s “Canon” (no, listen) the way each sound, each instrument gets its own spotlighted solo entrance into the game. Absolutely wonderful:

I Want You Back (Z-Trip remix) – Jackson 5

In news of related tastes, Chris at Gorilla vs. Bear recently pointed out the newest album in the undeniably awesome “library of the lost” collection from the Numero Group, which I’ve lavished love on in the past. It’s called Home Schooled: The ABCs of Kid Soul, and is the story in song of countless groups in the same vein as Jackson 5 who have been forgotten in the halls of history but are so worth a listen. Here’s a sampling:

Can’t Let You Break My Heart – The Quantrells

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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.

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