UNDER THE INFLUENCE VOLUME 3-A COLLECTION OF RARE SOUL AND DISCO.
UNDER THE INFLUENCE VOLUME 3-A COLLECTION OF RARE SOUL AND DISCO.
2013 year has hardly been a vintage year for compilations. So far, I’d say it’s been a decidedly average year. The mountain of compilations released have certainly been eclectic, but have varied greatly in quality. Ranging from the good, bad and the ugly, we can but hope things get better during the next few months. Sadly, not enough labels are releasing innovative, imaginative compilations. Too many labels it seems, are playing it safe.
In what’s a difficult market for record labels, labels seem risk adverse. They’re concentrating on already established compilation series. To record companies, they’re the equivalent of a “brand.” These “brands” usually have released several volumes of a compilation. Often, they’re released in conjunction with a well known club night. Other times, they enjoy the patronage of a DJ. This can range from the “superstar” DJ, through to the specialist DJ.
The “superstar” DJ is often a musical veteran. They’ve a long track record when it comes to DJ-ing. Often they’ve parallel careers as a producer and remixer. The specialist DJ is much lower down the musical food chain. They concentrate on one specific genre. This could be anything from Acid House, boogie, disco, house Northern Soul or rockabilly. These DJs have a loyal following of like minded travelers. For a record company, this still equates to sales. In a fiercely competitive compilation market, this record companies believe, will gives them a head-start when it comes to sales. Whether that comes to fruition, only time and sales will tell. Other factors affect the success of a compilation.
If an established compilation series loses its compiler, the series can suffer badly. Cafe Del Mar and Hed Kandi are proof of this. Then there’s the compilation series that outstays its welcome. Some compilations series can last eight or nine volumes before the quality suffers. Others compilation series’ don’t enjoy any real longevity and disappear after a couple of volumes. Other misguided compilations last just one volume. However, for a compilation series to enjoy longevity and commercial success they must avoid all these obstacles. Otherwise a compilation series will find itself at a musical crossroads. One compilation series which is at a crossroads, is ZR Records Under The Influence series.
When ZR Records released Under The Influence Volume 1 back in 2011, Red Greg was the compiler. He chose twenty-four slices of rare soul and disco, many of which he edited. Given the quality of Under The Influence Volume 1, I eagerly awaited the next installment. Sadly, Under The Influence Volume 2 saw a change of compiler. Paul Phillips replaced Red Greg. The music also changed. There was a much more boogie influence. It wasn’t just the music that changed. So too had the quality. I felt Volume 2 wasn’t as good. Far from it. When I said this last year, this resulted in a deluge of hate-mail. From the spelling and content, most of this was from near illiterate boogie lovers. They were clutching the electronic equivalent of green pens. However, I stand by what I said. Under The Influence Volume just wasn’t as good as Volume 1. That presented a problem.
From what had been one of the compilations of 2011, the Under The Influence compilation series was at a crossroads. I felt that Under The Influence Volume 3 would be crucial. It would either make or break what could be a long-running and successful compilation series.
Under The Influence Volume 3 was released on 10th June 2013. Again, there was a change of compiler. That was no bad thing. After all, a change of compiler was what I felt was needed to rejuvenate the series. The DJ chosen to do this, was James Glass.
Born in London, the best way to describe James Glass musical taste is eclectic. Through British radio and television shows, James discovered punk and new wave. Then through pirate radio, a lifelong love of soul, jazz and disco was born. This grew when he moved to New York in the late-eighties. During his time in New York, he was exposed to the city’s legendary eclectic and vibrant dance music scene. After leaving New York, James moved to San Francisco. That’s not forgetting regular trips to Tokyo to DJ at the Lifeforce parties.
In San Francisco the fusion of dance and rock music was at the height of its popularity. This influenced James. Later, James would influence San Francisco’s music scene. He provided a soulful alternative to the city’s rave scene. To do this, his carefully planned and seamlessly mixed sets saw James mix house, disco and soul. This is reflected on Under The Influence Volume 3, which is described as: “a collection of rare soul and disco,” which I’ll tell you about,
Just like the two previous volumes of Under The Influence, Volume 3 is a double-album. James Glass has chosen twenty-four tracks, including his edit of Nadie La Fond’s Three Way Situation. It’s one of the twelve tracks on Disc One. There are also contributions from Broken Glass, Manteca, Sweet Talk, The Electric Chairs, Jimmy Roma and Rexy. One the face of it, James Glass has been on quite a crate-digging expedition for Under The Influence Volume 3. Has it been a successful one though.
Given how important the opening track on any album or compilation is, choosing Broken Glass’ Rather You Than Me to open Under The Influence Volume 3 is a minor masterstroke. James has chosen well. Released in 1981, on Citysound Records, Broken Glass were a Boston band that featured Joe Egan and Gil Stone. This was the only single they released. Telling the tale of less than salubrious night on the town, elements of soul and funk meet head-on. The vocal and bass line play starring roles in the success of this sleazy tale of hedonism.
One of the most compelling tracks is Harold Butler’s Do It Anyday. This is a reggae version of People’s Choice Do It Any Way You Wanna, Do It Anyday featured on Harold’s 1978 album Gold Connection. It’s a remarkable transformation. You can’t quite believe it’s the same song. What was a familiar song is given a joyous makeover, and becomes a musical slice of sunshine. Key to this are the choppy beats, Fender Rhodes and heartfelt joyful vocal.
Sweet Talks’ Do The Beat literally explodes into life. From just bongos, an epic is born. Released as a single in 1979, Do The Beat featured on the album Sweet Talks. It’s an infectiously catchy call to dance where Afro-Beat, disco, soul and funk are fused. Soulful, funky and incredibly dance-floor friendly, what more could you want?
Beyond The Galaxy seems a fitting description of Jimmy Roma’s 1978 single. Released on American label Virtue Records, it’s like a journey into outer space. You’re propelled along by bongos and the rhythm section, complete with funky, chiming guitars. Lush, orchestral disco strings and soulful harmonies provide the soundtrack to your journey, while synths provide a futuristic backdrop to this hidden gem.
The last track I’ve chosen from Disc One of Under The Influence Volume 3 is Attitude’s Pretty Little Girl. From the opening bars, you’re smitten. At breakneck speed, this uptempo soul cut reveals its delights. This means the sass and strut of Prince combined with Jimi Hendrix’s searing, guitar licks. Add to that, banks of keyboards and a pounding rhythm section. Only then do you get close to realizing how good this track is.
While I’ve only mentioned five of the twelve tracks on Disc One of Under The Influence Volume 3, I could just as easily have mentioned several other tracks. There’s the Afro-Cuban delights of Manteca’s Afro Funky, Doug Heam Blunt’s Gentle Persuasion, James Glass’ edit of Nadie La Fond’s Three Way Situation or Energy Crisis’ Energy. They’re of a similar quality to the tracks I’ve mentioned.
Of these tracks, the moody, lo-fi, sci-fi sound of Doug Heam Blunt’s Gentle Persuasion has a hypnotic, mesmeric quality. As for the futuristic funk of Energy Crisis’ Energy, it’s a truly innovative track. Indeed, it was way ahead of its time musically. Then there’s Rexy’s Nervoso. Eclectic and unique are a fitting description of this four minute track. Best described as a fusion of funk, new wave, synth pop and jazz, it has to be heard to be believed. Overall, Disc One is pretty much all killer. There is one exception,
With a compilation consisting of twenty-four tracks over two discs, not every track can be top quality. There will be some filler. This includes The Electric Chairs’ So Many Ways. It seems a strange choice for a track that’s allegedly rare soul and disco. Produced by David Cunningham of the Flying Lizards, it’s reminiscent of his former band. Best described as new wave with a dance beat, have your remote ready to press next. It’s track that makes you realize that’s four minutes of my life I’ll never have again. Apart from that one musical faux pas, Disc One of Under The Influence Volume 3 sees The Under The Influence compilation series back to its best. Will this continue on Disc Two?
Disc Two of Under The Influence Volume 3 has another twelve tracks. They prove to be just as eclectic as Disc One. There are contributions from Expansives, Popcorn, Magnum, Eleanore Mills, TCB Band, Robbie Cee, S.P.G. and Batiste Brothers Band. For anyone who likes their soul and disco compilations filled with familiar faces, this will be not unlike a step into the unknown. Be brave though. You might just enjoy yourself.
Prophet’s You Really Turn Me On was a track from their 1984 album Right On Time. Released on the Treasure label, very little is known about the album. Recorded in Oslo and Zurich, it features the Edward’s brothers. They sound uncannily like Prince. The longer the track progresses, the more it sounds like Prince. Accompanied by banks of synths and keyboards, this is eighties electronica, funk and soul combine, to create one of the highlights of Disc Two.
Popcorn’s Song For You is far from the best track on Under The Influence Volume 3. It’s very much a song that’s of its time. Straight away, before reading the sleeve-notes, I figured this song was released around 1983 or 1984. Released in 1983, this fusion of soul and funk sounds of its time and has a slightly twee, generic sound. Indeed, it reminds me of so many songs released during this time, which sadly, was hardly a vintage time for music.
Much better is Eleanore Mills’ Same Routine. Released in 1974, from Eleanore’s debut album This Is Eleanore Mills, it was produced by Ray Goodman and Harry Ray of The Moments. This is what soul used to sound like. Layers of lush strings and sweeping harmonies accompany Eleanore’s heartfelt vocal. Growing horns and a rhythm section that provide a pulsating heartbeat combine seamlessly as Eleanore gives a vocal masterclass.
TCB Band’s Children Of The Future is a joyous musical explosion. Literally, bursting into life, it’s driven along by the rhythm section and guitars. Having set the scene, an urgent falsetto takes centre-stage. Impassioned, heartfelt and emotive, there’s a sense of urgency in the vocal. Punchy and urgent, it briefly becomes a scat. Combined with a glorious hook, it’s a truly irresistible track.
My final choice from Disc Two of Under The Influence Volume 3, is one of the most welcome inclusions. It’s the Batiste Brothers Band’s Never Leave You Baby. This was a track from their 1982 album Freeze. For four-minutes, the Batiste Brothers Band seamlessly combine soul, funk and jazz. Not only is it a delicious musical stew, but the perfect introduction to one of music’s best kept secrets.
When it comes to quality, Disc Two of Under The Influence Volume 3 is similar to Disc One. Mostly, James Glass has chosen well. There’s soul, funk, disco, new wave and jazz on Disc Two. Some tracks are a fusion of several tracks. The Batiste Brothers Band’s Never Leave You Baby is a good example of this, combining jazz, funk and soul. Other tracks are truly innovative. Proof of this is Expansives’ hypnotic Life WIth You and Prophet’s You Really Turn Me On, which is not unlike a lost track from Prince. It’s an enigmatic hidden gem, I’d like to know more about. Apart from the tracks I’ve mentioned, there are other delights awaiting discovery on Disc Two. Among them are Jady Kurrent Band’s Standing There, Ben’s I Would Have To Be A Fool, Sapphire’s Come And Dance With Me, Robbie Cee’s Beautiful People or S.P.G’s Loveland. This demonstrates the consistency of the music. Apart from a couple of tracks, Disc Two of Under The Influence Volume 3 is back to the quality of Volume 1.
Apart from Popcorn’s Song For You which I feel has a twee, generic sound, only Magnum’s Squivatch proves disappointing. On its release, it was the B-side. Maybe, that backs up what I’m saying. It was always destined to be the musical bridesmaid. However, with ten out of the twelve tracks passing muster on Disc Two, the consistency of quality is similar to Disc One of Under The Influence Volume 3. So, Under The Influence Volume 3 is a return to form in the Under The Influence series?
Yes, it is. Whilst Under The Influence Volume 2 was somewhat disappointing, especially when compared to Under The Influence Volume 1, Under The Influence Volume 3 is the comeback kid. That’s thanks to James Glass’ crate-digging and musical choice. His choice of music was innovative, imaginative and intriguing. Mostly killer with little filler, what was a make or break installment of Under The Influence saved the “brand’s” future. After all, it’s hard for any compilation series to recover from consecutive flops. That wasn’t the case with the Under The Influence compilation series. Thankfully, Under The Influence Volume 2 was merely a blip. Under The Influence Volume 3 the latest installment in the Under The Influence series, is very much a return to form and sees the series get back on track. Standout Tracks: Sweet Talks Do The Beat, Attitude Pretty Little Girl, Prophet You Really Turn Me On and Eleanore Mills Same Routine.
UNDER THE INFLUENCE VOLUME 3-A COLLECTION OF RARE SOUL AND DISCO.