Two years after the release of their first compilation of blue-eyed soul, Americana, Zaf Chowdry and Mark Taylor return with the followup, Americana 2. It will be released by BBE Music on 11th November 2013. Americana 2, which features sixteen tracks from the seventies and eighties, is described on the album cover as “more blue-eyed soul and A.O.R. sounds from the land of the free.” That may be the case. However, in some ways, Americana 2 differs to its predecessor.
The best way to describe the music on Americana 2 is contemporary. Yes it’s still blue-eyed soul, but with a more contemporary sound. As for the music on Americana 2, it’s much more eclectic. In some ways this is fitting. After all the term “Americana” covers a whole host of musical styles.
Definitions of Americana vary, but essentially, it’s contemporary music incorporating various American roots music. This could include everything from blues, bluegrass, country, folk, R&B, rockabilly or roots rock. Importantly, there’s a difference between the roots oriented sound and the genre its inspired by. Roots-rock is a good example of this. There’s quite a a difference between roots-rock and rock music. As you see, Americana is a broad musical church. Fittingly, Americana 2 is an all-encompassing compilation. That’s no surprise, given who the compilers are.
Zaf Chowdry and Mark Taylor are both well known crate-diggers. Both are familiar faces within the soul music scenes. Their lives are steeped in black music and they eat, live and breath music. Passionate record collectors, they’re extensive and eclectic record collections. They share a common interest, blue-eyed soul. That’s how they came to compile the first volume of Americana for BBE Music. Since then, they’ve headed back to their crates and dug deep.
What Zaf Chowdry and Mark Taylor have come up with is sixteen tracks from two decades, the seventies and eighties. For many people, these two decades are the golden age of blue eyed soul. Having spent time pouring through their respective record collections, they’ve settled on sixteen songs that last sixty-eight minutes. This includes contributions from Breakaway, Joseph Nicoletti, TR’s Hot Ice, Macky Feary Band, Hal Bradbury and Lucy Stone. They while these artists might not be household names, there’s more than a few hidden gems on Americana 2. It’s these hidden gems I’ll now tell you about.
Breakaway’s There’s A New Group In Town opens Americana 2. This is a track from their self-released 1977 album Breakaway. It’s something of a rarity and copies of Breakaway change hands for upwards of $100. No wonder. This is track that’s very much in the Chic mold. With an uber funky arrangement, wah-wah guitars, washes of synths and a pulsating beat accompany a female vocal that’s soulful, dramatic and diva-esque. What a way to open Americana 2.
E.J. Stone released I Know All About It on Rtyone Productions. Written by Paul Jokela and Peter Alexander Ruone Jr, it’s a truly irresistible track that was released in 1981. It’s three minutes of laid-back, heartfelt, soulful music. An outpouring of hurt and sadness, E.J. Stone should’ve enjoyed a successful career.
Back in 1980, Archie James Cavanaugh released what was the only album of his career, Black and White Raven. He released the album himself. It was a limited edition, meaning copies are hard to come by. If you come across a copy of Black and White Raven, Make Me Believe opens the album. A genre-melting track, there’s everything from soul, funk, Latin and jazz music in this joyous, upbeat and hook-laden track.
The Spats’ (Your Lovin’ Is) Everywhere is one of these tracks you could date to within a year. It’s musical D.N.A. says 1978. It’s a track from The Spats’ eponymous album, released in 1978 on Good Sounds. A fusion of soulful, funky and dance-floor friendly music, hooks are certainly not in short supply. Key to the song’s success is a sultry, vampish vocal, cooing harmonies and genre-melting arrangement. The result is another example of blue eyed soul at its best.
TR’s Hot Ice only ever released one single, Fatty Bum Bum. Described as tough, modern and dance-floor friendly, it changes hands for $100. Tucked away on the B-Side is Hot Ice. It’s one of these tracks that could fall into several categories. Is it punk-funk or post-disco? It’s funky, with a hard edge, but is also sassy, and sultry. Like its flip side, it’s also dance-floor friendly.
Macky Feary Band’s A Million Stars glides into being. It’s a musical gem that from it’s opening bars, sparkles. Written by Charles Souza, it’s a track from the band’s debut album Macky Feary Band. Recorded at the Sounds Of Hawaii studio, where Bryant Feary Jr, produced this track. A glorious amalgam of soul, funk, jazz and A.O.R, it features one of the best vocals on Americana 2.
RCR or Rhodes, Chalmers and Rhodes, started life as backing vocalists at Hi Records. At Hi, they sung on albums by Al Green, Ann Peebles and O.V. Wright. Fast forward seven years, and they’d reinvented themselves into a disco trio. Give It To You, one of two singles released from their 1980 album Scandal, released on Radio Records, is one of the highlights of Americana 2. Sassy, breathy and sensual, it’s just a shame this track hadn’t been released a few years earlier, when disco was at its peak. if it had, Give It To You might have been a stonewall disco classic, rather than a lost hidden gem.
The Freudian Funk Band released the Chic-inspired I’m Ambivalent About You Baby (Yes, Yes, Yes… No, No, No) in 1977. Just like Chic, the Freudian Funk Band stick to a similar formula. Cascading strings, female vocalists, clever chord changes and an arrangement where funk and soul combines. Where things differ, is there’s a tougher edge. That’s partly down to the keyboards and the ab-libbed, feisty vocal. All this results in a truly timeless track where disco and proto-boogie combine with soul and funk seamlessly.
Lucy Stone is another artist who only released one single. That was If Somebody Needs Somebody, another rarity. It was released in 1980, on Fire Mountain. On the B-Side side is Giving You Love Instead Of Gold, penned by Troy Raglin. It features Lucy’s needy, heartfelt and soulful vocal. Enveloping her vocal is an arrangement that draws inspiration from soul, funk, jazz and even rock. What makes the song is Lucy’s vocal, as it breathes life and meaning into Troy’s thoughtful lyrics.
Closing Americana 2, is Jaye P. Morgan’s Here Is Where Love Belongs. It’s from her 1976 eponymous album on Candor Records. Twenty years earlier she’d released her eponymous debut album. Released on RCA Victor, it too was entitled Jaye P. Morgan. During that twenty year period between the two volumes of Jaye P. Morgan, music had changed. What hadn’t changed was Jaye’s vocal. Sultry and seductive, she delivers her vocal against a jazz-tinged arrangement. This results not just one of the highlights of Americana 2, but a fitting way to close what is one of the best compilations of 2013.
That’s no exaggeration. Americana 2 is bound to feature on the lists of best compilations of 2013. No wonder. It’s crammed full of quality, contemporary music. This includes private pressings, rarities and forgotten hidden gems. An exquisite and eclectic selection of music, choosing just my “top ten” tracks wasn’t easy. That shows how high the quality is. There’s no filler on Americana 2. Zaf Chowdry and Mark Taylor see to that. They’ve dug deep into their respective record collections, digging deeper than they’ve dug before. What they’ve come up with, is some of the rarest records they own. In sharing them with you, they save you a small fortune.
That’s what it would cost to buy the sixteen tracks on Americana 2. Indeed, that’s if you could find them. Many of these tracks were pressed privately or were on albums that were released in small numbers. Tracking them down could take a lifetime and prove a frustrating search. To save you the trouble, frustration and running up a huge overdraft, Zaf Chowdry and Mark Taylor bring them together on Americana 2, which will be released on 11th November 2013.
Americana 2 is their latest compilation of contemporary blue-eyed soul. It’s something of a rarity. After all, how many followups are better than the original compilation? Having listened to Americana and Americana 2, I’d say Americana 2 surpasses its predecessor. That’s of course is all a matter of personal taste. To allow you to makeup your mind, I’d suggest you buy both volumes of blue-eyed soul, Americana and Americana 2, then make your mind up. Standout Tracks: Breakaway There’s A New Group In Town, The Spats (Your Lovin’ Is) Everywhere, RCR Scandal and Jaye P. Morgan Here Is Where Love Belongs.