THE A-Z OF THE BEST REISSUES OF 2013 PART 6.

THE A-Z OF THE BEST REISSUES OF 2013 PART 6.

THE CURTIS COUNCE QUINTET-EXPLORING THE FUTURE.

One of jazz’s best kept secrets is hard bop and West Coast jazz double bassist Curtis Counce. He may not have enjoyed the longevity of many of his contemporaries, but was one of the leading lights of West Coast jazz. Curtis played alongside Teddy Charles, Shelly Manne, Lyle Murphy and Clifford Brown. Then in 1956, Curtis went from sideman to centre-stage, forming The Curtis Counce Quintet. They released just four albums between 1957 and 1958. The Curtis Counce Quintet’s final album was the inventive and innovative, Exploring The Future. Five years after the release of Exploring The Future, Curtis Counce died aged just thirty-six. West Coast jazz had lost one of its stalwarts. Fifty years after his death, his music is being introduced to a new audience.

Exploring The Future proved to be farewell from The Curtis Counce Quintet. It was their final album. While Exploring The Future didn’t exactly offer anything new and innovative from the Quintet, it did find them at their very best. They’d been honing their sound since 1956, and had been playing live constantly. That was the only way to hone their sound and build a following. Sadly, they were restricted in where they could play. The jazz wars were raging. There was a fierce rivalry between the West Coast and East Coast. This meant the East Coast was off-limits for the Quintet. Audiences in the East Coast weren’t fans of the West Coast sound. That meant New York never heard the Quintet live. They might, just have appreciated their sound and  transformed The Curtis Counce Quintet’s career. That wasn’t to be.

The Curtis Counce Quintet released just four albums released between 1957 and 1958. That isn’t a fair reflection on their combined talents. None of the albums sold well. Not even Exploring The Future, with its delicious mixture of blistering hard bop and beautiful ballads. Even the delights of Exploring The Future went undiscovered and unloved. Fifty-five years after its release Exploring The Future has been rereleased by Boplicity, an imprint of Ace Records. Maybe now, a new generation of music lovers will realise what jazz fans missed first time round. Sadly, Curtis Counce never found the fame and fortune he deserved.

Five years after the release of Exploring The Future, Curtis Counce died on 31st July 1963. He was just thirty-seven. Jazz lost one of the stalwarts of West Coast jazz  and one of the best practitioners of hard bop. At least the final album The Curtis Counce Quintet released, Exploring The Future was their best. A delicious fusion of blistering hard bop and beautiful ballads, Exploring The Future was The Curtis Counce Quintet’s finest moment.

THE KINKS-MUSWELL HILLBILLIES.

By the time The Kinks released Muswell Hillbillies in November 1971, they were no longer as successful in Britain. Their last three albums had failed to chart. The last Kinks album to chart in Britain was 1967 Something Else By The Kinks. It had reached number thirty-five. After that, 1968s The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society, 1969s Arthur (Or The Decline Of The British Empire) and Lola Versus Powerman and The Moneygoround, Part One had all failed to chart. At least their singles were much more successful. Fifteen of their singles had reached the top ten in Britain. Over the Atlantic, The Kinks were enjoying much more success in America.

Since their 1964 debut Kinks, only The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society had failed to chart. Every other Kinks album had charted. This made The Kinks one of the most commercially successful British bands. They enjoyed a longevity and commercial success that very few other British bands enjoyed. That’s not surprising. Unlike so many bands of The Kinks’ generation, The Kinks eschewed throwaway pop music.  

Instead, they created cerebral music. It was intelligent, thoughtful, satirical and thought-provoking music. Proof of this was their last three albums. Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society, Arthur (Or The Decline Of The British Empire) and Lola Versus Powerman and The Moneygoround were all concept albums written by Ray Davies. Each album was released to critical acclaim. While music critics “got” these albums, they passed record British buyers by. In America, which had more of an album culture, The Kinks enjoyed both commercial success and critical acclaim. They were one of Britain’s most successful musical exports. While this must have pleased The Kinks, deep down, they must have hoped their music would be more successful back home in Britain. 

Muswell Hillbillies which was recently rerelease by Universal Marketing as a Deluxe Edition, marked the start of a new era for The Kinks. It was their first album for their new record label RCA. Their previous albums had been released on Pye in Britain and Reprise in the US. However, with The Kinks no longer enjoying the success they used to, Pye didn’t offer them a new contract. So, having left Pye which had been their home for eight studio albums, Muswell Hillbillies marked the start of a new era. 

Sadly, this new era didn’t begin with a commercial success album. Commercial success eluded Muswell Hillbillies, when it was released in 1971. Forty-two years later, the album is just as relevant. The themes of poverty is still as relevant. So too, is the way that working class people have been affected. Their communities continue to be devastated. People who have lived in these communities are displaced, forced to live in badly built houses. Meanwhile their old communities are gentrified and property developers prosper. This is seen as progress. It’s not. 

Still these people are suffering from alcoholism, poverty and mental illness. Many of these people still feel as if they don’t belong. Just like in Twentieth Century Man and Complicated Life, they feel as if they can’t cope with modern living. Ray Davies lyrics bring all these subjects and problems to life. He was like a seer, a visionary, who forecasted the breakdown of traditional communities. The cause of this was supposed progress. Sadly, as the last four decades have shown, that’s not always the case. Despite being full of cerebral, thoughtful, satirical and thought-provoking music, Muswell Hillbillies wasn’t a commercial success. However, since then, critics have reevaluated Muswell Hillbillies.

Since them, critics have realised that Muswell Hillbillies featuresThe Kinks at their best. During the ten tracks on Muswell Hillbillies, Ray Davies introduces us to a whole host of characters. Some of the are angry and frustrated, others are troubled, despairing or resigned to their fate. Heartbreak, hurt and joy feature on Muswell Hillbillies. Full of pathos and nuances, it’s a literate, cerebral album. While the songs are full of social comment,  sometimes, like on Have A Cuppa Tea, features Ray’s trademark humour. Forty-two years later, the music on Muswell Hillbillies, a true hidden gem in The Kinks’ back-catalogue, is just as relevant as it was in 1971.

THE O’JAYS SHIP AHOY.

In August 1972, when The O’Jays’ released Back Stabbers, little did they realise how important an album it would become. Back Stabbers was certified gold, and fourteen years after The O’Jays were formed, were on their way to becoming one of the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful groups in the history of Philly Soul. Between 1972s Back Stabbers and 1979s Identify Yourself, The O’Jays released eight studio albums. Three were certified gold and five platinum. Back Stabbers also helped launch Gamble and Huff and their newly founded label, Philadelphia International Records as one of soul music’s premier labels. In the process, it established Gamble and Huff’s reputation as one of the most innovative, influential and pioneering production and songwriting teams.Indeed, The O’Jays followup to Back Stabbers, Ship Ahoy, released in October 1973, cemented Gamble and Huff’s reputation not just innovators and pioneers, but with a social conscience.

Ship Ahoy featured songs about slavery, racism, greed and pollution. Side-by-side on Ship Ahoy, sat love songs and songs with a social conscience. While The O’Jays may have sung sweetly about love, but they weren’t afraid to become the conscience of a nation, using their music to shame those who they thought were bringing their country to its knees, by their actions. Through the medium of music, politicians, corporate America and race, were all subjects that they dealt with in the music on Ship Ahoy, which featured some of the most powerful, potent and moving songs The O’Jays recorded.

During the eight tracks on Ship Ahoy, The O’Jays mixed beautiful love songs with songs filled with social comment. Ship Ahoy featured songs about slavery, racism, greed, materialism and pollution. Social comment and protest songs stood side by side, and the emotion, anger and frustration wells up in The O’Jays’ voices. They were also preaching a message of optimism and togetherness on Ship Ahoy. Many of the songs on Ship Ahoy, their messages are just as relevant forty years after the album’s release. Still people are seduced by materialism, greedy for money and willing to do anything to gain even more. Sadly, racial discrimination, like many other forms of discrimination is prevalent, and the backstabbers mentioned in Don’t Call Me Brother, are still around, still causing trouble, when they claim to be a force for good and harmony.  Ship Ahoy features The O’Jays sing emotionally and passionately. Just below the surface, tension, frustration and anger is palpable, at the various problems that faced society. Then when The O’Jays sing the love songs on Ship Ahoy, we hear the side of their music most people are aware of.Their delivery of these gorgeous love songs feature the peerless combination of Eddie Levert’s vocal, laden with emotion and passion and tight, sweet and soulful harmonies. These two sides of The O’Jays’ music come to the fore on Ship Ahoy.

Forty years after the release of The O’Jays sophomore album for Philadelphia International Records, the music Ship Ahoy is just as relevant in 2013, as it was in 1973. To celebrate the fortieth anniversary of one of The O’Jays’ classic albums BBR Records rereleased Ship Ahoy in February 2013. Ship Ahoy is a stonewall Philly Soul classic, where songs filled with social comment sit side-by-side with beautiful love songs. Indeed, the platinum certified Ship Ahoy is one of the best albums ever released, and is one of several classic albums The O’Jays released between 1972 and 1979.

THE SALSOUL ORCHESTRA-MAGIC JOURNEY.

By 1977, The Salsoul Orchestra had established their reputation as disco’s premier orchestra. They’d been formed in 1975, and had already released a trio of albums, where disco, Philly Soul, funk, jazz, Latin and classical music were seamlessly fused. Much of the emphasis was on individual members stepping into spotlight and showcasing their considerable skills. With so many talented musicians in The Salsoul Orchestra’s lineup, their was abundance of talent. Baker, Harris, Young provided the rhythm section, Bobby “Electronic” Eli played guitar, Larry Washington congas and percussion while Vince Montana Jr played vibes. Add to that a full horn, string and woodwind section. The finishing touch were the legendary Philadelphia trio of backing vocalists, the Sweethearts of Sigma, who took charge of vocal duties. With so many talented and innovative people involved in The Salsoul Orchestra, it’s no wonder it was so successful. 

Founded and lead by vibes virtuoso Vince Montana Jr, who wrote, arranged, conducted and produced much of The Salsoul Orchestra’s music, it seemed they could do wrong when they released their fourth album Magic Journey in 1977. This proved to be the case when Magic Journey reached number sixty-one the US Billboard 200 and number fifty-one in the US R&B Charts, as a new chapter in the Salsoul Records’ story began..

Over nine tracks, The Salsoul Orchestra fused disco, Philly Soul, funk, jazz, Latin and classical music. Like previous albums, The Salsoul Orchestra, lead by Vince Montana Jr, lead the way for disco orchestras. Others may have tried to replicate the sound of The Salsoul Orchestra, but they were fearless trailblazers and innovators. Although they strayed from their previous sound on a couple of tracks, this was quite brave. It took real courage, risking incurring the wrath of acerbic, one-eyed critics. Although Magic Journey wasn’t The Salsoul Orchestra’s most successful album, it saw The Salsoul Orchestra lay down a gauntlet and challenge their listeners. 

The challenge was accepting and understanding a complex fusion of music. Despite the critics saying Magic Journey, which was rereleased by BBR Records, lacked the Philly Soul sound of previous albums, if they’d released similar albums to The Salsoul Orchestra and Nice ‘N’ Nasty they’d have been criticized as releasing formulaic music. Like musicians and especially innovative musicians, The Salsoul Orchestra were dammed if the do, dammed if they don’t. Instead, The Salsoul Orchestra, lead by its brave and innovative took their listeners on a Magic Journey that crossed musical genres, as they started the next chapter in the Salsoul Records’ story.

 

THE SALSOUL ORCHESTRA-NICE ‘N’ NASTY.

Nice ‘N’ Nasty was the first of two albums The Salsoul Orchestra would release within two months of 1976. After releasing Nice ‘N’ Nasty in October 1976, Christmas Jollies was released in November 1976. So, 1976 was a busy year for The Salsoul Orchestra. For their second album, ten songs were written, with Vince Montana Jr. writing five tracks, co-writing Standing and Waiting On Love with Floyd Smith and adapting Salsoul 3001. Ron Baker of the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section, wrote the other new song, It Don’t Have To Be Funky (To Have A Groove). Along with a suite of two standards We’ve Only Just Begun and Feelings, which The Salsoul Orchestra would transform, the material was in place for Nice ‘N’ Nasty. Now the classic lineup of The Salsoul Orchestra would head to Philly’s legendary Sigma Sound Studios to record Nice ‘N’ Nasty, which was rereleased by BBR Records, proved another successful album.

Part of the success of The Salsoul Orchestra was the combined creative talents of everyone was utilised. Not only were The Salsoul Orchestra a hugely talented group of musicians, but also songwriter, arrangers and producers. This was the case on Nice ‘N’ Nasty. At Salsoul Records, these talents were unleashed, while at Philadelphia International Records, the talents of Baker, Harris, Young and Vince Montana Jr. were underused. 

They were part of M.F.S.B, but not actively involved in songwriting and arranging, production. All this talent was on Gamble and Huff’s doorstep, but they never used or embraced it. That seems strange, that they never involved such hugely creative and talented people. Maybe, the dispute over payments that caused M.F.S.B. to leave Philadelphia International Records was something of a blessing in disguise. After the members of M.F.S.B.left Philadelphia International Records, their creativity was unleashed, playing a vital part in Salsoul’s sound and success. 

This creativity and talent can be heard on Nice ‘N’ Nasty, where the Baker, Harris, Young provide the track’s heartbeat, while producer Vince Montana Jr. brought together the combined talents of musicians that included guitarist Bobby “electronic” Eli, keyboard player Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey, percussionist Larry Washington, flautist Jack Faith and violinist Don Renaldo. Adding the final finishing touch were the legendary backing vocalists the Sweethearts of Sigma. Each of these musicians and backing singers played their part in making Nice ‘N’ Nasty such a compelling, uplifting, joyous and timeless classic. Even thirty-six years later, listening to Nice ‘N’ Nasty well, It’s Good For the Soul and is the perfect introduction to The Salsoul Orchestra

THE TRAMMPS-DISCO INFERNO.

Eight months after The Trammps released Where The Happy People Go in April 1976, they released their third studio album Disco Inferno In December 1976. A year after The Trammps released Disco Inferno, their career was totally transformed. This transformation took place when Disco Inferno featured on the soundtrack to a low-budget movie. Little did anyone realise the effect Saturday Night Fever would have on disco and the career of everyone involved.

Saturday Night Fever was a low-budget movie, produced for only $2.5 million dollars, produced by Robert Stigwood and featuring John Travolta. It featured music from M.F.S.B, The Bee Gees, Tavares, Yvonne Eliman and The Trammps’ Disco Inferno. Even when Saturday Night Fever was released, little did anyone connected with the project realise its impact. Soon, Saturday Night Fever became one of the biggest films of the seventies. At the box office, Saturday Night Fever grossed $282.4 million. As for Saturday Night Fever’s soundtrack it was certified platinum fifteen times, selling over fifteen-million copies and staying at number one in the US Billboard Charts for twenty-four weeks between January and July 1978. For every artist or group who featured on the Saturday Night Fever, this was a career game-changer. Disco Inferno became synonymous with The Trammps. However, when The Trammps released their third album in December 1976, it was a very different story.

Disco Inferno was chosen as the lead single from Disco Inferno and reached number fifty-three in the US Billboard 100 and number nine in the US R&B Charts. Over in the UK, Disco Inferno reached number sixteen. On the release of Disco Inferno on on 29th December 1976, it reached number forty-six in the US Billboard 200 and number sixteen in the US R&B Charts. Although this was an improvement on That’s Where The Happy People Go, The Trammps weren’t as successful as some of the Philly groups. Their time would come though.

It seems that The Trammps picked up where they left off on Where The Happy People Go. Not only did The Trammps build on the momentum created by their sophomore album, but Disco Inferno saw The Trammps take their music to even heights of soulfulness and dance-floor friendliness. Philly Soul, funk, jazz and disco were all poured into The Trammps musical melting pot. The result was a delicious and timeless fusion of musical genres. From the opening bars of Body Contact Contract, right through tracks like I Think I’ve Been Living (On the Dark SIde of the Moon), Disco Inferno and the deeply soulful strains of You Don’t Touch My Hot Line, The Trammps never miss a beat. There’s a reason for this though.

A combination of The Trammps vocal prowess, plus some of Philly’s best songwriters, arrangers, producers and musicians resulted in Disco Inferno’s success. Norman Harris, Ron Baker, Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey and Earl Young all deserve credit for their productions on Disco Inferno. So do the all-star line of musicians, featuring some legendary Philadelphia musicians.  Especially with such a charismatic vocalist as Jimmy Ellis bringing each song to life with power, passion and emotion. The Trammps and Sweethearts of Sigma’s harmonies were just the finishing touch. When you look at the personnel involved in Disco Inferno and hear the six tracks, you wonder why the album wasn’t a much bigger success. Then a year later, somewhat belatedly, one of the tracks on Disco Inferno which was rereleased by WEA Japan in April 2013, became an anthemic, iconic disco classic.

When Saturday Night Fever was released, the title-track Disco Inferno became disco’s anthem worldwide. Fifteen-million copies of the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack were sold and suddenly, everyone knew The Trammps and their music. Some of the artists that featured on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack didn’t enjoy the longevity of The Trammps. Thirty-six years later, The Trammps music is just as popular. Indeed, many of The Trammps songs, including Disco Inferno , have become anthemic, iconic tracks, that’s part of disco’s rich and vibrant history.

VAN MORRISON-MOONDANCE.

Van Morrison was only twenty-five when he released his third album, Moondance in February 1970. Moondance had been two years in the making and was an introduction to Van’s Caledonian soul. It had taken Van ten months to write the lyrics to Moondance. The lyrics were written at Van’s mountaintop home, not far from Woodstock village, in upstate New York. For some time, Van had been living in Woodstock, which was now home for him and his wife. This was the perfect place to  write a classic album, Moondance hich was recently rereleased by Warner Bros.

Inspired by his surroundings, family and memories, Van set about writing the lyrics to Moondance. They are poetic, evocative and mystical. Like an artist used his palette to create pictures, Van used words. He takes you on a series of journeys. On And It Stoned Me, Van takes you back to the Belfast of his youth, while Caravan conjurs up images  of living life as a gypsy. You can imagine the pictures unfolding before your eyes. These were the lyrics that Van took into A&R Studios, in New York.

For the recording of Moondance, Van recruited his band from musicians based in Woodstock. They headed along to A&R Studios, in New York. When they got there, they discovered that Van hadn’t written the music to Moondance. No. The music and the arrangements existed in his head along. Somehow, Van had managed to make his band understated what he was hearing in his head. That’s no surprise. Van had recruited a crack band of musicians.

Van Morrison’s lyrics are on Moondance are poetic, evocative and mystical. Van’s songs takes you on a series of journeys. Full of imagery, he conjurs up images. These pictures unfold vividly before your eyes. Using inspiration from his life and everyday life, you’re introduced to a cast of characters and scenarios. Other tracks feature lyrics that are almost mystical and surreal. Then there’s songs about love, and love gone wrong. This includes Crazy Love and Come Running. Brand New Day is Van’s spiritual awakening. Of course, there’s the classic title-track, Moondance, which since 1970, has been a staple of radio stations everywhere. It’s one of the best known songs Van Morrison wrote, while Moondance is perceived as Van’s finest album.

Think of that. Van Morrison wrote Moondance, the best album of his career when he was just twenty-five. Moondance was just Van’s third album. After that, he’d go on to release another twenty-nine albums. While many of them were critically acclaimed and commercially successful, they never quite matched the quality of Moondance. Following Moondance, Van was constantly trying to replicate such a  groundbreaking, critically acclaimed and commercially successful album. There were times when we heard tantalising glimpses of the quality of music on Moondance, which was recently rereleased as a double album by Warner Bros.  

Quite simply, the music comes alive on the newly remastered version of Moondance. You hear subtleties and nuances you’ve never heard before. They clarity of music is much better than previous CD versions. It assails you and surrounds you. There’s a depth to the music. Layer upon layer of music reveal themselves. You can’t help but let the music wash over you and revel in is ethereal, emotive and spiritual beauty. As the music washes over you, Van Morrison’s unique brand of Caledonian Soul comes alive on Moondance. Genres melted into one on Moondance. Blues, country, jazz, R&B, rock and soul combined with Van’s Celtic roots. The result was Moondance, a cerebral, challenging and genre-melting album which showcased Van’s Morrison’s poetic genius. Moondance, like its predecessor Astral Weeks, featured Van Morrison at the height of his powers. That’s why Moondance is worthy of being referred to as a classic, which belongs in the record collection of anyone remotely interested or passionate about music.

WOLFMOON-WOLFMOON.

Swamp Dogg first encountered Tyrone Thomas in 1964, when Brooks O’Dell first brought him to his Philadelphia home. Brooks had given Swamp Dogg the hard sell about Tyrone Thomas.  Swamp Dogg wasn’t disappointed. He was so impressed that he invited Tyrone into his house. This was the start of a tumultuous musical partnership. As partnerships go, it was more off than on. Somehow though, it lasted until 1973, when Tyrone Thomas using his Wolfmoon alias, released his eponymous debut album, Wolfmoon, which was recently rereleased by Alive Records. 

With Tyrone Thomas now signed to Canyon Records, Swamp Dogg set about cultivating his image. Gone was Lil Tommy. So too was Tyrone Thomas. Replacing him, was Wolfmoon. This fitted with the album’s theme. It was a fusion of gospel, R&B and Southern Soul, which Swamp Dogg decided would be entitled Wolfmoon. 

Sadly, the deal that Swamp Dogg had with Canyon Records fell through. Canyon Records reneged on the deal.This was a huge disappointment for Wolfmoon and Swamp Dogg. They’d recorded an album, but it had never been released. At least Canyon Records didn’t ask for their money back. It looked like Wolfmoon and Swamp Dogg’s luck was changing.

Four years after Wolfmoon was recorded for Canyon Records, in 1969, it was eventually released on Fungus Records in 1973. Sadly, Wolfmoon wasn’t a commercial success. It passed almost unnoticed. That’s not surprising. In that four year period, music had changed. The sixties, when Wolfmoon was recorded, seemed but a distant memory. As the seventies took shape, the fusion of Southern Soul, R&B and gospel that’s Wolfmoon, was no longer as successful. Soul had taken on a sophisticated sheen. Philly Soul was now seen as the future of soul. The brand of Southern Soul like Swamp Dogg produced was seen as yesterday’s sound. Granted fashion changes, but class is permanent.

Forty years after its eventual and belated release, Wolfmoon has stood the test of time. A true hidden soulful gem, Wolfmoon’s recent rerelease by Alive Records means a new generation can discover this hidden Southern Soul classic. This is part of Swamp Dogg’s Soul and Blues Collection which Alive Records are in the process of rereleasing. Wolfmoon is just the latest instalment in this series and is a welcome rerelease of a hidden gem.

Featuring Southern Soul with a social conscience, Wolfmoon made not just his debut, but his final bow on Wolfmoon. He was no longer Lil Tommy. Nor was he a Teenager. Wolfmoon was all grownup, and looked like forging a career as a Southern Soul singer, Sadly, that wasn’t to be. Wolfmoon released just one album, Wolfmoon. Mind you what an album Wolfmoon was. There was no followup up to Wolfmoon and for forty long years, Wolfmoon has lain unloved, apart from a few discerning soul connoisseurs. Now this hidden Southern Soul gem is available for everyone to discover. So take a tip from me and let the Wolfmoon into your life and record collection.

Wolfmoon

WORLD PSYCHEDELIC CLASSICS 5:WHO IS WILLIAM ONYEABOR?

To celebrate its twenty-fifth anniversary, Lauka Bop released World Psychedelic Classics 5: Who is William Onyeabor. As rhetorical questions go, it’s one of the best. No-one can say with any certainty who William Onyeabor is. Much of his life is shrouded in mystery. There’s a reason for this. After releasing eight albums between 1978 and 1985, William Onyeabor became a born-again Christian. He turned his back on music and refused to talk about his life or music. In some ways, this has helped perpetuated the myths surrounding William Onyeabor.

With William Onyeabor refusing to discuss his past, a rumors surrounded his life after music. Rumors are rife about what happened next. Some believe William studied cinematography in the Soviet Union, then returned to Nigeria, where he founded his own film company, Wilfilms. Then there’s rumors William studied law in England, before becoming a lawyer in his native Nigeria. Others believe William became a businessman in Nigeria. According to other people, William worked for the Nigerian government. No-one can say with any degree of certainty. The only person who knows what happened next, is William Onyeabor. Thirty-eight after William Onyeabor found religion, and turned his back on music, he’s still refusing to discuss his past. Lauka Bop, tried to discover what happened to William Onyeabor. Despite their best efforts, they were unable to solve what is one of music’s real mysteries. This means still, little is known about Nigerian music’s most enigmatic musicians, William Onyeabor. One thing we know, is that William Onyeabor was a hugely talented musician.

Over a seven-year period, William Onyeabor released eight innovative and inventive, groundbreaking, genre-melting albums. On each of these albums, was music that was way ahead of the musical curve. Proof of that is World Psychedelic Classics 5: Who is William Onyeabor, which features nine tracks from William’s illustrious back-catalogue. Everything from Afro-beat, cosmic funk, gospel, jazz, post-disco, proto-house, psychedelia, reggae, rock and soul was thrown into the melting pot by William Onyeabor. This is apparent on World Psychedelic Classics 5: Who is William Onyeabor which will be released on 28th October 2013, on Lauka Bop. No wonder. William Onyeabor was a musical visionary. That’s no exaggeration. After all, how many people could successfully mix sci-fi synths with soul and jazz? William Onyeabor could, and does on Let’s Fall In Love. Then on Fantastic Man, William like a mystic, foresaw the changing of the musical guard.The ghost of disco passes the musical baton to Chicago house. This fusion of post-disco and proto-house demonstrates the versatility of William Onyeabor.  

Indeed, William Onyeabor’s music evolves throughout the period between William released his 1978 debut album Crash In Love and 1983s Good Name. Whilst other artists were churning out albums of similar music, William was pushing musical boundaries. He wasn’t content to stand still. One listen to World Psychedelic Classics 5: Who is William Onyeabor and you’ll realize this. From 1980 onwards, his music evolved. It became much more reliant on synths, keyboards and drum machines. Sometimes, it’s best described as futuristic, with a sci-fi sound. An example of this is Let’s Fall In Love, from his 1983 album Good Name. Buzzing, sci-fi synths are key to the track’s futuristic sound. To this inventive track, somehow, William welds soul and jazz. It’s a combination that shouldn’t work, but does. In a way, it’s just one example of the genius of William Onyeabor, which was lost to music after his 1985 album Anything You Sow.

That William Onyeabor turned his back on music, is music’s loss. Who knows what heights of innovation and inventiveness William Onyeabor might have reached? After all, he was creating music in just as midi was invented. He never got the opportunity to work with all the new technology producers now take for granted. Nor will we ever know Who is William Onyeabor? Rumor, myth and mystery will forever surround William Onyeabor, one of music’s mavericks. An innovator and musical chameleon, World Psychedelic Classics 5: Who is William Onyeabor proves that in his pursuit of musical excellence and perfection, William Onyeabor pushed musical boundaries and rewrote rulebooks. His legacy is eight albums, released between 1978 and 1985. A tantalising taste of that music can be found on World Psychedelic Classics 5: Who is William Onyeabor, which is the perfect introductions to one of music’s lost geniuses.

Z.Z. HILL-THE BRAND NEW Z.Z. HILL.

The story behind how Z.Z. Hill found himself in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, recording with producer Swamp Dogg is the equivalent to a game of musical pass the parcel. It all started when Swamp Dogg had bought Z.Z. Hill’s contract from Quin Ivy, one of the stalwarts of the Muscle Shoals music scene. There wasn’t much Quin hadn’t done. He’d been a DJ, songwriter, owned a record shop and opened the Quinvy Studios. Quin had also Percy Sledge, but wouldn’t be producing Z.Z. Hill. No. The pair didn’t get on. There was a good reason for this though. Quin had been tricked into buying Z.Z. Hill’s contract from Phil Walden, who’d managed Otis Redding and founded Canyon Records. 

Phil Walden was another music industry veteran. He’d managed and founded Capricorn Records. It was to Capricorn Records that Z.Z. Hill was signed.  Z.Z. Hill and Phil didn’t see eye-to-eye. However, when Phil sold the contract to Quin, it was like jumping from the frying pan into the fire. Now his contract had changed hands again. Swamp Dogg owned the contract. There was a problem though. Z.Z. Hill was avoiding Swamp Dogg.  

The only way to contact Z.Z. Hill was through his brother Matt. There was a reason for this. Whilst under contract to Quin, Z.Z. Hill had recorded Don’t Me Pay For His Mistakes. It had been a huge hit. As Swamp Dogg owned the contract, he was entitled to a royalty. That’s why Z.Z. Hill was avoiding Swamp Dogg. Eventually, when the pair met Swamp Dogg agreed to forego any royalties. He also paid Z.Z. Hill $5,000 and a small royalty to record what became The Brand New Z.Z. Hill, which was recently released by Alive Records. Ironically, Swamp Dogg had chosen Quinvy Studios to record The Brand New Z.Z. Hill. Surely, that was a step to far for Z.Z. Hill?

It wasn’t. Z.Z. Hill agreed to record the blues opera that was The Brand New Z.Z. Hill, at Quinvy Studios. Most of the songs were written by Swamp Dogg and one of his regular songwriting partners Gary US Bonds. A total of ten tracks were recorded by Z.Z. Hill at Quinvy Studios. Accompanying Z.Z. Hill were some of the best musicians in Muscle Shoals. 

Sadly, despite this, The Brand New ZZ Hill wasn’t the commercial success that it deserved to be.Maybe Mankind, a short-lived and unsuccessful subsidiary of Nashboro was the wrong label for The Brand New ZZ Hill?

After all, everything else was in place for The Brand New ZZ Hill to be a commercial success. There was nothing wrong with the music on The Brand New Z.Z. Hill. Quite the opposite, The Brand New ZZ Hill was an innovative concept album where blues and Southern Soul became one. Accompanied by a crack band of top session players, Z.Z. Hill made the music come alive. Blessed with a voice that can inject emotion, meaning, and energy into a song, lyrics come alive. It only takes one listen to The Brand New ZZ Hill, which was recently released by Alive Records and you’ll realise this. Whether its sadness or joy, hurt, heartbreak and happiness Z.Z. Hill can deliver this and more. Love songs, breakup songs and makeup songs Z.Z. delivers them with feeling. However, there’s more to his music than that. He can deliver a Northern Soul stomper. Grabbing the song by the scruff of its neck, he can make a good song a great, and an average song good. Not every singer can do this.  Z.Z. Hill could and did. Sadly, he never enjoyed the success his talent deserved.

After The Brand New ZZ Hill, fame made fleeting visits to Z.Z. Hill. He briefly met the seductive temptress that is fame. Like many other singers, he enjoyed a taste of what fame had to offer. Sadly, although he never experienced its delights to the fullest. Having glimpsed and tasted its delights, tragically, Z.Z. Hill’s career was cut tragically short. Aged just forty-nine, he died in 1984, having recorded eighteen albums. One of the highlights of Z.Z. Hill’s back-catalogue is The Brand New ZZ Hill, a delicious fusion of blues and Southern Soul that could’ve and should’ve transformed his career.

Well, that’s my list of the best reissues of 2013, in A-Z order. It’s been my chance to remind myself how much great music has been rereleased during 2013. This hasn’t been easy. After all, I’ve listened to a mountain of reissues during 2013. This includes everything from classic albums to lost hidden gems. There’s familiar faces who have been released a number of times before, plus albums that have lain unreleased for over forty years. On my list, are albums from just about every musical genre. This includes everything from Afro-beat, blues,electronica, free jazz, funk, jazz, Latin, Philly Soul, prog rock, psychedelia, reggae, rock and Southern Soul. If I was to sum up my list of the best reissues of 2013, I’d say it’s an eclectic list. Having said that, it’s a list that features some familiar friends.

Some of these albums make a welcome return and have been lavishly remastered. Many of these albums feature on my A-Z of the best reissues of 2013. There are sixty albums on my list. Some are from artists you’ll have heard of. Others are from artists that’ll be new to you. The same goes with the albums. You’ll have heard of some, but some you won’t. They each have one thing in common, their quality and would make a welcome addition to your record collection.

1 Comment

  1. Saw Curtis Count play live in my local concert hall with Stan Kenton in 1956. Stan, you’ll remember, did a lot of hard work to get around the MU ban on visiting musicians. This was the first opportunity for many people to see US musicians in the flesh. Mel Lewis was on drums. I could still name the whole personnel but I’ll spare you that.

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