We pick out some of the most crucial reissues and retrospectives dropped recently on Bandcamp, and look at the historic tales behind them. Whether it’s West African highlife, German post-punk, golden age hip-hop, or California neo-psychedelia, we’re here to lay out the best new oldies.
What a pity that Roy Ayers’s 1983 record Silver Vibrations originally dropped as a U.K.-only release. Its legacy has been suppressed by a few factors: the limited market it was released into, and the fact that it shares three songs with the independently-released Lots of Love (those tracks are all present on Silver Vibrations as extended versions). Add in four cuts that can’t be found anywhere else and you’ve got one of the last great albums in Ayer’s legendary archives.
Particularly striking is the singer/composer’s twin dedication to urban America. “Chicago” evokes memories of Stevie Wonder’s legendary 1970s run; Ayers’s groovy licks paint the town as a sharp metropolis filled with dapper dons strutting gritty streets. Meanwhile, the slow, hypnotic funk of “D.C. City” finds him pleading for love and harmony among the residents of the Chocolate City.
Ayers shows plenty of different looks across these songs. Disco had become passe a couple years previously, but its shockwaves can be heard vibrating through songs like “Keep On Movin’.” Elsewhere, the title track sees the virtuoso go wild on his vibraphone, asserting his position as one of the greatest to ever take the instrument up. Provided there’s any justice in the world, BBE Music’s reissue will finally solidify Silver Vibrations’ worth not just as an underrated oddity, but a bonafide Ayers essential.
Os Catedraticos 73
Known to many as a legendary “man behind the music,” Brazilian composer Eumir Deodato has spent the past several decades racking up writing and production credits for Earth, Wind & Fire, Björk, k.d. lang, Hubert Laws, and, most significantly, Kool & the Gang (he helped the group craft such hits as “Celebration” and “Ladies’ Night”). But Deodato—who, fun fact, is the grandfather of American model Hailey Baldwin—boasts a broad solo catalog too. Take Os Catedraticos 73, a brash, infinitely musical suite that brings together Latin jazz, bossa nova, and American funk. Recorded between Rio and New York in the early 1970s, the album encapsulates the decade’s sense of cool with the clean and catchy instrumentals moving with a glitzy razzle-dazzle throughout. Its Brazilian rhythm section—including drummer Ivan Mamão Conti, percussionist Orlandivo, and bassist Sergio Barroso—shines on upbeat opener “Arranha Ceu (Skyscrapers),” while the peppy horns and playful organ chords on songs like “Rodando Por Ai (Rudy’s)” and “O Jogo (Soccer Game)” could score a jaunty old European comedy flick. Os Catedraticos 73 is a record as eccentric as it is ebullient.
Out of the Blue
The band Imani practically disappeared after Out of the Blue was released in San Francisco back in 1983. It’s a real shame, given the slick, addictive soul-pop heard on that four-song EP. Whether Andre 3000 heard this record prior to recording The Love Below is impossible to say, but the music’s unashamed romanticism effectively predicted the ATLien’s dedication to conditions of the heart. Opener “Just Another Love Song” is thematically comparable to Wings’ hit “Silly Love Songs,” with singer Preston R. Phillipps simultaneously poking fun at song conventions regarding affairs of the heart and revelling in a big-hearted sentimental number, his lavish voice crooning all over sweet piano keys before more uptempo, jazzy orchestration emerges. The sultry “Somebody’s Love” moves like a classic slow-dance number, while “Byrd’s House,” named after the band’s bass player Pam Byrd, is a freewheeling jazz-funk potboiler, featuring caressed congos and shredding axe-work.
Infinite Spirit Music
Live Without Fear
Encapsulating late-1970s Chicago jazz innovation, pianist Soji Ade (sometimes credited as Soji Adebayo) and conga player Kahil El’Zabar led a band that, over just a single day, recorded Live Without Fear, a daring concoction of spiritual jazz, indigenous rhythms, the avant-garde, and meditative Afrocentrism. The smooth performance and cheery vocal chants of “Children’s Song” are counterbalanced by the downbeat, minimalist beauty of “Soul Flower,” while the experimental approach of the title track asserts the young musicians’ dedication to testing the boundaries of their group’s sound. This odyssey may be challenging, but it’s equally rewarding.
Rob Roy Reindorf’s stage name doesn’t do him justice. There’s not much inventiveness burned into the moniker “Rob”—certainly not when measured against the gloriously ostentatious names adopted by his peers in Ghana’s ’70s funk-rock scene, such as K. Frimpong & His Cubano Fiestas or Honny & The Bees Band. But his songs are another story, as proven by 1977’s cosmic-funk odyssey Funky Rob Way, newly reissued by Analog Africa. Blood-raw instrumentation—all dirty guitar licks and searing horn sections—commingles with buzzing analogue synths that lend the journey a retro-futuristic mood. “Forgive Us All” is a slow-burning blues jam underpinned by a fluttering synth that sounds like the whirling of an old spaceship. Underlining Rob’s relentless inventiveness, the keyboard riff that underpins “Boogie On” almost seems to predict the piano chords of deep house music. Ghana in the 1970s was capable of matching the more heralded Nigerian rock scene, and Funky Rob Way stands as one of its most impressive full-lengths.
Bosporus Bridges Vol. 3
To give you an idea of how much work the German label Black Pearl Records puts into Bosphorus Bridges, an ongoing series of 1970s Turkish funk compilations, consider the label’s timeline: its three volumes have been spread over 14 years. The latest edition collects even more mean psychedelic numbers that fuse Blaxploitation soundtrack-style rhythms (wah-wah guitar lines, fat basslines) with Eastern stylings (lilting flutes, dynamic Turkish language vocal performances). With the heavy psych and deep funk flavors, it’s easy to see Quentin Tarantino mining these dusty grooves in order to spice up his next schlocky, retro-inspired splatter flick. He’d be wise to go with the mean guitars and snappy drum loops of Erkut Taçkin’s “Erkek Olana.” Meanwhile, “Gurbet” by Semra Sine features the singer’s gorgeous pop vocals over orchestration swirling with furious percussion, jazzy woodwinds, and somewhere in the maelstrom, the spirit of James Brown. All in all, it’s an excellent showcase of an oft-underappreciated funk scene.
Released by the great Strut Records back in 2001, the original Nigeria 70 (The Definitive Story of 1970’s Funky Lagos) marked one of the first—and one of the very finest—examples of how to do classic West African music compilations right. The tracklist is loaded with many of the era’s most esteemed names in rock, soul, and Afrobeat, including Fela Ransome Kuti & The Africa 70, The Funkees, MonoMono, Blo, and William Onyeabor. It’s exciting, then, to see the label drop their first new installment in the series in eight years. Nigeria 70: No Wahala: Highlife, Afro-Funk & Juju 1973-1987 is a set that confirms what anybody paying attention to labels like Strut has known for ages: this was a time and place that produced some of the greatest music this planet has ever seen.
Naturally, we get plenty of deft highlife guitar licks, funky percussion sections, white-hot horn sections, bellowing vocals, and socially-engaged lyrics. Opening track “Oni Suru” by Odeyemi sets the tone with its smooth, textured rhythms. The warbling synths and quick-hand guitars of Felixson Ngasia & The Survivals’ “Black Precious Colour” and Sina Bakare’s mid-tempo groove “Africa” deliver cutting back-to-back Black liberation anthems—a reminder of the political instability that offered creative fuel to a lot of Afro-funk artists. So though Nigeria 70: No Wahala is considerably shorter and maybe not as earth-movingly essential as the original, Strut has still unearthed another set of cuts from the great nation that demand attention.
If I Had a Pair of Wings: Jamaican Doo Wop, Vol. 2
London-based label Death Is Not The End dropped the first installment of If I Had a Pair of Wings: Jamaican Doo Wop just last November, but the amount of great music pulled from the archives clearly demanded a quick second helping. Despite their Caribbean origins, these doo-wop gems, recorded in the ’50s and ’60s, aren’t that far removed from the American songs of that period. You can easily picture “Now I Know the Reason” by Lloyd Clark Smithie’s Sextet and The Moonlighters’ “Julie” being played at old high school dances, alongside numbers by the The Cleftones, The Penguins, and other genre legends. But with many future stars of ska, rocksteady, and reggae present here, the compilation has an undeniably Jamaican identity. The hugely influential Prince Buster can be heard with his band The Charmers, who inject some ska flavor into the wailing horns of “Now You Want to Cry.” Doo-wop fans searching for old tunes they’ve never heard before will love this one.
-Dean Van Nguyen
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