Saturday, December 30, 2006

Box Sets Suck 1 - What It Is!: Funky Soul And Rare Grooves (1967-1977) (Rhino/WEA 2006)

Here's part one in what I hope will be an undying attempt to rid the world of box sets and the horseshit claims made on their behalf. For each installment, I will take one overrated box set (which is almost as redundant as saying "a Bollywood musical") and winnow it down to one, snarkily titled, consumer-friendly CD. The buck starts here.

First up is What It Is!: Funky Soul And Rare Grooves (1967-1977), Rhino's bid for the discretionary income of your younger brother the aspiring DJ. What it isn't is very good, 91 tracks of mostly justifiably obscure funk (aka rare groove) begging some rapper or turntable magus to put up sparkling mansions onto its scaffolding. It starts off promising with The Watts 103rd St. Rhythm Band's well-named "Spreadin' Honey," a slinky instrumental that could serve as a band introduction to the late soul man of your choice. And then track two - wow! You already get the best track on the entire box with The Bar-Kays giving you the "Soul Finger," as joyous a party as early Sugarhill. But then track three - blech! You now have the worst track on the box, Brother Jack McDuff's flute-infested take on "The Shadow Of Your Smile," cocktail funk so weak it couldn't stir your shaken martini.

Had the box alternated like that, one would've been able to mine at least two CDs worth of gems and leave the rest as the soundtrack to pushing your shopping cart. But for better or worse, funk is so utilitarian that when it doesn't jam above and beyond the call of duty (as happens here with the "Tighten Up" clones and Criscoed-up Hammond B-3s), 5 hours of the stuff blends into a sort of musical camouflage. You literally can't hear many of these tracks.

Which is why it was very easy to compile the CD below (which still rates only an A-). The great and the godawful (see previous post) stood out like brightly colored easter eggs in a basket of 90% fill. I have no doubt that, oh, The Unemployed's "Funky Thing - Part 1" could funk me something good if I choose to boogie this new year's eve. But the schlock synths and proto-Mariah Carey trills of Funk Factory's "Rien Ne Va Plus" were so grotesque that at the last minute I welcomed them on the CD in place of Seatrain's "Flute Thing" (which I had included only because it sounded like an outtake from Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy).

Oh and can we talk about "rare groove," the lamest generic designation of all-time? Naming a genre after the obscurity of the records within it?!?! What's next, planned obsolescence punk?

Finally, shame on Amazon review Jerry McCulley for describing the box's previously unreleased take of Aretha Franklin's "Rock Steady" as "radically different." It's virtually identical to the original save for the absence of horns and some slowing-down at the end. When fancy packaging won't sucker 'em into buying box sets, bold-face lying should do the trick. Caveat downloader.

What It Really Is!: Funky Soul And Grooves (Bozelkablog 2006)

1. The Bar-Kays: Soul Finger - A "Mary Had a Little Lamb" quote, a snare peal that slides non-stop into the main horn seizure and we're off!

2. Jimmy Norman: Gangster Of Love (Parts I & II) - Only here for its noisy guitar.

3. Rufus Thomas: The Memphis Train - C'mon 'n ride it.

4. Natural Bridge Bunch: Pig Snoots, Part I - I'm off to the grocery store.

5. Eldridge Holmes: Pop, Popcorn Children - Goes well with pig snoots. Great avant horn breaks.

6. Johnny Cameron & The Camerons: Funky John - This sounds like a party in the next room that you're not sure you want to join. But there's some sonic value to that.

7. Titus Turner: Do You Dig It - I love parties where all the boys are bear-hugging.

8. Little Sister: Stanga - Sly's Fresh backup singers. Nuff said.

9. Ananda Shankar: Jumpin' Jack Flash - Nice to hear campy psychedelia with a tight bottom.

10. Curtis Mayfield: (Don't Worry) If There's Hell Below We're All Going To Go - Possesses an urgency the rest of the box lacks.

11. Johnny Harris: Stepping Stones - Hated it at first but its manic obnoxiousness eventually won me over. If there's gotta be flute, let it be hyper, damn near breathless flute.

12. 6ix: I'm Just Like You - More Sly. More drum machine. More nuff said.

13. Mongo SantamarĂ­a: I Can't Get Next To You - Was prepared to hate it but damned if it isn't even faster than The Temptations' version. And theirs didn't have congas in overdrive.

14. Hammer: Tuane - Scatting more desperate than professional.

15. Harlem River Drive Featuring Eddie Palmieri & Jimmy Norman: Seeds Of Life - Jamming more professional than desperate.

16. Baby Huey & The Babysitters: Hard Times - Male psychosis with creepy organ and Spam on the menu.

17. Earth Wind & Fire: Bad Tune - Also, a weird one.

18. The Beginning Of The End: Funky Nassau (Part II) - I hear very vague traces of highlife in here.

19. Little Richard: Nuki Suki - 15 years later, he still sounds very naughty.

20. Claudia Lennear: Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky - I like how the Sly-like guitar talks.

21. The Mystic Moods: Cosmic Sea - Prog funk by accident.

22. Funk Factory: Rien Ne Va Plus - Prog funk on purpose.

Time - 1:17:10

Trades are welcome.


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