Aside from an opportunity to see Lupe Fiasco perform live, last month’s trip to Seattle also gave me a chance to go digging in a new city – always a rewarding experience. On the Saturday following the Lupe show, while the rest of the crew was checking out the Space Needle, I headed over to Easy Street Records to immerse myself in dusty vinyl. Although I only had about an hour to peruse what I imagined would be an impressive collection, I figured it would be at least enough time to pick out one or two gems.
After entering the store I was surprised to find most of their space dedicated to cds and dvds with only a modest vinyl section
located at the back. Fortunately, after spending a few minutes flipping through their crates I was pleasantly surprised to find several classics as well as some rarities (at least from my limited Canadian perspective). Their prices weren’t bad either. I ended up walking out with two records, East of Underground’s self-titled (and only) lp and The Meters’ second album, “Look-ka Py Py.”
The next day a buddy wanted to take advantage of the exchange rate and buy some shoes, so we stopped at a strip mall to hit up a sports store. Luckily, it turned out there was a bookstore nearby with a solid collection of used records. In fact, as soon as I got in I spotted Herbie Hancock’s “Head Hunters” (on sale for less than $3) and Mountain’s “Long Red, “the source of one of Dilla’s favourite breaks. I bought both, not realizing that only the live version of “Long Red” features the now-famous drum break.
All in all, although I didn’t get a ton of time to dig, I did end up with three excellent records (“Long Red” was a bit of a disappointment). See below for my favourite tracks from the weekend’s finds:
The musical equivalent of the Afghan Girl, East of Underground is a record whose origins remain shrouded in mystery. According to the record’s sleeve, as well as some internet sources, the musicians on this album were American Army servicemen who, after winning a military sponsored talent contest in 1971, recorded covers of contemporary soul hits in an exceptionally good studio in West Germany. At this point the story gets murky. Apparently, the session’s master tapes were lost and the album nearly vanished. Even more tragically given their obvious talent, the band’s musicians returned to obscurity and perhaps tragedy in Vietnam. Fortunately, for whatever reason the Army decided to store a single vinyl copy of the album in their archives. After languishing in a vault for decades, East of Underground was rediscovered by a zealous digger who alerted the recording collecting world to its presence. As word of this amazing record spread, Wax Poetics teamed up with Lettuce Music (I couldn’t find a link) to reissue it on vinyl and cd.
Although all of the tracks on East of Underground are fantastic, my favourite is an instrumental cover of both James Brown’s “Poppin’ Popcorn” and Santana’s “Oye Come Ve.” It is a quintessential funk jam, complete with a rollicking drum break and a psych rock inspired guitar melody. Indeed, the song is characteristic of funk as it existed in the early 1970s, arguably the genre’s zenith. The entire listening experience is heightened when you consider these dudes were all amateurs, many of them likely destined for the battlefields of Southeast Asia. Recording this album was probably only a temporary reprieve for them, and they clearly made the most of it.
This album was easily the best find of the trip.
A first-rate slice of funk goodness, “Funky Miracle” is the last cut on the first side of The Meters’ second studio album, “Look-ka Py Py.” Formed in New Orleans in the mid ’60s, the Meters drew heavily on the sound of their home town, injecting their music with a distinctly southern vibe to create a “pungent, funky gumbo.”
This track is a great example of their unique style. Propelled by a steady, inexorable groove, the song’s guitar and organ parts roam the musical spectrum, adhering to standard funk conventions while simultaenously evoking southern gospel music and Mississippi Delta blues.
Although relatively short (like the rest of the album), “Funky Miracle” is nevertheless a classic cut from the “finest New Orleans funk band ever.”
(Note: I had some difficulties uploading this to the 4080 server so it’s hosted at zShare)
A tribute to Sly Stone, Herbie Hancock’s “Sly” is the third track on his seminal 1973 “Head Hunters” album. Called a “defining moment” in the history of jazz fusion, this record achieved both critical and commercial success thanks to its compelling blend of funk and jazz. On “Sly,” Herbie Hancock and Bennie Maupin offer fantastic post-bop inspired solos over a humming, funkified rhythm section. A true classic, and one I was happy to find for less than 3 bones.
(Note: This also opens in zShare)
Although not a Seattle find, I’m posting this track because I’ve been really feeling it lately and also because it serves as an interesting counterpoint to the early funk above. Indeed, it demonstrates how much the genre changed in less than a decade, thanks in large part to the overwhelming success of disco.
“Galaxy” is the title track of War’s 12th album. It opens with strange spacey sound effects but quickly launches into an infectious dance groove. The first five minutes or so continue in this fashion, with some excellent saxophone riffs and a beat that makes you want to get down on it. If you’re not feeling this kind of admittedly run of the mill late ’70s standard, wait until about the five minute mark when the song launches into a surreal, jazz fusion jam with sci-fi synths and a fantastic piano solo.