Disco/soul reissue roundup
by Andrew Mason
It certainly is a golden time for soul and disco reissues — Wax Po HQ is overflowing with a bounty of treats we never thought we’d see back in circulation. BBE leads the pack with a hefty five-disc set of Al Kent’s notorious Disco Demands re-edits. These sly reworks of ’70s obscurities first saw light as limited, unauthorized 12-inch singles, complete with falsified track info to throw disco trainspotters off the scent. BBE has pulled the curtain back and includes all the proper credits on this legitimate release, an serious hunk of dancefloor weaponry. BBE brings us another unlikely and most welcome reissue with Sandy Barber’s terrific The Best Is Yet to Come. The young diva who would go on to sing several certified club burners turned in a stellar set of uptempo modern soul in 1977 highlighted by the addictive “I Think I’ll Do Some Stepping (On My Own),” which receives two alternate mixes courtesy of the aforementioned Mr. Kent and NYC legend John Morales. BBE’s London-Brooklyn connection continues with a quirky and entirely enjoyable mix from veterano John De Mairo, cofounder of the groundbreaking house music purveyor Henry Street Records. In perfect counterpoint to the Disco Demands rarities collection, Johnny D Presents Disco Jamms is stocked with unjustly forgotten but still affordable early ’80s winners. I know I wasn’t the only one hitting the Discogs marketplace after hearing this set.
Taking a more comprehensive approach are SoulMusic.Com Records and Big Break Records, both of whom have teamed up with UK distributor Cherry Red to reissue a fabulous array of modern soul and funk. To pick just a handful of fruit from this bounty is to ignore a plethora of worthy choices (check the websites for more) but special mention must be given to the long overdue reappearance of the first two Loose Ends albums, each with generous bonus tracks and authoritative liner notes. If you aren’t familiar with “Hangin’ On A String,” the slinkiest, sexiest ode to amorous ambivalence ever, you have some learning to do. (DJs will be pleased to see the elusive Frankie Knuckles Club Mix of “Hangin’” also included.) The URL-monikered label has recently added to its catalog some middle-era Teena Marie (Robbery and Starchild) and Patrice Rushen’s first, self-titled record on Elektra (“Hang It Up,” anyone?), making them definitely one to watch. Also in the realm of essential female-fronted soul is Donna McGhee’s lone LP, Make It Last Forever. Initially issued on Red Greg in 1978 (the album was a Greg Carmichael/Patrick Adams affair), it is a classic that has only grown in stature over the years. One listen to “It Ain’t No Big Thing” or “Make It Last Forever” (both also present in alternate edits on this reissue from Big Break) will show why.
Any mention of disco and soul reissues in the year of 2012 would be remiss if it did not single out the tremendous campaign that Harmless has undertaken with the Philadelphia International catalog. Starting with a decent enough two disc set of re-edits, the label has followed up with a stunning update of the legendary Philadelphia Classics LP, one of disco don Tom Moulton‘s crowning achievements when it was first issued in 1977. In addition to the eight long versions featured on the original album, Harmless has enlisted Moulton to revisit a jaw-dropping 23 further classics from PIR, totaling a four-CD set. Working with the original multitracks, Moulton’s mixes are a revelation, teasing glorious extended performances from beloved standards like “The Love I Lost,” “Nights Over Egypt” and “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine.” If there is one disco-related release you buy this year (and you’ll forgive my lapse into blurb-speak), let it be this one. Essential.
Looking ahead, there are two exceptional reissues on the near horizon. The first comes from Boston-based label Cultures of Soul, who have collected the work of their fellow Bostonian Andre Evans into a classy package that shines a light on this hard to find material. Quirky and danceable, the Evans Pyramid singles have been a hot commodity in collector’s circles for the unique way they meld heartfelt vocal performances with unusual funk arrangements (check out “No I Won’t“).
Private Wax, due out early summer, is a compilation drawn from the vaults of London’s Zaf C. (who had a big hand in the terrific Americana comp of last year). Off-the-radar disco and boogie is the order of the day here, and a top notch selection it is. Ranging from the tough funk of Gregory Jolly’s “What’Em Doing Is My Business” to the smooth steppers groove of Chuck Strong’s cover of Gwen McRae (“Doin’ It“), Private Wax is something to look forward to. Wax Poetics readers who enjoyed our Prince special issue will also be happy to hear that it includes the rare 12-inch version of 94 East’s “If You Feel Like Dancin’.”
Last but not least is Now-Again’s Soul Cal comp of disco and modern soul from 1971 through 1982. The ridiculous mini-book (with plenty of label scans and archival photos) that comes with it explores “America’s best, independent, ’70s soul-ensembles” at a time when they transitioned from funk to disco. For the book alone, this is worth checking out. Burners like Stanton Davis’ Ghetto Mysticism’s “Things Cannot Stop Forever” and Ellis & Cephas’s “I’m Gonna Miss You Girl” make it a must for connoisseurs of the independent disco scene.