Though they definitely have a grown-up sound, The Equatics released their only album Doin It!!! while they were still in high school. Bassist Benjamin Crawford was the catalyst that brought the Equatics together. A cadre of young musicians in Hampton, Virginia formed the nucleus of the group, and they played a mixture of funk, soul, and (perhaps surprisingly) prog rock, as Crawford was a big fan of Yes. After playing gigs near Hampton, the group decided to enter the Pepsi New Sounds of 72 contest, which involved sending a demo jingle to the company for the chance to win time in the studio. They were featured in the top 10 and recorded their jingle. Pepsi then followed up on the promotion by asking people to send in bottle caps along with votes for their favorite jingle, but this time the prize was much bigger: the chance to record an album at Pepsi’s expense.
The group’s campaign to get people to vote for their jingle paid off, and the result was this album. Once they got in the studio, the band’s manager (and Crawford’s football coach) Frank Johnson tried to move the band towards soul standards like Ain’t No Sunshine, in part because Johnson had always dreamed of being a soul singer. In fact, Johnson provides the vocals on this and another great track from the album Merry Go Round. The group cut the record in a hurry, not even bothering to name the label that was to be responsible for the record. Very few copies of the album were ever distributed, and most were limited to the Richmond, VA area until it became a favorite of crate-digging collectors. Differences between Crawford and Johnson eventually led the group to break up, leaving behind just this one record.
If you’re looking for the original I can only offer you good luck, but Doin It!!! was reissued in 2010 by Now Again Records. If you’re in the mood for more soul cut by young folks, check out I’m Not Ready For Love, which I wrote about a while back.
Though it’s hard to tell based on how good this album sounds, this is the only recorded collaboration between Hailu Mergia and Dahlak Band. Mergia was a member of Walias, which had regular gig at the Hilton in Addis Ababa. Because of a military curfew, patrons of the Hilton bar who weren’t guest would be stranded until sunrise, though with Walias playing it’s hard to imagine they minded too much.
Dahlak were a popular backing band around the same time, and they hooked up with Mergia because other members of Walias were busy in the studio with other vocalists. Mergia was eager to follow-up on his the success of his previous record with Walias, Tche Belew, so he recorded Wede Harer Guzo with Dahlak in the nearby Ghion Hotel, where Dahlak Band were the regulars. The album features instrumental arrangements of a number of well-known Ethiopian tunes as well as original compositions. While Mergia asserts these arrangements were quite popular in Ethiopia at the time, it was not widely distributed and may have been remained a local favorite if Mergia himself hadn’t sent the tape to Awesome Tapes From Africa, who restored and re-issued the recording to its former glory a few years ago.
Word to the wise: before you tell someone “I love The Final Solution,” it’s best to make sure they know you are referring to the soul band and not something more sinister. Alas, in the age of Internet Nazis I suppose one has to be careful, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me from sharing this soul gem resurrected by none other than Chicago’s Numero Group.
I Don’t Care comes from a soundtrack that The Final Solution recorded for a blaxploitation film called Brotherman that was never actually completed. According to an NY Sun article about the album upon its reissue, writer and producer Carl Wolfolk had the masters stashed away since the film was shelved until Numero brought them back from the dead in 2008. While I couldn’t find much in the way of info for the members of The Final Solution, Carl Wolfolk was a prolific producer of soul music in the 60s and 70s. Probably his most oft-performed song was Can I Change My Mind, which has been covered by Tyrone Davis, Willie Clayton, and Boz Scaggs. If you’re looking for this release on cassette that is sadly out of print, but CD, LP, and digital download are still available. I’m starting a new job soon and once I get paid this release is definitely on my list.
An Luu appeared in films throughout the 1980s, primarily in France, before releasing this track as a single in 1988 for the dance label Carrere. Her only previous release was the single Lolita Hiroshima in 1983, which she recorded shortly after appearing in the the 1981 French thriller Diva. The film centers around an opera singer who is world renown for both her tremendous voice and refusal to appear on any recordings. A thief secretly records a performance and delivers it to an opera-loving mailman, who quickly becomes embroiled in a mob fight. I confess I hadn’t heard of the movie before hearing this song, but since it’s on Amazon streaming for a couple bucks I might have to check it out. This track was produced by the French producer Phillipe Chany, who was active in the French new wave scene throughout the 1980s on his own project, including this low-key gem. This single appears to be pretty cheap on Discogs at least for now. Once it gets that famous Orion’s Bastard bump though you’re bound to see the price go through the roof ;).
After putting out a few cassettes on their own, Houston trio Khruangbin released this track on an EP with the same name on LateNightTales in 2014, where it waited patiently for three years to be discovered by me. The group takes its name from the Thai word for airplane, which originally referenced the shared love of Thai surf and funk that brought Laura Lee (Bass), Mark Speer (Guitar), and D.J. (Drums) together, though it is doubly appropriate now that the band is split between the U.K. and the States. If you’re looking for an entry point in to the kind of Thai music they are influenced by, Sublime Frequencies has put out a number of great compilations of Thai rock from the 60s and 70s. Two good places to start are Thai Pop Spectacular and Shadow Music of Thailand. Khruangbin released their first full-length album in 2015 titled The Universe Smiles Upon You. They also put together a mix tape that highlights some of their other influences which you can find here. According to their website they’re playing a couple of festivals this summer, including Bonnaroo, Electric Forest, and Outside Lands. Because I’m a curmudgeon I won’t be able to see them live, but discovering this group is almost enough to make me take the plunge. Here are some links to purchase the releases I mentioned here if you are so inclined:
This song might be titled My Song, but it is probably better known as the sample used on Kanye West’s I Wonder from 2007’s Graduation. Labi Siffre was born Claudius Afolabi Siffre in Britain, and has had a long career in both music and literature. My Song comes from his third studio release, Crying, Laughing, Loving, Lying, which was put out on Pye Records in 1972. It seems like Siffre is one of those artists better known for the work he inspired than the music he produced himself. Madness reached number 4 on the U.K. charts with a cover of It Must Be Love and Jay-Z, Eminem, and Wu-Tang Clan have sampled Siffre’s I Got The. While these may be more well-known, Crying, Laughing, Loving, Lying deserves far more attention because it is a joy from start to finish, blending Siffre’s beautiful tenor with an excellent ear for melody and guitar that is as smooth as it is soulful. In particular, Cannock Chase and the title track are both excellent tunes in the vein of My Song. He recorded a number of albums in the 70s, including participating in the 1978 Eurovision context, and continued at a slower clip through the 80s and 90s. Perhaps that has something to do with writing three books of poetry in the 90s along with a play and a collection of essays. This album was re-issued in 2016 by new-wave label Demon Records, which has put out a number of records from Marc Bolan & T.Rex, Elvis Costello, and The Jesus and Mary Chain.
infinite bisous is a solo project from Paris-based musician Rory McCarthy, and while past tense comes from 2015, he released an album about a month ago titled w_love. Before these solo recordings, he was one half of the duo Hot Horizons, which seems to have gone dormant since 2011 but not before producing a killer cover of Roy Orbison’s Crying. All of his music is released through a collective label called Tasty Morsels, which features other work by McCarthy released under other names, including Column and R. McCarthy along with material by Laurie Holiday and Dialect. Most of the output from Tasty Morsels seems to be on Soundcloud, though you can also download files from their site as well.