Friday, July 23, 2010

"Always - Love Over Gold" - WHY DID YOU MAKE ME HUMAN? cassette compilation (Mississippi Records)

The continuing saga of a modest little record store in Portland, Oregon and the consistent stream of audio goodness that bears their imprint/mark of quality is one of the best and least expected fruits of being a music fan in the here and now. WHY DID YOU MAKE ME HUMAN? is volume 43 in Mississippi Records’ homemade compilation tape series, and it presents a fine selection of “Doo-Wop, R & B and early Rock” (as scrawled on the packaging), much of it (at least to these ears) sweetly obscure. The ultimate objective of these cassettes (and the MP3s of their contents that are currently traversing the internet’s reliable circuitry) is quality and not rarity however, so the track-list does include some well known names: Bo Diddley’s riotous and celebratory call and response groove-mining (“Africa Speaks”), Ike & Tina Turner’s molten hip-swinging ferocity (“I Idolize You”), The Shirelles’ tough and sweet gal-group largeness (“Doomsday”), The Coasters’ typically zonked and wise-assed R & B (“Little Egypt”) and Sam Cooke’s eternally gorgeous soul rendering (“Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen”) all make superb appearances. There are also a slew of names that are noteworthy if far less canonical, and that’s where some of this comp’s finest tracks are located. Garnet Mimms and the Enchanters are best known for the formidable hit “Cry Baby” (later covered by Janis Joplin), but “A Quiet Place” should’ve been just as big. It lands squarely between late period vocal group richness and the then (1964) burgeoning Cooke-inspired soul construction, and it contrasts well with the blunt gush of The Falcons’ (who hit big with “You’re So Fine” in 1959) “I Got a Feeling”, which uses a roughly similar blueprint toward a goal that’s far more concerned with raw stomping and shouting. The Ad-libs are best known for “The Boy From New York City”, but their non-hit 1966 A-side “Human” (which queries this compilation’s title) is an amazing piece of A cappella Doo-Wop that’s cumulative effect is just jaw-dropping. The Edsels’ of “Rama Lama Ding Dong” fame conjure a nice bit of vocal group loopiness with “I Was Born in Mexico”, and Barbara George, best known for “I Know (You Don’t Love Me No More)” (#1 R & B/#3 Pop in ’61) fronts a slightly eccentric but inviting slice of vintage New Orleans junk. Considering the quality of all of the above, it’s still the obscurities that carry this gem up the stairs to the level of exceptional. The Twistin’ Kings were actually Motown’s legendary house band aka The Funk Brothers, and “Congo Twist (Part 2)” is a very curious and uncommonly inspired attempt at dance craze cash in, radiating very much like a piano led soul-jazz session that’s mutinied by a rogue gang of hired percussionists, the scalawags derailing and rerouting the atmosphere into territory very much about strong coffee and lush exotica. Quite beyond Chubby Checker, baby. But The Delcos’ might just steal this whole show with “Arabia”, which is a whole lot like a rougher, less streamlined version of The Four Seasons contractually obliging a cameo in some nameless rough and tumble exploito-teen cinema. I kind of imagine the scene a little like this: A bunch of absconding harem girls stow away on a cruise ship and accidentally drink copious amounts of a kooky scientists’ powerful love-elixir. They proceed to invade the ships swinging and unsuspecting discotheque, where Valli and Co are holding court with a particularly smoking band. Rhythmic mayhem ensues. If “Arabia” is destined to be my personal tiptop of the cuts offered here, there is still plenty more fine quality stuff located amongst the 23 tracks, and while most of it leans toward vocal group eloquence either A cappella (The Casanovas, The Hudsons) or with accompaniment (The Jive Bombers, The Revells), it also has a nice helping of additional R & B in store (Tarheel Slim & Little Ann, Pearl Jones). But it’s the two truly spiffy Rockabilly excursions that really stand out (but make total sense) in this milieu. The Musical Linn Twins “Indian Rock” is dripping with that spastic hiccupping frenzy as perfected by crazy Caucasians in the second half of the ‘50s and Benny Joy’s warped excursion into sauced lounge weirdness is a direct antecedent to one of Tav Falco’s many facets. The entirety of this cassette is an ideal example of wise, inspired assemblage, and as such is so much more than just cool. It’s loaded from end to end and back again with pure life affirmation, the stuff that serves like a hand-me-down hickory stick to beat off the bugaboos, scourges and downers of modern life. And while the actual cassette copies of this have probably all found loving homes, I’ll again stress that MP3s are out there for the finding. Playing them might lead you to momentarily mistake yr IPod for a transistor radio, and cool THAT most certainly is.

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