Sunday, 15 May 2011

Americana - Rock Your Soul, Blue Eyed Soul & Sounds from the Land of the Free (BBE Records)

BBE Records are one of the kings of the compilation world, especially when it comes to classic black music. Killer disco, soul, funk, house, reggae, latin jazz, hip hop comps abound, not to mention an increasing amount of solo artist albums so you've always got to sit up and take notice when a new release is on the horizon.

For their new Americana comp they have recruited a couple of deep collectors from the UK, Zafar Chowdhry and Mark Taylor. Not household names unless you're a vinyl collecting loon but two guys serious about their music and who happened to be trawling the crates around the same time for blue eyed soul, that hazy meeting of classic soul, jazz, funk and disco with soft rock, country and pop.

Now this compilation is not going to appeal to the youth music market but to anyone with open ears it's an absolute gem. A bit like a lot of Bossa the comp walks a fine line between impecable playing and the world of musical cheese and you never seems to be far away from a schmaltzy string arrangement but the inherent soul keeps it well anchored on the right side of the fence even though your mum would probably like it. I've been sitting here in the studio all Sunday morning with the album on repeat and it's been the perfect soundtrack to my day.

It's also been a real eye opener having pretty much ignored the genre and having never heard the bulk of the artists on the album, but the next time I'm flipping through the racks I'll pay a bit more attention to those albums with dodgy covers by the likes of the James Walsh Gypsy Band, Evans Pyramid and Babadu.

Here's a couple of little tasters for you:

Here's what Zafar has to say about the compilation:

We have known each other since the late 80's and as is the case in many friendships, music of course was the main catalyst. We had lost touch due to family life etc, but again the lure of music brought us together again. We have both shared exactly the same musical tastes throughout, and Mark contacted me about a record I had sold to Gilles Peterson, asking if I had another copy. The conversation eventually turned to records and what we were chasing , and again in perfect symmetry both of us were going back to the sounds of our youth, A.O.R. (Adult Orientated Rock). Absurd abbreviation for such a great genre, but basically to us it was soft rock with elements of soul, jazz, funk, folk & disco. Which exactly what this compilation has. 

After many conversations over the phone on what both of us had collected in this genre I suggested we do a comp. I had spoken with Peter years before about doing a comp for BBE and never got round to it, but this seemed the perfect project to launch with BBE. So myself & Mark both dug out 8 tracks each and instantly realised we had an absolute classic compilation in the making. The mad thing about the programming of this comp is that there is none. Mark gave me 8 tracks in no particular order & I just added my 8 tracks to the end of his. The flow is seamless and they sound great after one another, and the point is when you have beautiful music it doesn't matter which order you put it in. As well as mainland USA material, we've also included five tracks that originate from Hawaiian artists that fit nicely into this genre of music. We are both working on sourcing material for the Americana 2.

Here's some of the press release:

If you were inclined to put a location as the source of our Americana compilation – although the music here largely originates from other parts of the great union – it would be California. With its vast open-plan landscape and one season (summer) per year, it typifies the expansive style of songwriting that is contained in this compilation that stands in stark contrast to the claustrophobic (yet no less alluring) musical approach of Europeans. There’s arguably something in the climate that dictates much of our musical terrain, whether it be the sweaty loose-hipped funk of New Orleans or the frenetic and frosty four-on-the-top of Detroit’s Motown. American songs are born out of an optimism that is probably piped in the water (as well as flouride, the British have cynicism added to the drinking supply).
This cadre of – mainly – white musicians, although clearly influenced by some African-American music, were the first generation not! to be fixated solely by the music of black America. This was a flowering of something more general, less clearly defined, as hazy as an Los Angelean daybreak. What is notable about the music is that it’s neither black nor white, but contains elements of both, and though its influences undoubtedly derive from R&B (in the old meaning of the word), there are country, jazz, funk, rock and disco tinges to many of the songs.

The songs are no less good, the production no less shimmering than any Lenny Waronker job. We’d wager you’ve not heard of many of the artists here and that’s ultimately the purpose: to shine a light on the darker corners of American pop culture. And they don’t get much more radio-friendly than this shining collection here.

BBE Records website
Zafar Chwodhry website (dust off your credit card)
La Homage Soundcloud (Mark Taylor & Koh re-edits - lovely stuff!)
Happy Jazz Radio Show Myspace (Mark Taylor & Adrian Leach)