Thursday, November 10, 2005

Budget compilations here in the U.S. are generally dodgy at best, execrable at worst. For whatever reason (I've no idea myself), their strike rate in the U.K. is much better. Case in point: the Virgin Megastores here in L.A. (and perhaps elsewhere) have recently had a display of a whole bunch of various Various Artists comps released by Sony BMG (UK). Amongst the morass of the usual Miss Independents (including, ahem, Hilary Duff - and, inexplicably, Usher) and Ultimate R&Bs (er, no most of it's not) was one titled Funk Soul Anthems. At first glance, it appeared to be just another mediocre 2-disc set - "Car Wash," "Love Train," "Theme from Shaft," the obvious like. But a closer glance shows something more.

The album opens with Funkadelic's "One Nation Under A Groove," a classic that's not yet so obvious as to be obnoxious. From there on, Funk Soul Anthems surprises as much as it doesn’t. Sure, you expect to find Cameo’s “Word Up” here, and you will. But chances are you wouldn’t expect this to include Odyssey’s “Going Back to My Roots,” or “Hi, How Ya Doin’?” by Kenny G (yes, that appalling smooth-jazzbo, but from 1983, when he was, believe it or not, making R&B fusion records) featuring Kashif (!). Some of the more obvious selections delight in the way they’re presented – to wit, the brilliant back-to-backness of Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit” and Shannon’s dancefloor monster “Let the Music Play.”

To be sure, there are some downright odd choices here. Since when is Level 42 “funk” or “soul,” exactly, let alone creators of anthems? I like “Lessons In Love” enough, certainly, but I’m not sure it belongs on this particular compilation. Same with Freeez’s “I.O.U.,” an early electro-as-pop milestone (its sore-thumbness made even more profound by its placement immediately following Maze’s “Twilight”). These are more than made up for, however, but the previously unknown (to me, at least) gems hidden amidst this double-album’s 44 tracks. Lonnie Liston Smith’s 1975 jazz-funk totem “Expansions” (I should know it, I know, and yes, I am ashamed) sneaks up on you and grabs you by the – well, grabs you in a painful way, let’s say, and doesn’t let go ‘til you submit yourself utterly. Billy Griffin’s “Hold Me Tighter in the Rain” is an of-its-moment (1982) slice of creamy Britsoul nonpareiled. I could go on; selections by G.Q. (known in the U.S. for their ’79 hit “Disco Nights”), Fat Larry’s Band, the Jimmy Castor Bunch, and the aforementioned Kenny G, amongst others, may only be known by most as the source material for hip-hop tracks, if at all.

There’s a certain pleasure in having all these tracks in one place, as well, not just Funkadelic and Shannon and Cameo but Indeep and Bootsy’s “Stretchin’ Out” and Boz Scaggs and “Get Down On It” and the Mary Jane Girls and “Sexual Healing” and, oh yes, Luther’s “Give Me the Reason.” And I’ve not even made mention of Aretha’s cover of “What A Fool Believes”! Especially considering the price you’ll likely pay for it (I got mine for a tenner; if you’re not nearby a Virgin Megastore, you can buy it from Amazon UK here), Funk Soul Anthems is fairly indispensable. Did I mention that it’s just flat-out fucking great, even though it includes Rockwell? Okay, then. A

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