Blasts from the Past

Recent compilations unearth a secret history of the United States of Funk

Unlike Funky Funky Detroit, the Chicago compilation doesn't document just one label. Rather, it scoops up a lot of rarities from long-forgotten labels such as Mod-Art, Stuff and Scorpio. Believe it or not, this makes for a more coherent collection. The musicians were all playing the same circuit of bars and nightclubs, and these records come from a much smaller window of time (between 1973 and 1977). Then there's the fact that the Chicago players weren't looking to conquer the country so much as win a few hearts and minds of the children of their older fans from the blues world, making for a freer and more intensive style of funk.

Eccentric Soul: The Capsoul Label

Of course, if you know anything about soul, you've heard music from Chicago and Detroit before. It's much less likely that you're very familiar with the early-'70s scene in Columbus, Ohio. It turns out, as documented on this amazing release from the brand-new Numerogroup label, we've all been missing some of the most vibrant soul of the time.

Bill Moss was and is a successful disc jockey who eventually became a longtime school board member and a losing candidate for mayor of Columbus. For a short period, though, he attempted to combine a recording career of his own with an independent label. There's not a lot of information as to how they did it, but virtually every 45 to come out on Capsoul -- short for Capitol City Soul -- was terrific.

Pulling influences from all over -- the Motown rhythmic drive and harmonic sophistication, some Memphis grooves and Sam & Dave-style vocals, a bit of slick Philadelphia arranging technique -- the various artists who passed through Moss' domain were uniformly vibrant and exciting. Ronnie Taylor was a majestic deep-voiced singer in the vein of James Carr; the Four Mints were a thoroughly enjoyable quartet of singers who could have given the O'Jays a run for their money; Johnson, Hawkins, Tatum & Durr were capable of holding their own with the Temptations, and Moss himself had a winning, idiosyncratic sing-song approach of his own.

Given a level playing field, which the record industry has rarely offered anyone, Moss could have forged an empire out of these tracks. But for the usual variety of reasons -- poor distribution, lack of payola to get radio play, ego trips -- that was not to be. Don't let the title scare you; the only reason this music isn't called "Essential" is that not enough people got to hear it when it was new. This is the soul reissue of the year, making us nostalgic for what we never had a chance to love the first time.

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