To be honest I didn’t buy so many soul sides in 2020. For a good few years I hoover-ed up every 45 I could find with “love” in the title – but it got to be a bit emotional. My sets would make me cry. See, I’m not a man of faith. Rather one who swings continually, hourly, between disappointment and hope. So I slowed, and tried to be a lot more selective. Another truth is that I started to run out of storage space. 12s and LPs were already everywhere – but I figured 7s could be squeezed in without too much fuss. Fact is, they’re everywhere now as well. No point in complaining. As my friend Martyn said, “I thought your house was made of records”, and yep, I guess, that’s just about right. Sometimes I feel bad about it – it is pathological – and sometimes I don’t. Sometimes it looks like a badge of excess, a Dorian Gray-like testament to my lack of self-control. But most of the time, it is what it is, a treasure trove. Either way over the last 12 months there were still at least a handful of dinked jukebox repros that I couldn’t let go, pass me by. There was even some new stuff, such as Sound Of Superbad`s I Want Cha. A top tune that I was hipped to by Ross Allen’s marvelous Meltdown radio show. Long may she run.
There were legendary rare grooves, like Ike Turner’s Thinking Black, Mickey & The Soul Generation`s Iron Leg, and Leroy & The Drivers` Sad Chicken.
Despite having hardened my heart I even succumbed to the odd love song still. Jelly`s Everybody Needs Lovin, Now`s The Time, being a fine example.
Sweet Mixture‘s House Of Fun And Love was / is a pure party record. Human Race`s Human Race, a strange slice of hypnotic, almost exotica.
Be With Records released both of TLC`s “greatest hits” on a cute 45. They also pressed Billy Paul’s essential East – for the first time – on a 12, and the pick of their reissued LPs, pour moi, was JR Bailey`s Just Me ‘N You.
Another superlative 12” selection came from Cordial Recordings, in the shape of Family Of Swede`s Set You Free. An epic shot of rediscovered 70s soul that features some damn fine shredding. Zepherin Saint remixed Soul II Soul‘s Back To Life, no doubt upsetting rave pensioners everywhere, but the addition of Tony Allen’s masterful, dynamite drumming has prompted ID requests whenever I’ve played it – in social-distanced bars, clubs, festivals, and on radio. The remastering of Kenny Lynch`s early `80s Old Kent Road anthem, Half The Day’s Gone And We Haven’t Earne’d A Penny, was a personal boon, `cos my OG copy’s more crackle now than song.
Expansion excavated Rick Holmes` timely, Roy Ayers-produced Remember To Remember. Rogue Cat remixed and remastered Washington`s 3 Pieces` uplifting, electron-packed-proto-go-go rap, IWishICan William, and I got to meet founding member, Lincoln Ross, who’s led such a colourful career, session-ing on so many seminal sides, and is the very definition of a gentle-man.
Staying in DC, compilation-wise, Strut`s overview of the righteous Black Fire label, was a smart mix of conscious, aspirational, inspirational, soul and jazz. Music with a message.
Which brings us – inevitably – to Sault. The mysterious collective had already blown everyone away with 2 sublime sets seemingly out of nowhere in 2019 – but given the way 2020 panned out, their new releases, Black Is and Rise were powerful documents, and as such impossible to ignore. Two double albums worth of synthesized symphonies, poetry, hip hop, gopsel, chants, and children’s choirs. Boom bap high-hats and funky Moog bass. African rhythms, and batucada breaks. Fuzzed out guitars, and deep house pads. Strings that soared, while sweet harmonies stood side-by-side with loud shouts for freedom. Music that referenced the rich history / legacy of ESG, The Last Poets, Sarah Webster Fabio, Marvin Gaye`s Motown, Red Alert, Kool Herc, and Sly Stone. Voices and echoes united in strong, defiant, proud, calls for a peaceful revolution. Songs angry at injustice. Soaked in sorrow. Crucial concept albums that aimed to elevate those they reached above an existence where “everyday feels like a battle”. Me, I heard echoes of the Purple One, Prince`s, positivity amidst the police sirens. Rise in particular – with its narrative interludes – felt like theatre. A suite of dream-like segues released in a season where reason seemed to sleep. With monsters in charge, a reminder of the miracles that we hold in our hearts.
Jelly – Everybody Needs Lovin – Fantasy Love
Sound Of Superbad – I Want Cha – Izipho Soul
JR Bailey – Love Love Love – Be With Records
TLC – Waterfalls – Be With Records
Sir Joe Quarterman & Free Soul – The Trouble With Trouble – Mr Bongo
Theatre West – Children Of Tomorrows Dreams – Strut
Mickey & The Soul Generation – Iron Leg – Prime Direct
Sweet Mixture – House Of Fun And Love – Discs Of Fun And Love
Wendell Watts – You Girl – Outta Sight
Lewis Flourney – Lets Live And Let Live – Arc Records
Ike Turner – Thinking Black – Octave
Sault – Fearless – Forever Living Originals
Soul II Soul – Back To Life (Zepherin Saint Remix) – Funki Dreds
Billy Paul – East – Be With Records
Family Of Swede – Set You Free – Cordial Recordings
Sault – Hard Life – Forever Living Originals
Three Pieces – IWishICan William – Rogue Cat Resounds
Leroy & The Drivers – Sad Chicken – Luv N’ Haight
Rick Holmes – Remember To Remember – Expansion