Monday, November 27, 2006

Dummy Blog Album of the Week: 'Florida Funk' compiled by Jazzman Records

Deep funk, to appropriate the name of Keb Darge's immortal club night, is one of those scenes that just cheerfully hums along without anyone ever really taking any notice. It must be the only genre of music where, paradoxically, the rareties actually sell more than the classics – by which I mean, compilations like this one come out all the time and make great birthday presents for people you don't really know, but how many people, these days, actually buy albums by the Meters or the Ohio Players?

Florida Funk follows Texas Funk and Midwest Funk. Like its predecessors, it comes with several thousand words of liner notes, giving you the full story of all twenty-two of these bands, many of which only ever released one or two singles before breaking up. The compilers drove across Florida hunting down these records and interviewing their creators. Where do they advertise jobs like that?

I am not half-way comment on the selection here. When DJ Shadow and Dante Carfagna (who worked on this) finally bring out their long-awaited (and possibly mythical) Bible-length discography of funk 45's from 1965 to 1975, maybe I will be able mug up. Until then, some observations.

Most of these tracks are tremendous. There's a lo-fi grit to the recordings that perfectly brings out their swampy impudence. A lot of them have a James Brown-esque hypeman grunting and yelling, while a few have proper soul vocals. The musicians were, of course, masterful back then, even the ones in the small-town bands: listen to the drumming on Pearl Dowdell's Good Things or the saxophone on Little Beaver's Everbody Has Some Dues to Pay. (And even when it sounds like you've come across an amateur, like the drunk-sounding drummer on Frankie Seay and the Soul Riders' Soul Food, you can turn to the liner notes where the guitarist explains that they were 'just playing that “juice” pattern'.)

On the other hand, for a compilation that sells itself on digging up the very rarest old wax, it's disappointing to see a couple of tracks that have already been compiled elsewhere: Pearly Queen's Quit Jive'in is on several other anthologies, presumably because DJ Shadow sampled it on Endtroducing...; and James Knight and the Butlers' cover of Aretha Franklin's Save Me, which is nearly as good as Wanda Davis' cover of the same song on Midwest Funk, is on Soul Jazz's essential Miami Sound. Still, Florida Funk has the last laugh over Miami Sound by picking Vanessa Kendrick's obscure version of 90% Of Me Is You instead of the more common (and almost indistinguishable) Della Humphrey cover that the other compilation chose. I expect musket duels take place over stuff like this in the torrid world of deep funk.


Out now on Jazzman Records

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