I realize I’m a year late in reviewing this. There are two newer installments of Madlib’s Medicine Show series that have been released recently, but Volume 10 is the one that Amoeba had a used copy of, so that’s what I am reviewing. Being an even numbered edition of the series, it is a mix CD. Previous installments saw him doing mixes of Brazilian music, reggae, psychedelic rock, and jazz. Number 10 is all about soul. Black soul, to be precise.
What that entails is 79 minutes of seventies and eighties disco, soul, funk, and R&B, with a heavy emphasis on disco. Whether to show off his crate-digging skills or avoid copyright issues, the cuts here are all deep, avoiding the obvious in favor of the rare and obscure. The CD (it’s only available on CD or vinyl, again probably to avoid copyright issues) contains 50-odd songs cut into one or two minute snippets across nine tracks. The titles of the tracks all refer to the CIA’s MKULTRA goals, which experimented on LSDs use as a weapon. There’s no indication as to any of the artists or songs on the album, although if search around online you can find diligent trainspotters who have posted most of track titles. I only recognize a handful of the artists, like Brick, the Chi-Lites, and Bootsy’s Rubber Band. I’m guessing the albums most of these songs are on would fetch a hefty price on Ebay.
Madlib doesn’t try beatmatching or mixing the songs together in one steady flow. Instead, he fades out one track and fades in another, often putting in snippets of dialogue or a TV announcer in between. As with the reggae mix “Volume 4: 420 Chalice All-Stars,” “Black Soul” succeeds largely because the music all sounds similar. Most of the tracks are grounded in a four on the floor disco beat, with prominent bass guitar and funky guitar licks. It almost has the feel of a house music mix, and you definitely hear the roots of house in the disco on “Black Soul.” This album also reclaims disco as the legitamate art form it was before it got turned into a kitschy fad. Before the Bee Gees and “The Hustle” and “Disco Duck,” disco was dance music made mostly by black and latinos for a mostly black and latino audience. The tracks on “Black Soul” show how soulful and authentic disco was before every record exec in a polyester suit descended upon the genre.
“Black Soul” isn’t all disco. Sometimes it slows down into quiet storm R&B, the kind of music that makes you want to sip some Courvoisier and seduce a foxy lady on a bearskin rug. The latter half of the album is heavier on funk jams and eighties synth R&B.
I love this disc. It’s basically the ultimate disco compilation, and the only one I need in my life. It collects the best moments of eras of R&B that I’m not that familiar with, and distills them into one easy to consume package. Madlib proves once again how deep and extensive his record collection is, and the opportunity to take a tour through it is worth the price of admission. If you are at all interested in 70s and 80s soul music, pick this up.