This is a review of the digital reissue of a 7″ box set reissue of seven obscure funk singles from the seventies. It is also one of the first releases given to subscribers of Now-Again Records new subscription service on Drip.fm (drip.fm/nowagain). For fifteen bucks a month, subscribers get every Now-Again release two weeks before the release date, plus lots of extras. Now-Again is an offshoot of Stones Throw and is a labor of love from funk archaeologist Egon Alappat, who has made it his mission to find the rarest, most obscure funk and soul albums from across the world and give them proper reissues, as well as releasing albums by current artists.
With that plug for Now-Again out of the way, let’s get to the music. This set collects fourteen songs by seven funk and soul artists from the seventies. The artists are Ernie and the Top Notes, Inc., Booker T. Averheart, the Soul Vibrations, the Soul Seven, Bad Medicine, Billy Ball and the Upsetters, and the Soul Commanders. The only way you’ve heard of any of these groups is if your uncle was in one of them or if you are an obsessive rare music collector. They came from Dallas, Cincinnati, Syracuse and beyond. They released a single or two, played some local gigs, and then faded into obscurity. They hung up their tinseled jumpsuits and got regular jobs, giving up their dreams of making it big. Booker T. Averheart went on to build and airport and run a motel, among other enterprises. Collectors scrounged for their singles and sold them for beaucoup bucks, of which the artists saw exactly nothing. And then one day, a skinny white guy shows up at their doorstep asking if he could reissue their music. The result was the 2001 “Funky 16 Corners” compilation and this lovingly curated collection.
Ernie and the Top Notes start things off right with “Dap Walk,” from the “Funky 16 Corners.” It’s a tight funk number that would make James Brown proud. “Come on brother, do any kind of dance that’s groovy to you!” they encourage. The B-Side, “Things Are Better,” is a groovy Southern soul workout.
Dallas’s Booker T. Averheart continues the Southern soul vibe with “Heart and Soul,” featuring organs and horns. A sample of this turned up on a Guilty Simpson track that I can’t place. The B-Side is an even funkier track, “Maxi Midi.”
Soul Vibrations’ “I’ve Got To Find A Way” is the first vocal track on the album. Despite a somewhat rough recording, it sounds like a lost Motown hit. They follow it up with “The Dump,” an instrumental track. The Soul Seven do their take on “The Cissy Strut” called “The Cissy Thang.” It’s a fine track, but it is outshined by its B-Side, the driving “Mr. Chicken.”
White funk band Bad Medicine offer up trippy grooves with “The Trespasser Parts 1 & 2.” A lousy recording can’t dampen the songs strut. Billy Ball and the Upsetters “Sissy Walk” is backed by the superb “Popcorn 69,” a song that shows the long shadow that James Brown cast over funk and soul music. In fact, almost every track on here sounds directly inspired by either James Brown, Berry Gordy, or both. The album closes out with The Soul Commanders “Funky Soul Music Parts 1 & 2,” a two-part ode to soul.
The sound quality is about as good as you can expect given that these are mastered from the singles, not the master tapes. The variations in quality is noticeable but not enough to ruin the listening experience. Any fan of old soul worth their salt can put up with the occasional pop and hiss of an old record.
As mentioned before, several of these songs appeared on “The Funky 16 Corners,” but there is enough new material to make it worth owning both collections. And you really should own both collections. This is the blueprint of hip-hop, the breaks and drums that have laid the backbones of beats that everyone from Rakim to Guilty Simpson have rapped over. The music is raw and free, made by people who were doing it as much out of love as out of a desire to make money. Most importantly, there is not a lousy song on here, which means that it is a great listen on top of being an important archival document. “Soul 7” is the type of music I never get tired of listening to, and I’m grateful to Egon and Now-Again for their dedication to unearthing lost soul gems.