Album Reviews

Calypsoul 70: Caribbean Soul 1969-1979

(Strut) UK release date: 18 August 2008

Calypsoul 70: Caribbean Soul 1969-1979 As the stash of rare funk and soul gems slowly dwindles, collectors and beat-heads find themselves getting increasingly desperate for obscure but pleasing booty. Strut specialise in doing the leg work for the dilettante crate-digger, and have recently expanded into some fine collections of italodisco and post punk gems. But when it comes to mining all things soul-shaped, it’s starting to feel like all the good stuff has already been unearthed.

This compilation of soul-influenced calypso is a a case in point. Anyone expecting the smoothness of Harry Belafonte or the crude laughs of Lord Kitchener may be disappointed. Certainly nothing here comes close to genuine crossover classics such as The Beginning of the End‘s Funky Nassau.

Cover versions abound on this compilation, some of which are so obscure in their rendering they’d make Paul Gambaccini have to sit down and stroke his sage chin in thought. The Gemini Brass’ take on You Don’t Love Me, the rocksteady standard made famous by Dawn Penn, is a rollicking brass-led instrumental that only just about reminds you of the original. Similarly, Gwen McRae‘s lush and soulful 90% Of Me is You, here covered on pan-steel drums, is fun but just a little too novelty to warrant a second listen. A lively take on Woman by Barrabas (whose name provokes brilliant ribaldry from Steve Coogan in 24 Hour Party People) is definitely a winner though.

While some are covers, others show a strong influence from beyond the Caribbean charts of the early ’70s. Magic Fever Express‘s Magic Fever shamelessly plunders the squelching synth and tempo changes of Herbie Hancock‘s Chameleon while traces of early Kool And The Gang turn up on It’s A Feeling and opener The Little You Say by The Revolution of St Vincent. Even the smoother end of jazz-fusion gets a Jamaican interpretation, such as on Cedric Im Brooks‘s Blackness Of Darkness which recalls Donald Byrd in his flared-out pomp.

The brilliantly named Lancelot Layne offers a nice counterpoint to the fashionable adoption of American music and attitudes at the time. Yo Tink It Sorf takes the style of The Last Poets and Gil Scott Heron in order to criticise the youth who claim to relate to American notions of “the ghetto”. In his opinion “The answer is simple. We don’t know what a ghetto is”. The real surprise comes at the end of the album though, with the spooky Of My Hands by The Goretti Group. A gospel song with a melancholy groove and a vocal that owes more to Shocking Blue or even Pentangle, it defies catagorisation and is all the better for it.

A few more psychedelic oddities like this would have upped Calypsoul 70’s desirability somewhat, since overall it lacks anything especially unique to bring to the table. Maybe it’s finally time to stop mining the funky side of the ’70s before things get anymore desperate.

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