A Part Of What It Is
Another victim of my recent bout of illness (now pretty much gone - and mercifully so), was my review of Rhino’s What It Is, a 4 CD re-mastered set of “Funky Soul And Rare Grooves 1967 – 1977 From the Vaults of Atlantic, ATCO & Warner Bros. Records”. Somewhere in the course of my fevers, I accidentally deep-sixed the review on the word processor – all but one sentence fragment. So, here’s a second attempt.
LISTEN (Real Audio stream)
LISTEN (Windows Media Player stream)
What I received for review purposes is not the entire release, sorry to say, but a single CD sampler of 17 tracks, which is what you will hear streaming at the above link(s) Rhino has provided for reference. But there are enough examples of various funk obscurities mixed in among some more familiar fare to impress me that I want What It Is. Of course, the particular reason I opted to talk about it is the HOTG-related material it contains. Admittedly, out of the 91 tracks on the collection, just a dozen have a direct New Orleans (or Louisiana) connection. But, for many fans of New Orleans funk, this may be an opportunity to gather some hard to find cuts that would be quite pricey to accumulate on vinyl, and would take some doing to track down on the other comps where many of them have shown up before over the years. For your reference, here’s my list of what you’ll find:
“Pop Popcorn Children” – Eldridge Holmes (one side of his single with Meters backing)
“It’s Your Thing” – Cold Grits (rare single side from this Atlantic Records studio band, comprised mainly of Baton Rouge players, working at Criteria Studios in Miami at the end of the 1960s)
“Tampin’” – The Rhine Oaks (a Toussaint instrumental project from a lone ATCO single)
“Gossip” – Cyril Neville (his classic performance backed by the Meters)
“Funky Thing, Part 1” – The Unemployed (Wardell Quezerque produced this N.O. group at Malaco)
“Fairchild” – Willie West (another rare classic written, arranged and produced by Toussaint)
“Cold Bear” – the Gaturs (Willie Tee and band show that the Meters weren’t the only funk game in town circa 1970. Funky Delicacies has re-issued the bulk of their stuff)
“Goin’ Down” – Allen Toussaint (from the Life, Love and Faith album, I assume)
“Mojo Hannah” – Tami Lynn (NO soul/jazz chanteuse sings - recorded at Criteria)
”Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky’ – Claudia Lennear (musical direction by Toussaint, who, of course, also wrote it – from her Phew LP, recorded in LA, CA)
“Chug Chug Chug-A-Lug (Push N’ Shove), Part II” – The Meters (their only group cut in the box – but Sundazed has released virtually everything they recorded)
“(Everybody Wanna Get Rich) Rite Away” – Dr. John (fonk with the Meters from Desitively Bonnaroo)
“Get Out My Life Woman” – Grassella Oliphant (instrumental rendering of Lee Dorsey’s Toussaint-penned hit by a group unknown to me)
Of course, they easily could have doubled the size of this list and had a full CD’s worth of Crescent City funk; but it’s a fair sampling of some great stuff that, mixed in with the other rarely heard tracks in the collection, should be very tempting to many.
Those of you who are seriously deep and relatively well-financed groove collectors may have already encountered much of this Atlantic group funk re-issue material on the Funk Drops CD series from a few years back that appeared in this country as imports and covered releases from a similar period. While I never got around to picking those up, it appears on cursory glance at the track listings I found that there are definitely numerous duplications between the two sets. So, if you got Funk Drops, that will complicate your decision about purchasing What It Is, to say the least.
While What It Is has one CD more of material than Funk Drops, I’d be interested to know which is actually the better total compilation, as not just size matters. Thorough, informative, artful documentation is often hard to come by on re-issue projects, especially domestic ones. Since I did not get access to any of the packaging material and accompanying CD notes for the box set, I have no way to judge how well it’s put together or how much information on the music is provided. This is definitely a pitfall for the hapless, low-budget blog reviewer and reader. I guess I’ll have to wait until I buy it to see if Rhino, which has done some excellent re-issues, especially the Handmade series, has come through again. Maybe then we’ll revisit this. Still, I am pleased to see such a large, diverse sampling of funk re-issued here in the states. If, like me, your ears are always ready for undiscovered grooves, the five hours of material on What It Is should provide lots of surprises and plenty of funky bangin' for the bucks.