November 29, 2006

Another Kind of Hip Hop


"The Kangaroo", Charles Sheffield, Excello 2205, 1961

As you can probably tell, I love an odd, syncopated groove; and, this offering certainly delivers. Last month I posted another Charles Sheffield gem, “It’s Your Voodoo Working”, from the first of his of two Excello singles recorded by producer J. D. Miller [pictured] at his Crowley, Louisiana studio. As I said then, all four sides are excellent; but “The Kangaroo” from the second 45 may be the most exceptional of all due to the playing of drummer Clarence 'Jockey' Etienne.*

While it’s not all that complicated, the decidedly quirky drum pattern here is hard for me to explain, but definitely fun to hear and feel, with it’s off-the-beat snare hits and proto-funk push-push of the kick drum. An Afro-Cuban second line from the prairie of Southwest Louisiana, maybe? The Kangaroo dance may not have caught on with the hump-back demographic locally or nationwide, but the song sure makes me want to hunch over and do some kind of herky-jerky hop. As for the rest of the spare but effective instrumentation, tha's Katie Webster pounding the ivories; and, as with the previous Sheffield post, Lionel Prevost takes the raw sax solo. Dig Lazy Lester's scraper playing, too. *

With Sheffield’s relaxed delivery of his strange tale about the dancing Quasimoto topping it off, this little groover is casual, loose and uniquely right, making it one of my favorite cuts ever to have emerged from the Texas/Louisiana Gulf Coast rhythm and blues scene. “The Kangaroo” can be found on the essential Ace (UK) CD compilation, Louisiana Roots: The Jay Miller R&B Legacy. So, get hip to it and get to hoppin’.

*[update 12/5/06] Many thanks to HOTG reader and music scholar, bbb, for verifying the musicians on this track. He got his information directly from Lazy Lester!

November 24, 2006

James Booker On YouTube

Thanks to Larry-bob for alerting me/us that there are currently at least four videos on YouTube of Booker performing in Europe back in the late 1970s, solo and with a group. Classic stuff that is required viewing, y'all. There may be a test on this later, so study up.

And, as James suggests, watch out for the CIA!

November 22, 2006

Some Greasy Holiday Sides and A Dessert Topping

Well, as those of you in the States surely know, it’s coming up on the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. I’m going to take some time off and thought I’d leave your with a few things to get you through. The first two tracks from Jerkuleez and the Gamble Brothers Band are replays of posts I put up back around this time in 2004, when I didn’t have as many people stopping by. So I though I’d give ‘em another spin to celebrate my second full year here in Blogtown. The third treat is a bit of lagniappe from one of Toussaint’s projects. So, as many of you willfully ignore clogged arteries, weight gain, and tooth decay to dig in, have a great rest of the week.

"Gravy Boat" (Jerkuleez)
Jerkuleez, from Jerkuleez, broke dick records, 2002



First up to add some flava to your holiday fixin’s is this Meters-inspired piece by Jerkuleez, an infrequently assembled side-project band of musicians in Austin, TX: Malcolm ‘Papa Mail’ Welbourne, guitar; Bruce Hughes, bass; ‘Scrappy’ Jud Newcomb, guitar; Dave ‘Snizz’ Robinson, drums; and Corey Mauser, keyboards. In 2002, they put out the self-titled CD that “Gravy Boat” graces. Malcolm is the Louisiana connection here, having been raised up (as we say in the Deep South) in Shreveport, LA. He’s spent plenty of time hanging out in New Orleans over the years before and after relocating to Austin. He has one CD out as Papa Mali, the seriously funk infested and humidly atmospheric Thunder Chicken on Fog City Records from Y2K; and I just heard from him that his next CD, Do Your Thing, will be released in January on Fog City and has some very cool special guests.

“Gravy Boat” lays down a tasty sheen of grease with some loosey-goosey drumming that allows these cohorts to take a syncopated ride on the slip ‘n slide. I like the way the tune is structured, kind of a round that keeps turning back on itself, wrapping you up in the groove. Well done gravy, fellas!

When the now out-of-print Jerkuleez first came out, Papa Mali was kind enough to slip me a copy to play on my radio show in Memphis and later to give me the thumbs up to share some of it with you here. So, once again, I’m giving thanks for what I’ve got to give.


"Tater Tot"
The Gamble Brothers Band, unissued, 2002


What kept me interested in the contemporary Memphis music scene, before I headed for the Deep South in 2004, were the few bands that had some New Orleans feel in their repertoire and chops, such as FreeWorld and our featured group here, the Gamble Brothers Band. I got to know these guys though their sax player, Art, when the band was in its early stages of development; and, since the first time I heard them, I have been thoroughly impressed not only by their great musicianship and songwriting, but by their seemingly effortless blend of influences from Memphis and Muscle Shoals soul to Crescent City funk, with some rock, jazz and reggae/ska blended in for good measure. Only a great band can mix such diverse elements to create a sound that they alone own; and I think they do that. The additional twist is that this four-piece has no guitar other than bass. With three CDs out now, available through their label, Archer Records, they continues to evolve and throw down. Try to catch them live somewhere and/or try a CD. You can hear some streaming audio at their myspace site.

While the GBB certainly take inspiration from and do some great live covers of Meters’ tunes, they have their own take on funk, with gifted drummer Chad Gamble being a big part of that. ”Tater Tot” is a good early example of the band’s multi-instrumental poly-rhythmic syncopations. It was cut for their Back To The Bottom CD, but did not make it onto the final table of contents due to an excess of good material; but they played it live a lot back then, and still pull it out on occasion. At the time of this recording, the rest of the band was Al Gamble on keyboards, Art Edmaiston on sax, and Will Lowrimore on bass, who left that year, and has been ably replaced by Memphian Blake Rhea. Not everything they do is like “Tater Tot”, but there are plenty of outright funky grooves and flouishes in and among their hip, diverse material.

Again, I want to give thanks to Art and all of the GBB, along with Ward Archer of Archer Records, for letting me post this unissued track (again). Although they hail from the Mid-South, the GBB are worthy to hold forth in the Home of the Groove. And, as a matter of fact, they gig in New Orleans fairly often and have done stints opening for Galatic on the road. In that capacity, they will be here in Lafayette tonight. Cant wait. Let the feel good music flow, and pass da tots!



"Whipped Cream" (Naomi Neville)
The Stokes, Alon 9019, 1965 (audio sourced from digital)

"Whipped Cream” is one of the more well-known examples of Allen Toussaint’s ability to whip up pop confections. Empty calories though they may be, many are at least fun to listen to; and two in particular, this song and “Java” (which he wrote in the late 1950’s and was covered by New Orleans trumpeter Al Hirt in 1964), became big hits when recorded by other artists.

While Toussaint was in the Army stationed in Texas, having been drafted in 1963, he was still active musically. He continued to write and formed a mainly instrumental band, the Stokes, at the base. Back in New Orleans, Joe Banashak, owner of Minit, Instant, and a number of other labels, who had employed the talented keyboardist, writer, arranger, and producer since around 1960, had set up the Alon label almost exclusively for Toussaint’s projects. Since Hirt had just had a smash with “Java”, Banashak suggested that Toussaint work up more instrumentals for release. The temporary soldier had no problem doing that and soon was recording the tunes for release on Alon. “Whipped Cream” b/w “Piecrust”, both written under the pen-name, Naomi Neville (his mother's maiden name), was the first single from the Stokes, but it didn’t make much noise. Then a couple of months after it came out, it was covered by an ensemble of California studio musicians, Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass. The song went large on the charts in 1965 and was the title track of their LP, Whipped Cream & Other Delights, which sold in excess of six million copies. Alpert’s take on“Whipped Cream” was assured longevity when it was used as the theme song for the TV show, The Dating Game; and I’m sure Toussaint could have bought his Rolls Royce from the royalties from that song alone.

The Stokes, in their own name and as Al Fayard, their drummer, and the Young Ones, had seven singles released on Alon, none of which did much commercially. I think the band also backed Toussaint on his first vocal recording, “Go Back Home” b/w “Poor Boy, Got To Move” on Alon during the same period. Upon his return from the Army, Toussaint was disappointed with the label’s lack of success and left to partner with Marshall Sehorn, form Sansu Productions, and make even more musical history.

In the Stokes’ original recording, you hear some light syncopation and slight suggestions of marching band style drumming from Fayard, who was from the New Orleans area. It’s a well put together little concoction, minutely arranged, as usual, by Toussaint, but nowhere near funky. I’ve added it as just a light topper to our holiday week musical repast. So, you’ve got your grease and your sweet. Enjoy.

November 17, 2006

Timothea Goes Home

From our friend Nancy with the mighty KPFT in Houston, my wife and I learned yesterday of the passing of New Orleans blues chanteuse Timothea Beckerman after a long battle with Hepatitis C. Pre-Kartina, the diminutive singer organized a number of annual multi-artist music benefits in her hometown which raised funds to promote awareness of the disease; and I was fortunate to have attended several. I first became aware of Timothea through her appearance on Walter ‘Wolfman’ Washington’s Wolf Tracks CD back in 1986. She did a duo with him on a song they wrote, “It Was Fun While It Lasted”, one of five songs on the album they co-wrote. In funky tribute to her, I went to the racks and pulled out one of my favorite tracks from one of her own CDs to feature today.



"If You Think About It" (Timothea Berkerman)
Timothea, from Goin' Home To Mama, Blue Soul, 1995


Producing Goin’ Home to Mama herself on the label she started, Timothea enlisted the Wolfman to help with the arrangements and play guitar on all the tracks. “If You Think About It” quickly establishes an irresistible stutter-stepping groove courtesy of one of New Orleans’ best drummers, Wilbert ‘Junkyard Dog’ Arnold, who was with Washington’s band, the Roadmasters, at the time. The other players rounding out this track in style are Alonzo Johnson on bass, and either Bob Andrews or John Autin on the B-3 (I’d say it’s probably Andrews). With its spare instrumentation and way funky feel, the tune makes for an engaging musical ride, as Timothea sings her musings on the state of things. A gritty, scrappy singer without a lot of dynamics or range, she had the gift of picking or writing songs that didn’t force her out of her vocal comfort zone, so that her delivery felt like an easy, organic part of the song. That in itself is a true gift. We all have our limitations. It’s how you use what you’ve got that’s important.

As you can tell if you read that biographical link above, Timothea had a knack for working with some of New Orleans’ best musicians, from her first single cut as a teenager in the mid-1960s onward. I may not have warmed up to everything she did, but I like a lot of it and respect her as talented, classy, empowered artist. I am very sorry to know she’s gone and will miss her, as, I am sure, will her loved ones and homeys. Not that anybody has a say in these matters; but it’s particularly hard now for the city to lose another bright thread in its cultural fabric. So may God rest your soul, Timothea, and bless New Orleans some more, too, while He’s at it.

November 15, 2006

Come Back Two Times

I first heard “Come Back Jack” on Henry Butler’s 1990 CD, Orleans Inspiration; but I soon discovered a version from a decade earlier on a Ramsey Lewis LP. I recently found my CD burn of the song from that album (which is currently misplaced) and thought I’d bring it to you along with Butler’s take, which features Leo Nocentelli, the song's composer. I am pretty sure Leo was on the Lewis session, too. For those of you who don’t dig synths or programmed percussion – be warned, both songs have one or both going on.


"Come Back Jack" (Leo Nocentelli)
Rasmsey Lewis, from Routes, CBS, 1980

I’ll start with the earliest cut, which I think may also be the first recorded version of this song (It was not registered with the copyright office until 1990!). Ramsey Lewis’ Routes LP shows two producers, Larry Dunn and Allen Toussaint, and several recording venues, as I recall, including Sea-Saint Studios in New Orleans. Not having the album at hand, I am assuming that several of the Lewis sessions, including “Come Back Jack” were recorded at Toussant’s home base using some of his regular players, who are shown on the listings I found on the web: Leo Nocentelli, guitar; Herman Ernest, III, drums; Ken ‘Afro’ Williams, percussion; David Barard, bass, and Toussaint on keyboards, along with Lewis, of course. I find it odd that Nocentelli, who had considerable of music business experience by 1980, would offer up an un-copyrighted song for use; but, that’s showbiz; and use it they did, not that the album turned out to be very successful, or, overall, very memorable.

To my ear, the simple drum patterns on “Come Back Jack” sound programmed, the dead giveaway being the fake handclaps substituted for snare hits and the wimpy high-hat sound. So, ‘Herman The German’ (as Dr. John has called Ernest) is not in play on this cut. But, I think the cowbell, shaker, and barely discernable congas are Afro’s and go a long way to help funkfy things, along with Barard’s choice bass pops (augmented by a synth bass at times) and Nocentelli’s ax chops. Atop it all, Toussaint and Lewis bob and weave, laying down. syncopated keyboard counterpoints and unisons on the hooky melody line that is stuck in my brain lately
.

[Update 12-18-2006: I got the following comment from Danny Jones, who is a producer, engineer and drummer I knew in Memphis. During the late 1970s to early 1980s, Danny was a staff engineer at Sea-Saint Studios in New Orleans and worked closely with Toussaint, many of the great session musicians on the scene, and the performers, both local and national, who recorded there. Danny was on the board for the recording of the New Orleans tracks for Routes and sets me straight on several points:
Dan, Ramsey's Comeback Jack was not programmed drums. That was, indeed, Herman Ernest. Sorry you did't like my "wimpy high-hat sound". Also, the "fake handclaps" were played by Allen Toussaint. As I only had one track open and Allen was alone clapping, I tried to thicken it up with short delays which added to the, I guess, unnaturalness? Leo was the guitar player on all of the Toussaint productions on this album (all done at Sea-Saint). I remember Leo showing Ramsey the song during those sessions. And, yes, there were synths. All the tracking sessions where played with acoustic pianos. Ramsey played on a rental 7' Steinway and Allen on the studio 9' Baldwin. The synths were overdubbed later. I think Allen played all of those parts. These sessions were quite enjoyable as I remember because in addtition to the regular "family" of the New Orleans players, Ramsey was great to work with. Hope you find this of interest. Enjoyed our interview in Memphis some years ago. Danny Jones formerly of New Orleans and Memphis now residing in the great state of Texas. ]

Ooops! I've done offended a great engineer! I just love it when someone who was actually THERE gives us the lowdown. Thanks, Danny, for the clairifications and information, for that interview, which I still have on DAT (I hope to post some of it later, as it was extremely informative), and for introducing me to Allen Toussaint at that NARAS function back then. Please feel free to drop some more on us any time!


"Come Back Jack" (Leo Nocentelli)
Henry Butler, from Orleans Inspiration, Windham Hill, 1990

Henry Butler is an incredible keyboardist from the Crescent City with an amazing mastery of multiple styles: modern jazz, traditional jazz, barrelhouse blues, soul, funk, rock and pop (and probably some others I haven’t heard yet). If you are not familiar with any of his work, get busy. Captured live at Tipitina’s in 1989, Orleans Inspiration, marked the first of his many recorded excursions into the roots music of his hometown, after moving back there. Prior to that, he made some fine modern jazz recordings in the mid-1980’s. On this show, he is joined by Michael Goods, synthesizer, the great Chris Severin on bass, Herman Jackson, drums, and Leo Nocentelli, who simply wails on “Come Back Jack”. This strutting rocker is certainly a different take on the song compared to the earlier studio version. It’s a bit more upbeat and has a lot looser arrangement. Quite frankly, I find the synth playing a distraction on it (I think it’s Butler soloing) and would have much rather heard some horns in the mix – but, again, that’s the business we call show. To me, Nocentelli’s awesome riffing here transcends those petty concerns and makes the whole thing worth hearing.


I know of one more recorded version of this tune, on the Nocentelli Live In San Francisco CD on DJM from 1997. You’ll have to find that one yourself, as it clocks in at over six minutes. While that version is definitely the rawest funk of the lot, Leo’s band seem to play it just a tad too slow. Overall, I find Toussaint’s studio arrangement to have the best groove and tempo of the lot. Maybe that shouldn’t be much of a surprise around here.

November 10, 2006

One Of A Kind Au Natural



"Two Of A Kind" (J. Hill - D. Dixon)
Jessie Hill, from Naturally, Blue Thumb, 1972

Some ten years after his passing, Jessie Hill is still a beloved character in his hometown of New Orleans and to fans of the city’s unique pop music. Best known for his one hit novelty single, the characteristically quirky “Ooh Poo Pah Doo”, which cracked the national top 10 in 1960 and was adopted as a Mardi Gras favorite at home, Hill’s lack of singing skill did not stop him from performing and recording, but certainly limited his appeal to the general public. When the music scene in New Orleans shrank drastically in the mid-1960s, he headed for the West Coast and soon was having some success with songwriting, which was his true talent. Whether alone or in partnership, mainly with expatriate New Orleans friends in California such as Mac Rebennack, Alvin Robinson, and Dave Dixon, Jessie Hill amassed a catalog of well over a hundred tunes, recorded by such artists as Aretha Franklin, Delaney and Bonnie, Ike and Tina Turner, and Shirley Goodman. For more background, I refer you to a great piece on Jessie done by Red Kelly over at the B-Side last year.

Our feature today, “Two Of A Kind”, is a good example of his writing ability (all the LP’s songs but one were co-authored with Dave Dixon), vocal limitations, and, it seems, bad business dealings. The song appeared on Jessie’s final release, the 1972 Blue Thumb LP, Naturally, which became an instant obscurity upon its blast off to commercial oblivion. While there is some good playing on the record, much of it gets lost due to sloppy arrangements, muddy recording, and chaotic mixes (or the total lack of mixes). There seem to be many (uncredited) musicians plugging away on the sessions, probably all done in California; but the whole staggering shebang sounds like it was done stoned, quick and on the cheap to fulfill some contractual obligation or, perhaps, just to give the record company a tax write-off. Rebennack’s former shyster manager, Charles Greene, is shown as the album’s producer; but that’s giving him far too much credit, since with just some judicious tweaking and attention to detail, this project could easily have sounded 100% better. His role was more likely to insure that any money allocated to the album production wound up in his pockets.

If you can get past all the qualifiers, there are some enjoyable songs on Naturally, which is often a pricey find these days. I chose “Two Of A Kind” because to me it has the best groove: strong horns, buoyant bass, chugging guitars, and a nice push-pull syncopated pattern to the drums. It’s an upbeat soul/pop song with elements of funk lurking within that is well-structured and moves along nicely despite Jessie’s inability to nail down a melody*. I'd like to hear Taj Mahal cover it with the Phantom Blues Band's backing to kick the tune up to its full potnential. No charge for that suggestion, Taj.

Maybe the best thing about the whole LP, though, is its packaging. The cover photographs of Jessie are stagy, but hip; and the back section has a wheel inside it that you can turn to see different smaller photos appear through holes. Man, if they had spent as much effort and money on making the sound more coherent, this might have been a lot closer to a classic instead of an odd artifact that became the early coda to Jessie Hill’s recording career.

*By the way, take this as you will, according to Jeff Hannusch in I Hear You Kockin', Jessie claims credit for coaching Rebennack in how to sing back in the early '60s, saying the future Dr. John sounded like
Alfalfa prior to that. Funny, I always suspected Mac had copped the vocal stylings of Curly Moore of the Clowns. Discuss.

November 03, 2006

Lingering Anticipation



"Anticipation" (Wilson Turbinton)
Willie Tee, from Anticipation, United Artists, 1976

(tune in to HOTG Internet Radio)

Back near the beginning of HOTG, just prior to the November, 2004 election, I posted this track by Willie Tee, Wilson Turbinton,. from his 1976 Anticipation LP. So, because I’m off on a brief road trip, in the run-up to Election Day 2006, I feel like it’s time for a replay.

This title track is the second of a two-part suite on the album; and some of you may recall I also posted the first segment, “Liberty Bell”
last summer. As I noted in those other posts, Tee is backed on this project by his band, the Gaturs, called The Gator Rhythm Section here, with several hot Los Angeles sessions players of the day, guitarists Lee Ritenour and David T. Walker, percussionist Victor Feldman and others, joining in on select tracks. Those were overdubs done later in California. The basic tracks were cut at The Studio In the Country, which was at that time a high quality, very busy recording complex located in, of all places, Bogalusa, Louisiana.

A living relic of the Sixties, I guess I’m still a sucker for the all-for-one, brotherhood of man, love will save us all sentiments of this track, especially when emoted soulfully over a relaxed, funky rhythm section within an ambitious, sweeping production. If “Anticipation” does not ultimately rise to the heights of the classics of socio-political soul, it’s not for lack of trying. I find it to be an impressive and enjoyable contribution to the genre.

Harold Battiste’s horn and string arrangements are awesome here; and it’s interesting to find him working again with Willie Tee, as Battiste had given him his start as an artist at AFO in the early 1960s. In terms of the music emanating from New Orleans at this period, I don’t know of anything quite like this song and it’s partner in both sound and ambition. It truly shows what Mr. Turbinton was capable of as a writer, vocalist, player and co-producer (with Skip Drinkwater), who could give Allen Toussaint some high class competition. Interweaving funk, soul, disco, gospel and jazz elements on the album, Tee clearly sought the national stage for this work. But, the well-made album was clearly not promoted by the label, lost the chance to connect with the public, and remains generally unknown to this day.

When I found Anticipation years ago in a dusty bin (the $1.00 sticker is still attached), it was real news to me. I was only familiar with Willie Tee’s early soul material from the 1960s, his funk work with the Wild Magnolias, and his jazz playing in the 1980s. Listening to the LP gave me an entirely new perspective on his talents and what was happening in New Orleans music during that very active, creative decade. Even if it costs you more than a buck, I think the album is an important piece of the New Orleans musical puzzle worth seeking out. I’ve never regretted my investment.


November 02, 2006

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.