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.


Blogger Michael said...

Hey! I bought this A M A Z I N G compilation while on vacation in Seattle. I can tell you first-hand, that as a serious soul/funk lover, this is one of the best things I have ever seen roll my way. And, if you are willing to shell out the cash(I got it on sale for $50.00!, it is MORE than worth it for the packaging. It's so excellent.. I'm already waiting for the next installment!

Michael(Katrina evacuee)
Austin, TX

11:51 PM, November 02, 2006  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

That's what I'm talkin' about. Thank you, Michael. Sounds like Rhino is still doing it the right way. Good news.

12:19 AM, November 03, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i got the set too, and think it is....ok bordering on very good. i wish the notes were a) more legible and b) more complex. some of the choices from the more recognizable artists are lamentable-labelle doing 'moonshadow' is the immediate reference here. i dont need to hear 'soul finger' one more time in my life. eddie hazel closing this set with 'california dreaming' was a mistake-there are much better examples of his style easily available to these guys, and choosing this track is a sellout (in the rhino way, mind you). i could quibble more with individual choices, but on balance, i really like the idea of mining the WEA vaults for stuff that would otherwise be totally forgotten, and just sticking this in and having the tracks play randomly is both a nice trip down foggymemorylane and a funkdelight. i doubt there is interest for a volume 2, but i'm in.

9:16 AM, November 04, 2006  
Blogger Nevilletracks Blog said...


As always thanks for the great review/preview. The streaming audio sounds awesome; I can only imagine how good the discs themselves sound. I've definitely gotta grab this set some day soon. I'm hoping the liner notes will clarify the Rhine Oaks / Meters connection once and for all.

FYI, Warner/Rhino is issuing a limited edition "companion" collection of (25) 7" singles as well. (I'm not clear whether or not this is available now.) For more details, check out

I haven't done an a/b comparison; but (at first glance) it looks like they took 25 of the tracks from the 4-cd set and pressed 'em up with their original flip-sides, so this set contains 25 songs that were not included in the CD version. (sigh) Hopefully, they'll eventually release those 25 flip-sides on another CD collection.


Jon Tyler

3:28 PM, November 08, 2006  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Wow! Thanks, Jon. What an amazing thing. Re-issuing singles! What will they think of next? Seriously, this Rhino offshoot box is a great, if expensive concept. Why let the overseas companies make all the money. Interestingly, Rhino has nothing about this on its webiste that I can find -
not even an advance notice. I called Dusty Grooves; and they are shipping this now. The person I talked to could not tell me much about its origins, though.

As you say, looks like what Rhino has pressed up are repros of the original 7" singles for 25 cuts on the box set, which then gives you 25 flip side cuts that aren't on CD. What a brilliant marketing ploy. The singles box costs almost double what the CD box goes for at list. The completists (we know who we are) will have to have both. Of course, it would be even more brilliant marketing if they actually were promoting it, rather than having us stumble across it by accident! But maybe that's part of the secret plan.

About the Rhine Oaks project you mentioned. That single never really impressed me. I've had a dub of it for about 15 years. A friend of mine at WEVL let me copy it to play on my show. Anyway, funk it is not - just one of Toussaint's strange little side projects that has much more in common with the sound he had with the Stokes in the mid '60s, even if there may be some Meters in the mix. The Stokes sound is particularly evident to me on the song, "Oleancler" - a label typo for "Oleander", which is the way the song is filed with BMI. Other than its rarity, I really don't think the 45 is much to shout about - but then, I can be a pretty picky geezer-geek. Guess that's why I never featured it on HOTG. It has been blogged before, though - so others may find it more delightful.

12:32 PM, November 09, 2006  

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