Numero Group is an archival record label—the world’s best, in its own estimation—founded in 2003. Eccentric Soul: Omnibus Vol. 1 is a project the company has envisioned from its inception. The label’s founders explain that the early vision for this set was for a box of 10 “left-of-center,” “peculiar-soul” singles, characterized by “off-key vocalists,” “piecemeal brass lines,” and “mad-scientist” producers “working in jury-rigged, barely functional studio conditions." What has finally seen fruition as Omnibus Vol. 1 is a limited edition set of 45 7-inch soul singles from the 1970s, each with a replica label from its original release, packed in a portable case and accompanied by a 108-page, hardback book of liner notes and band photos. (Note: The physical box set was not available for this review, which refers to digital versions of the book and music.)
Over the past couple of decades, numerous releases—notably Collectables’ Battle of the Bands and Green Crystal Ties, Sundazed’s Garage Beat, and Arf! Arf! Records’ Iowa Great Lakes and New England Teen Scene series—have rescued obscure, regional rock and roll records from oblivion. Numero’s Eccentric Soul series has endeavored to do the same for ‘70s soul. Though the records in this box (and previous, more modest releases) may represent “average talents and mediocre means,” like the rock and roll collections, these soul records provide an important, hidden history of pop music. While old record charts may chronicle the commercially popular hits of the past, sets like Omnibus Vol. 1 reveal how those hits were channeled into the music played by local radio and in live venues across the United States.
Over the course of these 90 songs, you hear then-current soul and R&B influences as filtered through bands with names like Black Soul Express, Hifidelics, Mixed Breed, Prophets of Peace, Stone Creations, and Suspicious Can Openers. They released their singles on such independent labels as Fly-By-Night, Fink, Poo-Pan, Pink Knip, Lusty, and S.E.X., peddling them at performances at places like the Mark-V Dis-Co Club, Ethel’s Cocktail Lounge, and the Affro-Arts Theater. Despite frequent disclaimers about the predominantly amateur nature of these acts, and some borderline low-fi recordings, nothing here is less than listenable, and quite a few of the tracks sound ready for prime time, material and performances that could easily have come from an early-‘70s radio rotation.