Sunday , April 14 2024
Amazing collection of "lost" DIY soul.

Music Review: Various Artists – Personal Space: Electronic Soul 1974-1984

The first question I had when listening to Personal Space: Electronic Soul 1974 – 1984 was, where in the hell did Rob Sevier find this stuff? Sevier is the researcher behind the Personal Space: Electronic Soul 1974-1984 collection from Chocolate Industries. Every one of the 17 tracks on this compilation sound like voices from another world. And in a lot of ways, they are.

When affordable home recording equipment began to appear in the ’70s, a lot of people were inspired with the whole D.I.Y. ethic. For some strange reason, I had previously associated this phenomenon with mostly white New Wave acts such as The Flying Lizards or A Flock of Seagulls. I must say, I have never been happier to report just how wrong I was on that assumption.

“Do it yourself” was embraced by Black America just as strongly as it was by everyone else. And it had been going on long before the recordings of Grandmaster Flash or Afrika Bambaata became famous. It was about as underground as possible though. The songs that Dante Carfagna compiled for this album were originally released on tiny independent labels with names like New Detroit, C-Wind, and Preston, to name just a few. One of the most impressive aspects about this anthology is the range of music included. Just about every form is represented in some way it seems.

The lead track is the instrumental “Excerpts From Autumn” by Jeff Phelps, which is a perfect choice. It is sort of a “smooth” number, albeit one with plenty of “spacey” elements. Listening to this 1:40 excerpt just whets the appetite, and really makes me want to hear the whole tune. Maybe I’ll get lucky and find the album it comes from, Magnetic Eyes on e-Bay or somewhere. Magnetic Eyes is also where “Super Lady,” comes from. This track shows a very pronounced early New Wave influence. I have a feeling that Jeff Phelps had listened to a couple of Kraftwerk or Gary Numan records in his time.

Despite what one might expect from the title though, Personal Space is not just primitive synth music. The subtitle of Electronic Soul is well-chosen. Whether it is the low-down funk of “A Man” by Key & Cleary, or the Curtis Mayfield groove of “All About Money,” from Spontaneous Overthrow, or even the Isaac Hayes-style “rap” from USAries, this anthology is the real deal. Speaking of USAries, they are the only other artist (besides Jeff Phelps) who have more than one song on Personal Space. Their 45 rpm single “Are You Ready To Come? (With Me)” was a two-part affair, “Part One” on the A-side, and “Part Two” on the B-side. Both are included here. Interestingly enough, they are presented separately, with the first part comprising the seventh cut, while “Part Two” comes at track 15.

I used to think “out there” in funk meant the various works of George Clinton’s P-Funk brigade, such as Funkadelic, Parliament, Bootsy’s Rubber Band, and The Brides of Funkenstein. And as “far out” as a lot of that stuff was, there are some cuts on Personal Space that might even blow Dr. Funkenstein’s mind.

“Master Ship” by Starship Commander Woo Woo is one of the greatest jams ever. This one of the most spaced-out, stretched-out, funked-out, deep in the groove parties ever laid down on wax. My only regret is that it is only a 6:22 excerpt, from the Master Ship album – another one that I am going to have to seek out.

I mentioned “All About Money” from Spontaneous Overthrow earlier, but there is much more to it than just the Isaac Hayes “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” type of “rap” in it. The vibe of this one is so perfectly old-school it is unreal. In fact, my mind went to a weird place while listening to it.

There was an amazing scene in The Hughes Brothers classic Menace II Society (1993), involving one of the character’s father. You may remember it. In a flashback, the boy witness a card game that goes bad in the family living room. The time is sometime in the early ’70s, and “Just Be Thankful,” by William DeVaughn is playing. When one of the guys accuses the other of cheating, the guns come out. The scene served a couple of purposes. It showed that deadly violence can come up anywhere, even in a “friendly” game of cards, and that the kid was born into “the life.“ Even though “All About Money” does not really sound like “Just Be Thankful,” it would have fit that scene perfectly.

A few of the tracks are purely instrumental. “Disco From a Space Show,” by Guitar Red is one, and it sounds exactly like its hilarious title. What kills me is why this performer is calling himself Guitar Red? It sounds like some old blues guy or something. Believe me, “Disco From a Space Show“ is a hell of a long way from the blues. Add the album it comes from, Hard Times to my ever-growing want-list after hearing this one.

“My Bleeding Wound” is another monster. Head back to Funkadelic’s “Wars of Armageddon” (from Maggot Brain) to begin with. Then head into the place where Miles ran the voodoo down, and you will start to get an idea of the total headtrip vibe in the song. Add some heavily orgasmic feminine groans, and you have a track that is almost impossible to describe. The only “straight” element here is the unflappable bassline, which somehow keeps it all from flying apart.

The album ends as perfectly as it begins. The closer is “Time To Go Home,” by Otis G. Johnson. But this is not Marvin Gaye singing “Lets Get It On.” Otis is singing to God, and how it is time to go home to Him.

Believe it or not, these are just a few of the highlights of this brilliant set. There is much more, but hopefully I have gotten my basic point across. Personal Space: Electronic Soul 1974-1984 is one of the greatest collections of “lost” music I have ever heard.

About Greg Barbrick

Check Also

Brokeneck Girls: The Murder Ballad Musical

Theater Review (NYC Fringe): ‘Brokeneck Girls: The Murder Ballad Musical’

A tongue-in-cheek meta-fable with music and a serious message offers a fresh take on murder ballads and the battles of the sexes.