While America at large went into “post-disco” mode at the dawning of the ’80s, devoted New York City club DJs and radio jocks kept the thumping soul of the genre alive by regularly spinning 12″ singles from indie labels across the five boroughs. Among the sources was Delano “Rock” McLaurin’s T.S.O.B. (The Sound of Brooklyn) Records. From 1980-82, the company turned out over a dozen releases. Blending fired-up funk and melodious R&B flavors with hard-edged dance floor grooves, the selections on Boogie Times Records’ new anthology, The Very Best of T.S.O.B. Records showcase both dexterous musicians and authentic vocalists whose work still sounds fresh three decades later.
The set opens with the atmospheric strains of Mel Sheppard’s “Can I Take You Home,” a potpourri of rock-steady, live-drum backbeats, glistening synth work, and homegrown soul vocals. The contagious affair easily counters disco naysayers’ claims with its bountiful live arrangement. In a slightly more downtempo stance, the wickedly catchy piano riffs and vocal hook of Cory’s “The Smirf” embodies the edgy essence of city streets. Indeed, the seemingly lightearted call to “Smirf in, smirf out … Smirfin’s what it’s all about” is impossible to resist when belted out so vibrantly by the mysterious female singer. Meanwhile, the approach is sultry and sassy on Wild Sugar’s “Messin’ Around,” which pairs a gospel-tinged vocal arrangement with wicked guitar pickin’ and stratospheric keyboard exercises.
The crowning moment of The Very Best of T.S.O.B. is the deeply bone-shaking “What’s in It for Me” by Zalmac featuring Zulema. From the intrinsically down-to-earth storyline, to Zulema’s unmistakeable phrasing style, right on down to the raw but sophisticated synth work, the duration of the track is an euphoric meeting of old-school throw-down funk and modern-age boogie business.
Unlike other vocalists signed to T.S.O.B., Zulema already had a solid track record of R&B chart appearances by the time she joined forces with producer Al MacDowell for the label. Like her labelmates, however, she seemed to disappear from sight once owner McLaurin closed up shop in 1982. Given that sad reality, his decision to license these masters for re-release is most welcome. Now, it would be doubly sweet if the vocalists, musicians, and producers behind these gems would bring their magic back to the scene—and help school some current fly-by-night artists in the process.