wed 24/07/2024

Attention for the neglected soul sound of Little Rock, Arkansas | reviews, news & interviews

Attention for the neglected soul sound of Little Rock, Arkansas

Attention for the neglected soul sound of Little Rock, Arkansas

Two new compilations from the True Soul label turn up some musical gems

The True Soul label: from rough-edged funk to honeyed soul

Little Rock, the state capital of Arkansas, usually comes to mind in association with hometown boy Bill Clinton. Soul and funk fans, however, aren’t fussed with the sax-playing former governor and president and fixate on the city’s True Soul label, the home of a raft of rare and sought-after sides. Two volumes compiling the imprint have just been issued and include previously unissued tracks.

The harmony-driven soul, Southern grooves and tight funk make a case for True Soul being an essential component of soul USA.

Musically, Bill C’s sax was in keeping with Little Rock’s limited musical heritage. Jazz was the city’s main deal, with the much more challenging saxist Pharaoh Sanders being from there. Singer Richard B Boone, pianist Art Porter Sr and saxist Art Porter Jr are also from Little Rock. To the east, in Tennessee, Memphis and Nashville were more cooking musically.

Calling a label True Soul was presumptuous. The imprint's only hit was Thomas East’s regional smash “Funky Music”, which was licensed nationally to MGM. The man behind True Soul was Lee Anthony. Although working as a high-school art teacher, he opened the Soul Brothers record shop in August 1966 and local musicians were drawn to it. The label debuted in 1968 and a studio soon opened. As far as the world beyond Arkansas is concerned, True Soul’s most notable act were funk outfit The Conspiracy, whose guitarist Jimi Macon went on to The Gap Band.

These two comps are a blast. The rough-edged “Funky Football” by York Wilborn's Psychedelic Six is repetitive and hits hard, but is sinuous too. No polish at all. The semi-boogaloo “Psychedelic Hot Pants” would make the anyone’s feet move. None of the cuts have fancy arrangements, York Wilborn was leading a bargain-basement Meters – his Psychedelic Six even cover The Meters’ "Thank You". This is local stuff. So local that Anthony even filmed a pilot for a True Soul television revue, which is seen on the DVD included in each volume. With zero production values, it’s a compelling window on a non-corporate world where music alone mattered. Despite being due west of Memphis and only about two hours away, True Soul wasn’t going to give the more honed Stax any sleepless nights.

Other highlights include the moody, honeyed “Slipping Around” by Thomas East, a laid-back cover of “Come Together” by Albert Smith and another Thomas East cut, the Sly Stone-ish “Just a Trip”. “Down Home Funk” by Larry Davis employs what sounds like a mellotron, but is more probably a chamberlain, the cheaper model of the tape-playing keyboard instrument.

These are essential releases, but a gentle buyer-beware message: despite featuring some different pictures, the booklet in each handsome hardback package is the same, a few performances are duplicated in each of the DVDs and the label copy doesn’t have the original dates of release (you have to search through the booklet for the release dates that are randomly noted). Still, these have to be heard.

Visit Kieron Tyler’s blog

Listen to "Psychedelic Hot Pants" by York Wilburn and the Psychedelic Six

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