Barry Adamson: Soul Murder (1992)


Crime does not pay, but soundtracks might.

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: In 1989, Bad Seeds ex-bassist Barry Adamson released his first solo album Moss Side Story, the acclaimed noir soundtrack to a wholly imagined non-existent thriller. This success led to him scoring an actual movie (1991’s Delusion) and recording his follow-up, the darkly cool construct of Soul Murder.

Thematically concerned with the criminal justice system it begins with “Preface”, which blends air raid sirens with one convicts’ hostile rap sheet recitation from the excellent documentary Scared Straight:

“I’m in for murder, kidnapping, robbery, armed robbery, conspiracy, breakin’ a dude’s jaw and breakin’ a fuckin’ woman’s both her goddamn arms! Look (what) the fuck’s happened to me!”

The mood lightens considerably with the detective yarn “Split”. Adamson narrates the whimsical pastiche of swing jazz and beat poetry under the aliases of “Oscar de la Soundtrack, Mr. Moss Side Gory, (and) Harry Pendulum”. A martini-sharp walking bass line anchors a wonderfully rambling tale of an investigator’s passion for his work.

The glee ends abruptly with “A Gentle Man of Colour”. Over a soundscape of unsettling noises it chillingly recasts a mob lynching as the subject of an emotionless evening news report. Although the story is all too familiar the neutrality of the announcer becomes a new additional horror.

From this point on, Soul Murder makes a detour into other pseudo-scores. The icy keyboards of “Checkpoint Charlie” hint at a midnight chase through a Eurail station, while the throbbing and whistle-filled “Un Petit Miracle” is ripe for addition to early 80s French cartoons.

“007, A Fantasy Bond Theme” is a clever scenario that re-imagines James Bond as a Jamaican daydreamer, resulting in an inspired ska-based. period-sounding interpretation of the James Bond theme.

“The Adamson Family” is a swinging toe-tapper that begins, quite naturally, with the actual sound of toe taps. Strings swirls around a sweet marimba that brings to mind skating in a “black tie only” ice rink, if such an ice rink existed.

Not that an objects’ physical existence has been a sticking point for Barry Adamson.

THE FALLOUT: As you may have read in my Terence Trent D’Arby review, it’s quite common to suffer the sophomore slump if your first album was an out-of-the-box success. Soul Murder was received as a letdown after the brilliance of Moss Side Story, and remains one of Barry Adamson’s more obscure albums.

Soul Murder is available worldwide from Amazon and you can sample tracks here:

A dark yet comical enigma, the conceptual flights of Soul Murder are a refreshing change from the bold and logical.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: Chuck D realizes that dropping science can get you dropped.

Sly & The Family Stone: A Whole New Thing (1967)


Birth of a one rhythm nation, under a groove.

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: In 1967, the Summer of Love, San Francisco disk jockey Sylvester Stewart turned his utopian vision of equality into a pioneering hybrid of hippie rock and hard-charging soul, culminating in Sly & The Family Stone’s debut release A Whole New Thing.

The first prominent multi-ethnic and multi-gendered rock group, Sly & the Family Stone blurred racial and genre lines with a jubilant sound filled with sharp political insights, uplifting messages, and a kick-ass backbeat. It was so unified and original that many folks didn’t know how to respond, hence this is his only album from the ’60s without any hit songs.

Well, kinda. The funky psychedelia of “Trip To Your Heart” features the main sample from L.L. Cool J’s “Mama Say Knock You Out”. But “Trip” is fantastically more ornate, with acid-trip vocals, teeter-tottering horns, free-form intro and Larry Graham’s near-inhuman bass playing.

“Underdog” universally champions the struggle to thrive in the face of adversity (much like the cartoon superhero):

I know how it feels to get demoted
When it comes time you got promoted
But you might be movin’ up too fast
(Yeah, yeah)

If you ever loved somebody of a different set
I bet the set didn’t let you forget
That it just don’t go like that
(Yeah, yeah)

I know how it feels
For people to stop, turn around and stare
So go right, don’t rate me
I don’t mind

I’m the underdog

Blessed with phenomenally gifted singers and musicians, the band tears through the jazzy waterfall of notes in “Advice” and the chorale of nonsense syllables in “Run, Run, Run” with singular ease. Sly’s voice itself is an amazing instrument, often sexy and scary within the same sentence, declarative but personal.

Sly also flexes his considerable production muscles during the slowed-down ending of the brassy “I Cannot Make It”, and the echoed call-and-response of the proto-Portishead “That Kind of Person”.

Alas, being the musical midpoint between The Temptations and The Grateful Dead was not an immediate selling point.

THE FALLOUT: It was not a big seller but it was taken quite seriously by his musical peers, as they considered him to be one of the few geniuses in their midst. Sly & The Family Stone’s next release was 1968’s Dance to the Music, which started them on a six-year journey of having REALLY big hit songs.

A Whole New Thing is available from Amazon and you can sample tracks here:

Ignored mostly due to the greatness of the following albums, A Whole New Thing is a chunky but funky appetizer to the banquet of Sly Stone.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: Barry Adamson confronts the Negro inside him.

Jungle Brothers: J. Beez Wit The Remedy (1993)


More native, less tongue.

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: In 1993, New York’s Jungle Brothers had oodles of respect but had yet to create a breakthrough album. These founding members of the Native Tongues rap collective dropped the well-regarded Done By The Forces of Nature in 1989, the next year they were commercially upstaged by fellow Tongues A Tribe Called Quest’s career-defining .People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm. To ramp up their game they enlisted the expansive talents of producer Bill Laswell and some four years later they popped out the schizophrenic J. Beez Wit The Remedy.

Much like John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Double Fantasy, J.Beez sways back and forth between two poles, head-bobbin’ beat-heavy linguistic assaults and bizarre tone-free sound collage.

In the head-bobbin’ corner, The JB’s smoothly ride the beat of the crisp “40 Below Trooper” with scratched-in horn samples a-plenty. “Book of Rhyme Pages” begins with the active clacks of a typewriter (remember those?) and segues into a piston-tight flow:

Some see the end, but then some see nothing
The pages keep on turning and my DJ keeps on cutting.
My constant high on life combats stress and strife,
But there always comes a time when you must sacrifice
So my cells ripidy pop as the lovely lyrics drop
I’m never going back; I’m over stocked with stock
Cops and thiefs both practice same beliefs
So I run and make my own
So I don’t need grief

Over in the bizarre corner “Blahbludify” sounds like five different songs played simultaneously, all on defective CD players. Drum machines suffer from tremors, the codeine-slow vocals slur underneath shards of tinkly piano, and many sounds end without starting.

In “Spittin Wicked Randomness” their zooted-up raps glide over glass breaking and electrical hums, with beats that simulate a free-falling industrial elevator changing floors.

The deranged carnival organ and background shouting of “For The Headz At Company Z” is the ideal soundtrack for that sketchy, psychotic ice cream truck driver that makes all the local kids nervous.

By the time you get to the random snippet tapestry of “Man Made Material”, it’s clear that the Jungle Brothers intended to hijack rap and drag it into a new progressive new world.

THE FALLOUT: Their original album, titled Crazy Wisdom Masters, was rejected by their label repeatedly for over two years. After excising several songs, several mixes, the title and the producer, the now neutered album — retitled J. Beez Wit The Remedy — was still nutty enough to catch fans off-guard and J. Beez never caught on with the public. Once again, The Jungle Brothers didn’t release their next album for another four years.

It’s currently out of print but Amazon carries used copies and you can listen to tracks here from both J. Beez Wit The Remedy and Crazy Wisdom Masters:

So fresh it sounds like it was released two hours ago, J. Beez Wit The Remedy is a lucrative mind puzzle for the sonically enhanced.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: Sly Stone’s first attempt to take you higher.

Miles Davis: Dark Magus (1977)


Kind of Black.

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: Considering his deification nowadays it’s hard to believe that Miles Davis was once considered washed up. In 1974 he was several years into his “electric phase”, a modern sound that got him booked into larger rock halls but did not reconnect him with the black audience. To fix that problem he added a major dose of funk to his songs, culminating in the recording of Dark Magus.

Miles stopped writing tunes at this time, preferring to bandlead through osmosis and letting the songs flow through the process. He wrapped his new sound around distinct African rhythms, a saxophone player and three, count ‘em, THREE guitarists with a fistful of fuzz pedals. The result was unlike anything else in the Davis canon.

Mean-spirited, brutal, demonic, it’s a harsh trip into psyche of a man at the end of his rope. Distorted guitars rage into the atmosphere, adding a raw heavy metal vibe. The songs don’t really start and stop as much as they transform into different amalgamations of riffs and beats. “Moja” features an oppressive dissonance anchored by a steady cowbell, but that cowbell helps lead the song through its twenty-four minutes of tonal displacement.

Mysterious and muscular, even his trumpet tone had changed from his early ultra-cool mode to an insistent mosquito honk, rattling off brittle bursts in “Tatu”.

Dark Magus was recorded live at Carnegie Hall, a stately room that usually features classical performers and public speakers. Why this was the place to unleash the shrill atonal keyboard mashing of “Wili” is anybody’s guess. Then again, Miles was on heavy diet of Percodan and cocaine at the time, so decision-making wasn’t his strong suit.

THE FALLOUT: Critics hated it. Fans hated it. His own label hated it. In his own autobiography Miles fails to mention it. Dark Magus was so heavy on his soul that he only recorded two more albums before retiring from performing altogether.

Out of print for over twenty years (except in Japan) it’s now available from Amazon and you can listen to tracks here:

From a modern standpoint Dark Magus is quite tame, as music has actually gotten harsher, faster and more acrid since its debut. If you’ve ever wondered what Metallica would sound like as an improv group, this is your album.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: The Jungle Brothers get all Sybil on us.