Thursday, April 17, 2008

Linda Clifford interview tonight on Strictly Confidential Radio

This'll be a quick one, but I just got this in my Inbox and thought I'd pass this on.. One of the great disco divas, Linda Clifford will be live tonight on Peter Godbold's internet show, Strictly Confidential Radio at 9pm EDT/6pm PDT. This will be a call in show, so they'll have their toll free number ready for those who want to speak with the lady herself. I had a fun chat on Strictly Confidential with Peter back in January, and I'll definitely be tuning in for this..

To listen, or join in their chat room, go to the Strictly Confidential website and follow the links on the left..

Update: For those who weren't able to tune in, the show is available as a podcast here. For the record, on the program Linda sounded like one of the nicest, most charming ladies one could hope to meet..




Róisín Murphy and some other newer shit that gets me all excited..

For some reason, in the last little while, I've felt the urge to immerse myself in some of the pop music that I've completely missed out on lately, so these things are most likely well covered elsewhere, but given the disco influence in some of these songs, I suppose it'll still fit in with the format of things on here.. Note: this was the post that I was actually intending to put up in place of the last one.

First off, I can't help but feel extremely excited about a lot of the great music that has come out recently. Despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that the industry seems to be recovering from the onslaught of file sharing, I don't think music has been this exciting in quite a while. Although I have to admit a certain fondness for the Cher-popularized Metro-produced/Thunderpuss remixed dance resurgence of the late 90's, 8-10 years ago, with the prevalence of boardroom pop music - the onslaught of boy-bands, Britney and assorted clones thereof, I definitely don't remember things being nearly as interesting... Personally speaking, this really doesn't have anything much to do with chart positions, commercial music TV/radio (which I had completely given up on at least 8-9 years ago) or big record labels, but with how much the internet has evolved in only the last little while (call it the effect of Web 2.0 maybe?) as a means of disseminating music and information and the levelling effect that it seems to have. Not so much with file sharing alone, but with blogs, message boards, and the evolution of other websites like Discogs and Myspace, YouTube etc.., it seems easier than ever to hear and find out about music and artists that I would have never gotten to hear on commercial radio or any other traditional outlet. The biggest manifestation of that, for me at least, has been in exploring disco music/artists. Even if the 'net weren't around, I would still most likely be looking for disco at used record shops, however I doubt that the exploration (and the appreciation) of it would be nearly as interesting and enjoyable.

I guess much of this comes down to the fact that, for the first time, on a more personal level, even without listening to commercial radio, subscribing to any popular magazines or watching cable TV, it feels like there's more music out there that I'm interested to hear than I can actually really listen to or at least really take in like I once did.. If someone would have told me ten/eleven years ago when I first logged on to the good old interweb that years later some of the latest musical acts would be signed on the strength of a social networking site like Myspace, I would have had a hard time imagining it. It would be interesting to see what people will say ten or twenty years from now at the music of today, the industry and the effect of technology and all of the changes taking place.. For me, at least, the web has definitely become the new radio..

Anyway, while these things have been covered many times earlier and elsewhere, I figure this would be a good post for this, lest anyone think this blog and my appreciation of disco is my way of completely rejecting anything new and contemporary, musically speaking.

I can't say that I'm familiar with a great deal of Moloko's records, nor of Róisín Murphy's first solo album, but lately, having spent the last few months luxuriating in her latest album "Overpowered" (2007, EMI), her boldest bid for pop stardom thus far, I don't think there's a pop singer out there today (sorry Kylie, sorry Madonna) who has the incredible sense of style - physically and musically, and who conveys as much personality as she does. Quite honestly, the last time an artist has captured me with their style and music in this way was some nine or ten years ago when I'd discovered Grace Jones (which is another post, for another time). Not surprisingly, Róisín's a fan, too.. Although chart-wise the results have been somewhat modest by pop standards, they've managed to crank out three singles (with a fourth on the way). At the very least, reading the reviews and reactions to her album, appearances and concerts, she certainly seems to have built up an even stronger image and following as the penultimate fashion-forward pop star of the day. As far as the disco connection goes, Róisín herself has said in the album's press release and in an interview with Anthem Magazine (among other places) that much of the album was based around disco influences, and nowhere is that more obvious than on one of my favourite tracks on the album, "Let Me Know," produced by Groove Armada's Andy Cato.

Definitely my favourite video of hers. The greasy spoon-turned-disco, the outfit, the whimsical dancing and oblivious patrons - love the colours and thematic contrast.. At first listen, the chord progressions stuck out like a sore thumb, not quite a sample, but obviously based on something familiar that I couldn't quite put my finger on. My first thought was of some early 80's Leroy Burgess boogie track (like Fonda Rae's "Over Like A Fat Rat", maybe), but it appears the closest similarity is to the chords of Tracy Weber's Larry Levan mixed disco hit, "Sure Shot" (which, it seems, goes uncredited on the album). Someone posted a side-by-side comparison on YouTube, which seems to have been taken down recently..

More Róisín fabulosity: "Overpowered" and her latest - "You Know Me Better"

For some reason, her more avant-garde solo debut, "Ruby Blue" (2005, Echo) was released in North America, but unfortunately this one hasn't so far. If EMI can give Kylie Minogue a US release, surely they can put something behind this..

I'm not a vegan PETA supporter or anything, but I think the video for Moby's latest single, "Disco Lies" is pretty hilarious and clever, albeit in a bloody and twisted sort of way, that is.. Throw in some disco references, and I'm completely hooked..

Two different videos of the latest single, "Black & Gold" from the Australian-born LA-based singer Sam Sparro, currently riding high (#2 as of this writing) on the UK Charts. Easy on the ears and the eyes - the next gay pop star, perhaps? Definitely looking forward to this album..

If you haven't caught this on Pop Justice or Joe.My.God or anywhere else, "Longing For Lullabies," the latest single from Andreas Kleerup (who did Robyn's UK #1 last year, "With Every Heartbeat") is yet another one that I've been obsessed with lately. I must have had it on repeat all night after seeing it on Joe.My.God. Featuring Neneh Cherry's underrated (at least on these shores) sister, Titiyo, whose last album "Come Along" (2002, Lava/Atlantic) had a low-key US release, which I was surprised to find at an HMV here several years back. I remember enjoying that album quite a bit at the time (note to self: must find my copy). Here is the video along with a recent unplugged live performance from Swedish TV. Leave it to the Swedes to create something this simple and beautiful...

Must also give a hat-tip to Terry Miller of T.M.L. for introducing me to the neo-disco greatness that is Escort as well as the sweet and wonderful Sally Shapiro. Her album, "Disco Romance" (2007, Paper Bag) is/was one of my winter soundtracks this year and definitely among my favourite releases of 2007..

For those who are interested, Terry recently put together an excellent two part disco mix for Click over there and take a listen!



Monday, April 14, 2008

An update..

This is a bit overdue, but I have to apologize to the readers/listeners out there for my latest absence in posting. Admittedly, I'm far from the most regular blog poster out there, but I've had a month to take a little break from the disco to catch up and take stock of some of the other things going on in my life which badly needed some attention. Before I turn into a drama queen here, I'll spare everyone the personal details. Just to explain things, back when I had started this blog, life was quite a bit different for me. I was going to school on somewhat of a full time basis, between jobs, living with the parents deep in the Calgary suburbs - there wasn't a lot around, except the abundance (at least compared to now) of spare time on my hands. All of those things had changed quite drastically towards the end of that year (2006), and I'm quite honestly surprised that I've kept this thing going for as long as I have. I'd still like to continue this blog, but for those who haven't gauged the pattern, the frequency of my postings tend to ebb and flow more than most. By that I mean, irregular and slow in such a way that seems incompatible with the very nature of blogging. It seems, despite what I've been constantly telling myself and hoping for, I just don't see my commitment to this blog changing anywhere back to what it once was. I'm starting to wonder whether I can or should keep doing this all by myself.

While there are people who keep their blogs and websites active with much more going on in their lives, with my own all-or-nothing, control-freakish nature, there are times when keeping this active is more of a challenge than it should be. Not trying to fish for compliments here, I've had many wonderful people give me some very kind words over the past two years, but being completely honest with myself, I've never really been a good or original writer, my technical proficiency in music is limited at best (the things that I once learned in Preliminary Rudiments have long since gone out the window) and as much as I love Disco music, it's getting harder to find original things to say and ways to say it. I've tried to do the best that I could with what I do have, but it's just getting harder for me to hold myself to certain standards.

So point being, even if I don't see myself doing this indefinitely, I'm not closing or quitting the blog just now, there are still things that I still wish to write about, but if anyone wishes to contribute to the blog, any reviews, essays, perspectives, etc.. feel free to drop me an email at the address on the left (see the suggestions link). Eventually, I'd like to somehow pass this blog project on to a group, or even just one other like-minded disco fan(s) who will keep things active on here, and hopefully compensate for my own inactivity.

- T.


Saturday, April 12, 2008

Disco Delivery #54:
Willie Hutch - Midnight Dancer (1979, Whitfield/Warner Bros.)

Willie Hutch - Disco Thang
Willie Hutch - Midnight Dancer
Willie Hutch - Kelly Green
Willie Hutch - Never Let You Be Without Love
Willie Hutch - Everyday Love
Willie Hutch - Deep In Your Love
Willie Hutch - Everybody Needs Money
Willie Hutch - Down Here On Disco Street

A gifted songwriter, guitar player and a great singer as well, the late Willie Hutch was, in my opinion, one of the greatest talents at post-Detroit Motown. Not counting all the albums he has released, songs he had written and produced; his classic scores for blaxploitation flicks like "The Mack" and "Foxy Brown" have, alone, ensured his legacy with old and new generations alike. Much like Norman Whitfield, albeit without the same sort of grandiose style, Willie Hutch's work had a gritty elegance that seemed to stand out in the Motown pack.. Combining blistering funk, with a wonderful melodic sensibility and a warm, passionate, soulful touch, his style was unmistakable.

I had first discovered Willie Hutch some seven years back, while skipping class one Friday afternoon. Heading straight for the HMV, I'd picked up a cheap VHS copy of "Foxy Brown," just for the hell of it.. Between Pam Grier, Willie's soundtrack, the pimps, prostitutes, drug pushers, gratuitous titillation and clumsy fight scenes, I don't think I could have asked for a better introduction to the wierd, wonderful world of Blaxploitation. Having loved not only the movie but Willie Hutch's awesome score, I had gone from there and picked up a copy of "The Very Best of Willie Hutch" (1998, Motown) shortly after. Between the Foxy Brown Theme and his brilliant covers of "Stormy Weather" and "The Way We Were," along with hard hitters like "In & Out," I'd become a fan from then on..

Although certainly not among the first names that comes to mind when one thinks of disco, one would be hard-pressed to argue with the influence of danceable funk like "Slick," "Brothers Gonna Work It Out," and "Get Ready For The Get Down" on the genre. Although like many of his contemporaries, he'd seem to have a harder time getting noticed during the disco era, he nonetheless continued to make some strong records during this time. After his last LP for Motown, "Havin' A House Party" (1977, Motown), he'd make the jump to super-producer and former Motown colleague, Norman Whitfield's own Warner-affiliated Whitfield label for a couple of albums. His first album for Whitfield "In Tune" (1978, Whitfield), was produced largely by both Whitfield and Hutch, apparently being the first of Hutch's LPs to credit an outside producer. Although he hadn't garnered any big hits on Whitfield, I'd consider the two albums for the label to be excellent records. Contrary to what I had expected, this particular album, "Midnight Dancer," his second and final for Whitfield was written and produced entirely by Hutch himself. I'm not sure if it's the only Whitfield LP release to not have Norman involved as producer in some capacity, but it has to be one of the few.

Despite some of the disco overtures in the artwork and songs, the material on this record actually seems closer to his righteously soulful, well established style than the previous album for Whitfield. For me though, the first two tracks are probably the most sonically stunning. "Disco Thang" with it's opening combination of strutting bass riding the top along with Wah-Wah Watson's lush guitar work and swelling strings (arranged by Gene Page) makes a perfect opener. Rooted in funk, driven by a heavy, greasy bassline and a stunning horn arrangement; it's probably the anthesis of the main disco trend of the time of higher energy and higher tempos, but whatever it's disco credentials, it's a nice six minute piece of luxurious dancable funk..

The title tune and second track, "Midnight Dancer," one of my favourites on the album, definitely takes the cake for sheer sonic awesomeness.. If it weren't for the credits, I would have sworn Norman Whitfield had a major hand in this. While Norman's name is largely absent from the official credits (aside from a general thank you for 'creative input'), Willie definitely seemed to take a few cues from Whitfield's style, especially with those killer, space-trippin' sci-fi synth stabs (used to great effect when paired with those swirling, swelling strings).

Although Hutch also seemed to try a little of Whitfield's 'mama said, papa said' storytelling style in the lyrics, for all of his talents, he just didn't seem to have quite the same knack for it (at least if this song is any indication). For example, around the four minute mark, ostensibly, we're led to believe this is a song about a young man who "learns all about groove that he can" and grows up to become the "Midnight Dancer," spreading his "boogie, boogie" all over the land. Then the break comes in, which is awesome by the way - synth-stabs front and centre; lyrically speaking however, it all falls apart when our Midnight Dancer decides to go into funk preacher mode:

"In the beginning, the Creator gave song and dance, he gave the heart, the horn and the drums.."

"And the thundering of the drums motivated the spirits of all men women and children"

So far, so good.

"And now with song, we bring you the drums of the midnight dancer, to release the energy of your soul."

Which evidently translates as..

"and I mean Dance! Dance! Dance!"

And if anyone didn't get that:

"and I mean.... SHAKE YOUR DONKEY!!!"

I've never heard anyone tell me or anyone else to shake their 'donkey' before, much less make it a clarion call. Anyway, I suppose that's one donkey that has long since rode off the lexicon..

If the title track was lyrically awkward, he more than redeems himself however with three of the tracks which lie at the heart of this album. "Kelly Green," "Never Let You Be Without Love" at the end of Side One and "Deep In Your Love" on Side Two are three songs which have some of the most genuine, heartfelt lyrics and performances on the album. While those averse to love ballads might remain unmoved, the lyrics of these songs (which thankfully avoid much of the maudlin cliche's of the genre) epitomize the sort of uncompromising poetic, sentimental beauty that I've always associated with some of the finest classic R&B balladry. With wonderful melodies, genuine and unpretentious lyrics sung soulfully and passionately, all the while complimented with Gene Page's arrangements and Wah-Wah Watson's unmistakably luxurious guitar work, these songs have to be among some of Willie Hutch's most underrated work.

Towards the end of the album, things go back into more uptempo material, first with "Everybody Needs Money," a little piece of funkdified social commentary. To quote one verse: "...some say that money's the root of all evil, but I.. disagree with that..," he later goes on to lament the price of gas, rising cost of living etc... My, how times have changed..

The album closer, "Down Here On Disco Street" quite appropriately makes the most bold overture to disco on the album. Opening with a deep, delicious bass, much like the title implies, as a funky disco ode to the escapism of the disco scene, it carries on with a nice groove that goes full circle with the album opener.

One of Willie Hutch's lesser known albums, "Midnight Dancer" probably doesn't top some of his Motown work, particularly excellent albums like "Mark Of The Beast" (1974, Motown) or any of his soundtracks for example, but it nevertheless remains a solid, enjoyable album in it's own right. While it's not typical of the straight-ahead, higher energy disco that was popular in 1979, nor of much of the disco that I've covered here in the past, it nonetheless stands up well, both as a solid, enjoyable album as well as an example of the more funk oriented disco that probably didn't get as much attention in the genre's waning years.

After his stint at Whitfield, Hutch would go on to write one of Gwen McCrae's most enduring dance hits, "Keep The Fire Burning." Around the same time in 1982, he would also have his biggest club hit with "In & Out", a single which gave him a second coming of sorts at Motown, where he would end producing for acts like The Four Tops, Junior Walker and Carrie McDowell (see "Uh Uh, No No Casual Sex"). Although he wasn't quite as prolific the second time around, he would contribute a couple of songs to "Berry Gordy's The Last Dragon" as well as release one last album for the label "Making A Game Out Of Love" (1985, Motown). Sadly, Hutch passed away at the age of 60 in September 2005, he had continued making and releasing new music right up until his later years, his last album being "Sexalicious" (GGIT) in 2002, released on his own independent label.. From The Jackson 5's "I'll Be There" and "Brothers Gonna Work It Out" to later hits like Gwen McCrae's "Keep The Fire Burning," and his own "In & Out" and "The Glow" he had undoubtedly left behind a stunning, enduring musical legacy.

In 1998, evidently to promote his then recently released best-of CD, The Dallas Observer did an excellent article on him, entitled "He'll Be There," which is thankfully still available online in it's entirety. Well worth reading for a look into the man's life and music. Shortly before his death, he also recorded an interview along with some live performances which have been put on to a DVD entitled "The Willie Hutch Story," released by the Expansion label in the UK, which I'm certainly curious to see ..



Disco Desecration

Somewhere out there Paul Jabara and Miss Izora are turning in their graves..

Update: More details on the McCain Girls' apparent hoax @ Joe.My.God


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