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V/A - The Soul Side of the Street (Hot Phoenix Soul Sides From the Vaults of Hadley Murrell)

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Artist: V/A

Album: The Soul Side of the Street (Hot Phoenix Soul Sides From the Vaults of Hadley Murrell)

Label: Dionysus

Review date: May. 14, 2006

In the 1950s and ’60s – and, to a noticeably lesser degree, the ’70s – there was room in the American pop music business for visionary and creative entrepreneurs. In that era, enterprising and energetic radio jock/record producers could still make things happen, breaking talented, hard-working artists into regional music scenes that were healthy and strong.

Hadley Murrell was the promotional and record- producing energy behind a stable of soul bands in Phoenix, Arizona, in the years between the mid-’60s and early-’70s. The Soul Side Of The Street documents the wide-ranging and vital nature of the records he made.

If there’s an over-riding feature of Phoenix soul, it’s sonic and stylistic variety. On “Soul Train,” for example, The Soulsetters take the jump-band -cum James Brown hit “Night Train” and speed it up into a frat-house twister, complete with cheesy “ 96 Tears” Norteno combo organ and raucous group vocals. James Brown’s pre-funk pleading vocal style is the touchstone for Dumas King’s “Wish You’d Come Home.” But the lush and humid underlying groove is pure Texas Gulf Coast blues, complete with huge, menacing Lowell Fulson-style guitar riffs from none other than “Big Boy Pete” Cosey – who later went on to tear things up in Miles Davis’s Pangea- era band. Cosey also drives the Desert Souls’s “Monkey See,” a wonderful amalgam of soul groove and surf guitar.

Indeed, it’s exhilarating to hear how the Phoenix-scene bands – many of whom came from elsewhere and settled only briefly in the Southwest – mix up regional styles: some snappy Motown percussion here, some sweet Chicago harmonies there, perhaps a churning Willie Mitchell Memphis-style bass line or horn chart. The result is music that seems engineered to please, to fill up the dance floor by any means necessary. (One thing that does add some sense of distinct regional style is that many of these records have a big, reverb sound, unusual for soul and, especially funk – styles that tend to favor, respectively, warm close-up intimacy or sharp, bone-dry immediacy in their recording aesthetics.)

It would be hard to find a more funky dance floor masterpiece than the Soulsetters’s “Funky To the Bone,” with its distorted rock guitar lines straight out of an 8-track machine in a custom van. And it would be nearly impossible to find a more strange slow-dance than the spoken-word soul/doo-wop of “Cecil , the Unwanted French Fry,” the slightly disturbing story of a fry left to languish and die alone beneath the heat-lamp while his friends go on to their happy destiny of being eaten. Between these poles lies the varied territory of Hadley Murrell’s Phoenix soul sound.

By Kevin Macneil Brown

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