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V/A - Cult Cargo: Grand Bahama Goombay

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Artist: V/A

Album: Cult Cargo: Grand Bahama Goombay

Label: The Numero Group

Review date: May. 8, 2007

Fellow Dusted scribe Alexander Provan recently pointed out the problem with the sort of off-the-map rare groove collections that are The Numero Group’s specialty; for every lost masterpiece, you have to slog through a lot of stuff that’s rare or ignored because they just aren’t that good. The label’s Eccentric Soul series sometimes gains points for by including song-poem-like oddities that cast a spell of “what were they thinking?” wonderment and compensate for the profusion of weakly performed and inspiration-bereft Stax and Motown imitations. The Cult Cargo series pursues a different strategy; by mining hitherto-ignored foreign markets, they get first crack at the good stuff. This approach worked splendidly on last year’s marvelous Belize City Boil Up. Grand Bahama Goombay yields more modest pleasures, in part because it has more in common with the Eccentric Soul releases.

The Bahamas is a tiny country, reliant on foreign tourism to elevate its economy past subsistence; its total talent pool is therefore smaller, much like the closed worlds documented on the Eccentric Soul Bandit and Capsoul volumes. The Bahamian musical heritage includes Christian devotional music, sea chanteys, and imitations of various Caribbean styles; the main musical outlets for musical expression are the church, neighborhood festivals, and lounge bands. Joseph Spence, the islands’ most celebrated contributor to the larger world of music, got noticed because of anomalous individual qualities – the oddness of his singing and his amazing guitar skills – rather than any essentially Bahamian quality. Most of the musicians on this collection drawn from singles and LPs released between 1968 and 1976 seem not to have been drawing from contemporary Caribbean music or that of their departing English colonial masters (the Bahamas declared independence on July 10, 1973). Despite the motto of Frank Penn, whose GBI Recordings was the islands’ main label during the ’70s, to “Stay in the Bush,” the musical and pop cultural references on Grand Bahama Goombay sound like they were plucked from American radio broadcasts. “Gimme Some Skin,” Frank Peen ples over taugh chukka-chukka guitar licks; Willpower’s “People Won’t Change” sounds like Santana doing the Temptations; and there’s nary a whiff of a foreign accent about the Esquires LTD’s “Theme From Shaft.”

Even Jay Mitchell’s “Goombay Bump” (goombay being a local word denoting Bahamian-ness) sounds pretty tuned into the USA; the music is exuberantly and classically funky, with only a hint of island qualities in the percussion and horns. Mitchell, who bailed on a proffered Atlantic Records contract in order to be the big fish in a small pond back home, commands the object of his affection to bump and streak with him. “Funky Fever” is a shameless James Brown rip, but the ferocity of its extended instrumental break indicates that the imitation was enthusiastic, not slavish. “Tighter & Tighter” and “Mustang Sally” use Memphis soul as a framework for more extended jamming; sloppiness in the rhythm section belies the former’s title, but on the latter the band gets in some telling licks.

Cyril “Dry Bread” Ferguson contributes a couple of the collection’s most intriguing tracks. On “Words To My Song,” he wrings pathos from his analysis of his inability to write some new words. “Gonna Build a Nation” may sound like low-rent civil-rights message music, but by commenting on the task of nation-building it takes its place as one of the album’s most specifically Bahamian tunes. (By the way, I don’t mean low rent to sound dismissive; the gritty guitars, occasionally undisciplined drums, and booming room-sound reverb on the vocals are all amongst this record’s pleasures.)

You might think that Jamaican music would leave some imprint, but only the Mustangs’ two contributions acknowledge it. Both “Watcha Gonna Do ‘Bout It” and “The Time For Loving Is Now” are ingratiating romantic pleas, not exactly top drawer, but they wouldn’t embarrass themselves if you found them on some Heartbeat compilation. The three decades that separate their recording and this CD’s release obscure the fact that their rock-steady and mento-flavored stylings were pretty behind the times when they were recorded.

But it falls to a church lady to make the most explicitly Bahamian music on Grand Bahama Goombay. It’s also one of the collection’s best moments. Sylvia Hall’s “Don’t Touch That Thing” is based on an indigenous children’s rhyme that prescribes a just-say-no approach to birth control:

Don’t touch that thing, your momma’s gonna know.
Don’t touch that thing, your momma’s gonna know.
How’s your momma gonna know? You’re belly’s gonna show.

The track’s rough, raucous funk groove speaks the lingua franca that American pop music had spread around the world, but can you imagine hearing these words on ’70s AM radio?

By Bill Meyer

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