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The Final Solution - Brotherman OST

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Artist: The Final Solution

Album: Brotherman OST

Label: The Numero Group

Review date: Aug. 12, 2008

The Numero Group usually specializes in compilations that flash a light on some forgotten or never-known bit of pop music history. This is only their fifth single-artist long player in a 25-album discography, but like most of those records it reanimates the long-dead dream of some little guys that believe they should, but never could.

John Banks, Allen Brown, and siblings Darrow and Ronnie Kennedy, all from Chicago’s West side, sang together under various names for over a decade with little success before scattering in the late ’70s. As the Kaldirons, they recorded one single for the Twinight label, which is how they first came to Numero’s attention. A change of management inspired a change of name; unaware of its ugly historical associations, they re-dubbed themselves the Final Solution in 1973 around the same time that they joined forces with guitarist-songwriter Carl Wolfolk, a former schoolmate who had penned the hit “Can I Change My Mind” for Tyrone Davis. Their soundtrack album for the film Brotherman, a blaxploitation flick about a pusher who becomes a preacher, was supposed to be their big break; Wolfolk and the group were so stoked to be a part of the project that he wrote the songs and the Final Solution started recording them before the movie was even written. Big mistake – the advertising execs who had pledged to underwrite the project drastically underestimated the amount of clout it would take to make a movie in Chicago. The movie never got made, and only a couple tracks were even finished. Efforts to shop the record by its lonesome went nowhere, and it spent three decades on closet shelves before the Numero crew learned about it and brought it to life.

Brotherman has been released into a very different environment than the one for which it was originally envisioned. It isn’t going to take anyone to stardom; at best, it’s a fetish object for ’70s nostalgists and rare groove enthusiasts. Numero know how to play to the fetish crowd by providing the best possible presentation. Since production never started, there was no movie to base the sleeve on, so the label commissioned a pretty swell record sleeve featuring blaxploitation genre signifiers (hot babes, flashy cars, urban locations and drug casualties). Inside, the producers’ notes tell the Final Solution’s story in as much detail as you’ll ever want.

They’ve also done their best to turn the music’s unfinished state into a virtue. Originally envisioned as a Shaft-style production (R.I.P., Isaac Hayes), most of the tracks never got their intended complement of horns and strings. Instead, there’s just Wolford’s scratch guitar tracks and Alfred Meade’s drums, and the former musician’s restless wacka-wacka fills generally need no help filling up space.

The four vocalists hold the center quite handily. Their harmonies are lush, practiced from years on the club circuit, but lacking the slickness that months in the studio might have provided. The title track is the only one that appears in both rough and finished form, first with vocals, the second time as an instrumental. Since this wasn’t really conceived to be rough music, one sometimes wishes for a bit of the epic sweep that French horn and violins add to “Theme From Brotherman,” but at the same time you there’s no unnecessary over-cooking or sloppy sauce.

Wolford’s songs are a mixed bag. They tend to embrace rather than transcend genre clichés, although that’s not always a bad thing. You can pretty much imagine what to expect from the cajoling “Girl In My Life,” but the singers bring so much enthusiasm to the harmonies and vocal flourishes that the song goes down as sweet and easy as a fresh-baked donut. “We Can Work It Out,” on the other hand, exemplifies how the album goes wrong; the song feels like it was written from a checklist. Sample this lyric: “Come on darling / get back into my life / we could be so warm and tender.” It’s idiomatically correct, but it lacks anything to make it stand out.

In that respect, this is a fairly typical Numero Group release. Rather than cherry-pick, they give you the whole picture. And the picture they provide here is of a group and an album that probably couldn’t have transcended their limits even if everything had gone right.

By Bill Meyer

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