Earlier this year, I was flipping through the bins at Groove Merchant, one of San Francisco’s finest used record stores, when I heard an LP playing and knew I absolutely had to have it. It sounded a little like Dam-Funk but definitely not new, or maybe like Controversy-era Prince with more of a homemade feel. I went up to the clerk and learned that the record playing was Pains Of Love, a private-press funk album from 1986 by a Bay Area group called Twilight. "It goes for like $250 on eBay," the clerk told me, "but I can give you this copy for $100." Tempted as I was, I ultimately opted not to drop that much on an album I’d never heard of before that afternoon. To my delight a friend of mine pointed me to a Twilight listing on the Ubiquity Records website’s "Coming Soon" page just a few months later. The Luv N’ Haight imprint has released both of Twilight’s incredible albums on CD and vinyl, and if you’re into any kind of funk, soul or disco music and haven’t heard these albums yet, you are in for a serious treat.
Twilight started out as a one-man-band project by a fellow named Lawrence Ross. The first album, Still Loving You, features Ross singing and playing just about every instrument, from drums to keys, guitar, bass and horns. Amazingly, the whole record was made in the space of one week in 1981, with Ross heading straight to the studio at the end of his night shift at a General Mills cereal factory and laying down entire multi-tracked songs in as little as an hour. In addition to being an unbelievably gifted instrumentalist and studio genius, Ross was clearly a connoisseur of soul, funk and disco music. The album shifts effortlessly between different styles, opening with the upbeat and danceable horns and handclaps of "Play My Game," eventually moving on to the breezy "Scorpittiarus," which sounds like some Italian film composer’s interpretation of bossa nova. "We’ll Be Special" has amazing Curtis Mayfield-esque harmonies, and "Give Love A Try" and a number of other tracks are reminiscent of Roy Ayers.
Fantastic as the first album is, Pains Of Love is on an entirely different level. It started out as a series of demos Ross recorded with a full band while under contract to write songs for a developing artist on Atlantic Records. When the Atlantic deal didn’t work out, Ross took the finished tracks back to his home studio and re-recorded just about every part with his new Prophet 5 keyboard. The songs themselves aren’t hugely different from those on the first record — if anything there are more duds on this one — but the effect of the all-analog-keyboard production makes the second Twilight album sound completely killer and way ahead of its time.
The Dam-Funk comparison is inevitable, and the keyboard stabs throughout the album are totally Prince-like, especially on the uptempo "Dance With Me," "You’re In Love," and "Give All My Love." As far as lost soul classics go, I’d put both Twilight albums up there with Shuggie Otis’s Inspiration Information. These records have been the soundtrack to my summer and are my favorite reissues of 2010 thus far.