Ok, so I already can tell you what one of my favorite albums of 2021 is going to be: Brighter Days Ahead, a fabulous sampler of new music from a neat independent label I just learned about recently, Colemine Records. When I received their press release for this album I was intrigued, so much so that I asked if they could send me a sample of the vinyl release for review consideration. Happily they sent it along. More on that in a moment.
Brighter Days Ahead has it genesis in the Covid lockdown, as described on the cover by label owner Terry Cole: “We knew we wanted to continue to release new music, but proceeding with our heavy 2020 release schedule as planned seemed ill advised. So the idea was to release individual tracks from many of our artists on a weekly basis and as a musical family, we could all help shine light on each individual artist weekly. Strength in numbers! So throughout the summer and into the fall, that’s what we did. We released several dozen tracks and the weekly announcements certainly garnered a strong sense of community for our artists and fans alike”
This 22-track two LP set compiles the digital singles which the label released during the 2020 pandemic. One LP features Colemine artists and the other features artists on their sister label, Karma Chief.
From the moment I opened the package, the producers of Brighter Days Ahead won me over.
Working backwards from my normal approach, I’m going to start with the cover design. This album feels like it might fit in with the classic “Loss Leaders” samplers which Warner Brothers Records put out in the late 1960s and into the 1970s. It also echoes recent samplers Rhino Records put out such as the recent Nuggets series collection Come To The Sunshine (click here for my review).
Making this feel even more special and period accurate (if you will), they even included a bright pink promotional sticker modeled after a sticker Warner Brothers used in the ‘70s. Then I took out the record and as I pulled the black disc out of the audiophile grade inner-sleeve, I smiled the widest grin: their white promo label design mimics Atlantic Records promos of the late ‘60s and the early ‘70s!
So… here I am falling in love with Brighter Days Ahead and I haven’t even played it yet! It might be awful, I wonder… Still, I go to the website and find more about the label which has a rich roster of artists and a clear passion for the music.
Finally, I put on the album and was transported to an alternate universe of Lowrider vibes and Northern Soul styled pop soul and even some Rocksteady styled ska grooves, should-a-been-hits that might have existed in the 60s and 70s… but didn’t! These are current artists and current bands (there are even videos of them up on YouTube performing… I had to check!).
So, unlike the fantastic and influential albums by The Dukes of Stratosphear and The Rutles — imaginary bands and amazing music based on 60s psychedelia and Beatles influences, respectively, created by real musicians, but which for the most part has never really been played out live — all the artists on this two album set are current performers you might get to see in concert someday.
I make the comparisons to those two imaginary bands with a great deal of respect as I love those recordings, the former being a psychedelic alter ego for Britain’s XTC and the latter being the musical brainchild of the late Neil Innes (RIP) and a musical outgrowth of the Monty Python universe and Eric Idle’s Rutland Weekend Television comedy program.
There are really no bad songs on Brighter Days Ahead, the weakest tend to be gathered toward the end of Side Four (and even those are growing on me). And while these songs no doubt mine many touchstones of their influences, they are distinct tunes which hold up. All this reminds me of something but that is part of the fun about an album like this, playing “connect the dots” and “spot the influence” while also enjoying the new songs.
The first song that knocked me out was “Starting With You” by The Resonaires which feels like a lost A-side by The Chi-Lites and The Delfonics. Jr. Thomas & The Volcanos “Sunk In The Mist” could be a Rocksteady ska track from the mid ‘60s.
“Baby Girl” by Young Gun Silver Fox sounds like a lost Hall & Oates hit from the late 1970s. Kendra Morris’ “This Life” could have been a hit any time and has slinky-sultry groove and lush production that grows including a string section.
Ben Pirani’s “More Than A Memory” feels like some fabulous obscure Northern Soul side from 1969. “Nothing But Love” by The Harlem Gospel Travelers feels like a lost Brenda & The Tabulations track by way of Smokey Robinson & The Miracles (with a neatly subtle nod to the intro hook-riff from Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour”). Devon Lamar’s Organ Trio’s “Inner City Blues” feels like what might have happened had jazz organist Jimmy Smith sat in with James Brown’s band around 1968-69.
One of the interesting things about all these productions is the remarkable attention to period details. For the most part, these works sound like they could have been made anytime between 1967 and 1977.
And when you look at the Colemine Records website at all the singles they have issued — for these and many other artists — the records look like record from the past. It is a very cool bit of record collector geekery but one that adds up to a very special quality. Some of these records have been very limited editions and are now collector’s items in their own right, which pretty amazing when you stop to think about it.
Something special seems to be happening here, folks… This isn’t even the first compilation they’ve done. Soul Slabs Vol. 1 pulls together 22 tracks from their catalog of seven-inch 45 RPM singles. I hope to get my hands on that soon…
In the grand tradition of modern soul labels like Daptone Records, Colemine seems to have been curating a sound and feel for their label. I look forward to hearing more of albums and singles from these and other artists on the label.
Since the album isn’t out until mid February, here is a Spotify playlist from the label where you can sample the tracks.