Two years ago at a flea market I found a curious record that looked like one of many records riding the coat-tails of so-called “Blaxploitation” films and mining the bland-but-lucrative easy listening music market (Percy Faith, Arthur Fiedler’s Boston Pops, Henry Mancini, The Living Strings, etc.). The Black Motion Picture Experience was credited to a group I’d never heard of called The Cecil Holmes Soulful Sounds. It has turned out to be the most interesting of the genre which I’ve found so far, in part because of the back story I’ve just recently learned about.
I’ve recently begun collecting — and reviewing — Quadraphonic SACDs being reissued by Dutton Vocalion out of England. I ordered several initially from them directly (but I see you can order many of these from Amazon, so poke around if you are looking for them — click on the title anywhere in this article and you’ll jump there). Anyhow, I was pleasantly surprised to find The Black Motion Picture Experience by The Cecil Holmes Soulful Sounds as a featured Quad SACD release!
Apparently Cecil’s albums had been issued on Quadrophonic 8-track Cartridges and Reel To Reel tapes back in the day. Who knew?
I ordered it right away and in general I’m not disappointed at all as it’s really quite fun hearing this music getting very deluxe treatment for which it clearly was built. Cecil Holmes’ The Black Motion Picture Experience is produced with some heavies of the studio world (including an ascending Randy Brecker and Motown “Funk Brother” Bob Babbitt) so it grooves more than many standard faire easy listening records of this type.
Cecil’s albums have been sampled by many modern artists including Mos Def, Brand Nubian, Ice Cube and even Rakim (as in Eric B. and…). Click here to jump to a recent search on WhoSampled, a terrific, fascinating website which helps people backwards engineer the DNA of current recordings to find the music’s roots.
I think it is important to point out that Cecil Holmes was a very successful African-American record industry executive at the time — I knew there had to be an interesting backstory behind this curious album! From the liner notes and on the Dutton Vocalion website we learn:
“This reissue comprises two albums fronted by music industry mogul Cecil Holmes. After a stint at the Casablanca label, where he was National Vice President and Manager of R&B Operations, he joined CBS Records in the early ’80s. As the label’s Vice President of Black Music A&R, he would spend the next ten years shaping the careers of Michael Jackson and Luther Vandross, overseeing Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing comeback and unwittingly ushering in the second coming of the boy band era when he gave New Kids On The Block their first recording contract in 1986. But before all of that, he’d been with the New York-based Buddah Records, where his acumen as an A&R man had earned him multiple industry awards and numerous gold records; he’d also been instrumental in signing Gladys Knight & The Pips and had shepherded the careers of leading artists including The Isley Brothers, Curtis Mayfield and The Impressions.”
So, Cecil had the background which led to the root idea for this album, aiming to beat the easy listening soft sounds producers to the punch with his own album of Soul and R ‘n B hits of the day. The Black Motion Picture Experience was apparently quite successful. There was an established market for this type of album, but Cecil brought his own vision to the project. That said, I own collections such as Joe Renzetti’s and Wes Farrell’s The Soultown Symphony (Sounds of Detroit) and numerous albums by The Soulful Strings (with the great Charles Stepney) which put out numerous albums on Cadet Records between 1966 and 1971. Soul Strings and a Funky Horn (1968) is another I found recently on the Solid State Records label. And then there are numerous soul strings knockoffs on budget labels.
That said, Holmes may well have been the first African American producer of a session like this. Accordingly, this album has the right feel to make it work and hold up as a good listening experience today. Holmes brought in Tony Camillo — who had driven hit sessions for no less than Gladys Knight and the Pips’ Grammy winning “Midnight Train to Georgia” — to shape these sessions.
So how does The Black Motion Picture Experience SACD sound? I think it is wonderful! The Stereo layer sounds very much like the LP mix, appropriately warm but plenty clear.
The Quad mix is fun! For example, opening track “Across 110th Avenue” features bass and horns in the rear channels while guitars and drums somehow keep the rhythm clicking up front.
The mix design switches up a bit for “Slaughter,” putting some percussion and effects in the back. Holmes’ version of the early Michael Jackson hit “Ben” is one of my favorites here with strings in the back and lead-line flutes up front. The cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Trouble Man” is also super sexy, putting the saxophone behind you and the core rhythm section up front.
I did not spend much time comparing/contrastig the second album on the disc — Cecil’s follow on release, Music For Soulful Lovers — as my copy of that LP is horribly off center. So the SACD is a huge improvement for me even just listening to the Stereo mix and the Quad mix has a similar vibe to the earlier album. However, be forewarned that this other music is even more easy listening-leaning — it is kind of like if Barry White consciously made elevator music for a medical building. But, hey, that is ok. As you can see from the cover, this was intended as background music!
Here’s something extra crazy: you can even find The Cecil Holmes Soulful Sounds’ The Black Motion Picture Experience on Qobuz (click here) in 96 kHz, 24-bit Hi Res and on Tidal in CD quality (click here)!
But if you want to hear the Quadrophonic experience — if you have a home theater system set up that can play multi-channel surround sound from SACDs — you should pick up this Dutton Vocalion edition.