There is a street level phenomenon that seems to be happening in real time around us: young musicians across the nation are crafting a new era of 21st Century soul which pay homage to the past while looking ahead to the future. I first caught wind of this when Leon Bridges’ debut actually got a big push from its major label Sony Music (click here for my review of that album). A bit earlier (for me at least) Toro Y Moi hinted at it a bit too, mixing up vintage sounds in his grooves. And I’ve been tickled to see Bruno Mars & Anderson .Paak’s Silk Sonic project capturing peoples imaginations and topping the charts (I’m late to the party on .Paak, admittedly).
The point is: there is no doubt a classic soul renaissance going on for sure. Recently, I’ve been learning about bands across the country who are mining rich vintage soul and R ’n B sounds, issuing singles — and by that I mean 45 RPM vinyl records — some of which have become almost instant collector’s items.
My first real “ah ha” moment in that regard came earlier this year when the midwestern label Colemine Records put out one of my favorite albums of the year so far called Brighter Days Ahead (click here for my review). There I was more or less gobsmacked by the barrage of melodic, heartfelt music which mostly sounded like it was recorded between 1967 and 1973. Rich instrumental hip shaker grooves, pop soul, even some Gospel-tinged songs that will have you rejoicing in even if you are not particularly religious.
Now when I started digging into this fine label I had to reign in my inner impulsive record collector self to start instantly snapping up some of those original 45 RPM singles of my favorite songs from the compilation. Knowing that I have literally thousands of 45s which I don’t get to play enough as it is — I let my wiser reality-based, apartment-dwelling adult-self remind me I have no room to start adding in more singles. That is, until I start purging some of the old stuff I don’t necessarily need to physically own anymore (which I do plan to do at some point soon).
Thankfully, I noticed that Colemine Records has a series of compilation albums called Soul Slabs, pulling together many of these A-sides and perhaps some B-sides too of the multitude of bands they work with. On Record Store Day this year one of the more in-demand albums was indeed their collection Soul Slabs Vol. 3, issued on translucent red vinyl. I got the last copy Amoeba Music had! And I’m mostly not disappointed, in fact, I’m ultimately happy.
I did get a wee bit of a surprise when I put this grand new compilation of already-rare singles from the label on my turntable to discover that it included quite a number of duplicated tracks which appeared on the aforementioned Brighter Days Ahead. In one of my Record Store Day posts on social media I mentioned this and the label kindly explained in one threat that Brighter Days Ahead was a special one-off release celebrating a sense of hope they found amidst the Covid pandemic from their artists and the music that was planned for physical release in 2020 but never got beyond a digital distribution.
So, while Soul Slabs Vol. 3 does duplicate some tracks from that other compilation, it is its own thing and I take solace knowing that many of my favorite tracks are reaching a broader audience.
Some of my favorites of the new (to me) tracks include the quirky-funky instrumental by Black Market Brass called “Omega” which feels like a lost outtake from Captain Beefheart’s Shiny Beast Bat Chain Puller by way of some of those wonderful moody instrumental pieces Terry Kath-era Chicago peppered their early albums with. “Slipshot” by Jungle Fire is another groovy instrumental and Aaron Frazer’s “Over You” a standout driving soul driver (note to self: pick up a copy of his album).
Bubaza opens the album with a kickin’ Latin-tinged soul groover appropriately titled “Ice Breaker.” Ikebe Shakedown’s “Unqualified” is driving horn-driven soul rocker with a nifty reverbed surf-guitar twist.
But then there are those other tracks I first heard on the Brighter Days Ahead collection, some of which could be modern day classic lowrider jams (and might well be depending on where you live) such as The Resonaires’ “Standing With You” and one of my all time favorites “What’s His Name” by Thee Sinseers. The Harlem Gospel Traveler’s “Nothing But His Love” could have been a hit on AM radio back in the early ‘70s when spiritually-themed songs were flooding the airwaves with hopeful positivity in the face of Vietnam War horrors and post-Woodstock bleakness.
Soul Slabs Vol. 3 is still available at some stores and you can certainly get black vinyl copies from the label (click here) or on Amazon. And now more than ever I need to get Volumes 1 and 2 of this series! So much great music coming from this great indie label to watch.