Soul Connection – Rough & Ready

The first of two full-lengths from Toyin Agbetu and Earl Meyers. Toyin Agbetu was the owner of four independent dance labels, including Intrigue, the label who released all of Soul Connection’s output; and between his work with these labels and his work as a musician and producer across a slew of groups, he’s been a defining figure of UK street soul. Still, his Wikipedia page doesn’t even mention his musical body of work, as he has risen to global prominence as a Pan-African human rights activist, artist, author, filmmaker, and community educator.

Rough & Ready is an unusual instance of ballooning rare record prices on Discogs that feel somewhat justified. It’s consistent and excellent all the way through, with slinky R&B grooves, housey drum loops, and slick vocals courtesy of Thomas Esterine. Some have called this an ideal makeout soundtrack, but personally I think it’s night time driving music: discrete, minimal, tasteful, monotonous (in a good way), and although it’s technically dance music, it never picks up too much speed.

Update: Thank you PAM for sharing a higher quality rip!


52nd Street – Children Of The Night, 1985

As is often the case with collaborations, Manchester based jazz-funk and R&B group 52nd Street put out their strongest material at the very beginning of their career. In 1982, while being courted by both RCA and Warner, the manager-less group opted to release several singles through UK’s Factory Records. “Cool As Ice,” “Can’t Afford,” and “Look Into My Eyes” are to this day some of the heaviest grooves I’ve ever heard.  
52nd went on to record two full-length albums for Virgin Records including this one, 1985’s Children Of The Night produced by Philadelphia-based Nick Martinelli, who also worked with UK R&B group Loose Ends. The album still maintains the unapologetically dense 808 drum machine loops and poppin’ bass slaps of their earlier work, but is significantly smoother and more expensive sounding, and with more complex songs.
It would have been difficult to continue pumping out the amateurish rawness of their early work, having gone through several changes in the cast of characters and pressure from labels to work with an established producer. Nevertheless, the band came through with some magic on this album. Note: this download includes four extra tracks from the 2008 reissue, including the aforementioned “Look Into My Eyes,” and another mix of “Cool as Ice.”)

Womack & Womack – Love Wars, 1983

I know Love Wars isn’t news to many. Linda and Cecil Womack were soul royalty–Linda is Sam Cooke’s daughter and has been an established song writer since she was 11; Cecil was a member of The Valentinos, a protégé of Sam Cooke, and former husband to Motown legend Mary Wells. Linda and Cecil met as children and together their families constructed one of the most confusing family trees of all time, full of death, cheating, scandal, and intermarriage. They were married in the late late 70s after the dissolution of Cecil’s marriage to Mary Wells, probably because of her extramarital affair with his brother Bobby.
By the time they put out their debut record as Womack and Womack, Linda and Cecil were seasoned musicians, and bravely turned their own marriage and turbulent family histories into the subject matter of an album that looks unflinchingly at the more painful aspects of relationships. Fittingly, Love Wars is a family affair: Linda and Cecil co-wrote all the songs (with the exception of a cover of The Rolling Stones’s “Angie”), with additional co-writing cameos from both of Cecil’s parents and his brother, Curtis. As the title suggests, the music is full of paradoxes: sunny, funk-flecked songs that belie their subject matter and their shrewd lyrics, which, as critics have been quick to note, are most incisive when they’re dealing with pain and loss rather than with love and happiness. They approach their emotions with effortless, raw musicianship, and you can hear how much fun they had doing it–music-making was clearly family counseling for the Womack clan. Standouts include the foot-stomping, gospel-tinged opener, “Love Wars,” the sinuous, relentlessly grooving “Baby I’m Scared Of You,” and a hushed, heart-wrenching take on “Love T.K.O.,” a song they wrote for David Oliver that was made famous by Teddy PendergrassBy the time they arrive at rhe closer, “Good Times,” we can’t help but suspect that Linda is singing wistfully about good times that were probably not as good as she might have us believe, but that she’s still missing them just the same.