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Various Artists: Eccentric Soul: the Deep City Label

Various Artists: Eccentric Soul: the Deep City Label

Label:Numero Group
Release Date:2006

By Michael Crumsho | Posted 3/15/2006

Reissue labels are music history’s revisionists, rescuing dusty slabs of vinyl from between the cracks in the hopes that they may be reconsidered. In that sense, Soul Jazz and the Numero Group don’t deviate from the archetype at all. But, as opposed to some of their peers, these two imprints provide crucial context for the sounds they document, giving generous history lessons where others would simply stop with shoddy bootlegs.

Miami’s Deep City label was just one of a host of local soul imprints that popped up across America in the 1960s. Unlike Bandit and Capsoul, the two other labels profiled in Numero’s Eccentric Soul series, label founders Willie Clarke, Johnny Pearsall, and Arnold Albury scored at least a small measure of hometown success. They cranked out 45s for then-unknown singers, often paired with a house band that featured former members of the well-oiled and tightly drilled Florida A&M University’s Incomparable Marching 100 band. With a pre-scatological Clarence “Blowfly” Reid co-authoring 11 tracks, Deep City traces the evolution of the Miami sound from its foundations in tracks such as Paul Kelly’s “It’s My Baby,” a sweet spin on the Temptations’ “My Girl,” and a then-teenage Betty Wright’s soaring “Paralyzed.” More than just a historical document that showcases the origins of folks like Wright, Reid, and Clarke—eventually a Grammy-winning producer with the Alston imprint—Deep City unearths beautiful tracks from singers who never broke out. Helene Smith, whose supple croon appears on five tracks, has a voice that shouldn’t have stayed hidden in South Florida for all these years.

Named after a tape-echo machine, the Sound Dimension was a reshuffled version of Clement “Coxsone” Dodd’s in-house band the Soul Vendors. The band helped along the transition in Jamaica from rocksteady to reggae, trading upbeat R&B optimism for darker, slower shuffle beats and echoed guitar chinks. With Jackie Mittoo as its original leader, the group boasted a fairly fluid lineup that featured luminaries such as Cedric Brooks and one-time Wailers guitarist Eric Frater, and ultimately wound up cutting sides with vocalists like John Holt, the Heptones, and Cornell Campbell.

While Dodd’s Studio One imprint is storied enough thanks to Soul Jazz’s enthusiastic vault mining, the studio hands who cooked up a significant portion of the late-’60s backing tracks have remained largely unheralded. Jamaica Soul Shake: Vol. 1 goes a ways toward remedying that, a series of instrumentals that evidence a deft batch of players sunning in the type of reverb that would become a reggae trademark. Even without vocal accompaniment, the easy funk of tracks such as “Baby Face” and “Bitter Blood” still glows, and these tunes serve as a reminder that it was more than just iconic pipes and a visionary producer that created the fabled Studio One sound.

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