By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
Eccentric Soul: The Capsoul Label
You can't blame me if you're not familiar with the ill-fated soul group that went by the unwieldy moniker of Johnson, Hawkins, Tatum & Durr, or if you've never heard any of their early-'70s singles, cut for the microscopic Capsoul label, which was run out of a car trunk in Columbus, Ohio, by entrepreneur/DJ Bill Moss. Hell, I had never heard their haunting cut "You Can't Blame Me" either, until a few Chicago soul aficionados raced down to Columbus and convinced Moss to reissue some of those sides. The resulting compilation, Eccentric Soul, rescues the scant singles the label cut between 1970 and 1974--tracks that could easily have been lost in the dirt of history.
Modeled on Motown, which headed west at the start of the decade, miniscule labels sprung up all over the Midwest during the '70s, hoping to fill the void, hoping to replicate some of the success with their uneven finds and uncut gems. In an alternate world, perhaps the little imprint would have taken on the giant machinations that powered Motown and every Big Chill-caliber catalog remembrance that followed. Not that the Four Mints could ever have been the Four Tops, but Virgil Johnson, whose forceful falsetto adds a serrated edge to the vibraphone bump of his group, could've been something more than a forgotten footnote to a footnote in the Book of Soul. Instead, bank foreclosures, water-damaged tapes, and recycled back stock leave Eccentric Soul listeners to their imaginations, and the accompanying booklet suggests that there's neither trace nor publicity shot of the artists now, only the thrift-store records pictured within.
On the flip side, the U.K.'s Soul Jazz label surveys the last days of Chicago's once-mighty Chess label and its next-generation offshoots, Cadet and Argo. Built on the electric blues growled by Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter, and Muddy Waters, as well as rock's early chug with Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley, Chess hadn't had a hit since the '50s when it started to tweak its sound at the twilight of the '60s in order to lure the hippie record buyers. Both Wolf and Waters despised the professional "psychedelic" backing on their rerecorded country blues (although they stagger with a Frankensteinian funk now), while singing groups like Rotary Connection and Soul Stirrers were dosed with dizzying production courtesy of Charles Stepney and Richard Evans. None of this saved the label, which still crumbled by the start of the 1970s.
Curated with care, askew genres like electric-church, space-soul, dizzy-jazz, and sludge-stomp stack up subtly on Chicago Soul. Far from the Windy City, Etta James's tenure down in Muscle Shoals captures what soul is all about, and "Tell Mama" towers over all. Presented in such a context, the song even jibes with harpist Dorothy Ashby's otherworldly "Soul Vibrations," which sounds like something Lt. Uhuru might have righteously bumped on the USS Enterprise. As with Soul Jazz's previous party-starting Miami and New Orleans overviews, this sounds good on Earth, too.