Kashmere Stage Band: Texas Thunder Soul 1968-1974

Kashmere Stage Band
Texas Thunder Soul 1968-1974
Stones Throw/Now Again

The music on this two-disc live/studio split comp might not seem unusual at first listen; much of the studio material falls in a gray area between marching band ensemble and blaxploitation score, well-performed but relatively familiar. What's remarkable is the fact that the musicians blasting out this J.B.'s-esque funk weren't old enough to purchase cigarettes. The prodigious resident band of Houston's Kashmere Senior High School (led by Conrad O. Johnson) could fool the most savvy of funk aficionados into thinking they'd been playing for 16 years instead of just being 16.

But the fact that they could pass for seasoned vets transcends the novelty of youth and holds them up as a legitimately tight group. Originals like "Headwiggle" and "Kash Register" bristle with all the intensity you'd expect from a bunch of kids gleefully realizing they've become skilled players. That skill lets them stretch on the covers: Their stab at Dennis Coffey's classic break fodder, "Scorpio," has a killer horn section and a nimble yet heavy bass solo that somehow tops the original. And in an era clogged with by-the-numbers covers of "Theme from Shaft," their rendition has more up-tempo intensity—Richard Roundtree isn't flipping off that cab driver, he's doing a back flip over the hood—even as it dials down the orchestration and replaces all the brass and strings with an oddly delicate (and perfect) flute. And that's just the studio stuff—the live disc proves they could amaze in one take. The seven-minute, 150-mph solo-showdown, "All Praises," may be the greatest surviving live performance by a bunch of high schoolers—hell, by a bunch of anybodies—to ever come out of the Texas funk scene.