Saturday, 27 September 2008

"Right On Be Free" by THE VOICES OF EAST HARLEM [feat Donny Hathaway and Phil Upchurch] (October 2007 Rhino 'Expanded & Remastered' CD Reissue - A Review by Mark Barry...






"…Simple Song Of Freedom…"

**** THIS REVIEW IS FOR THE 2007 RHINO REISSUE CD 
WITH 11 BONUS TRACKS ***

I've seen the UK variant of this album in all honesty maybe twice in nearly 45 years of collecting vinyl - it's both genuinely hard-to-find and sought-after by Soul collectors. "Right On Be Free" is a sort of Gospel-Funk Righteous-Soul miss-mash.

And as original vinyl copies don't surface that much - this October 2007 UK released ‘Expanded & Remastered’ CD version of "Right On Be Free" by THE VOICES OF EAST HARLEM on Rhino 8122-76435-2 (Barcode 081227643522) with a tasty 11 Bonus Tracks is more than welcome and a good move from a smart reissue label. And this reissue includes the outside talents of PHIL UPCHURCH, DONNY HATHAWAY and WILLIE WEEKS in the reissue stew. Here's the gritty urban breakdown:

1. Right On Be Free
2. Simple Song Of Freedom
3. Proud Mary
4. Music In The Air
5. Oh Yeah
6. For What It's Worth
7. Let It Be Me
8. No No No
9. Gotta Be A Change
10. Shaker Life
Tracks 1 to 10 are the lone album "Right On Be Free" by THE VOICES OF EAST HARLEM - released October 1970 in the USA on Elektra Records EKS-74080 (with the Butterfly Label Design) and Elektra EKS 74080 in the UK with the Red Label Design (later pressings are Elektra 2469 007) — both original issues donning the luxury of a gatefold sleeve.

BONUS TRACKS:
11. Oxford Town (A Bob Dylan cover)
12. Sit Yourself Down (A Stephen Stills cover)
Tracks 11 and 12 are the non-album A&B sides of their 3rd US 7" single issued in mid 1971 on Elektra EKM 45753. The Dylan song first appeared of his 1963 masterpiece "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan" and was a powerful protest song then - here it's typically funked up - heavy on the choppy 60's organ with Cynthia Sessions giving impassioned lead vocals. “Oxford Town” was always a strong tune and this is a great version of it.  The Stephen Stills track is from his 1970 debut album "Stephen Stills" and is a very clever choice of song in that the original had a very soulful even churchy feel to it anyway. The TVOEH version keeps to that feel and for me it's definitely one of the highlights here. (The beautifully handled male lead vocal for "Sit Yourself Down" is unknown - so come out wherever you are and claim the glory).

13. Nation Time
14. I Wanna Be Free
15. Hey Brother
16. Love Is The Answer
17. Kind Woman
Tracks 13 to 17 are all from the aborted second album sessions recorded in New York between June and September of 1971 with all songs produced and overseen by soul maestro DONNY HATHAWAY. All are previously unreleased and make their CD debut here - and what a find they are. It's clear that a truly superb 2nd album was in the making and its criminal that it never made it off the blocks. "Nation Time” is a Gamble & Huff song penned in 1968 which was made a hit by THE EBONYS on their self-titled debut LP for Philadelphia International in 1973. It's an excellent funky tune - sort of Ike & Tina Turner guitar-driven righteous soul. "I Wanna Be Free" is a Richie Furay tune with all the right-on musical and lyrical credentials needed. "Hey Brother" contains a version of Hendrix's "Hey Joe" in there and is just superb. "Love Is The Answer" is possibly by Donny Hathaway but the writer is credited as ‘unknown’. “Kind Woman” is another Richie Furay song from his stay with Buffalo Springfield (on their second album "Last Time Around" from 1968) - TVOEH give it a gorgeous slow ballad working.

18. Angry (Tony Davillo cover)
19. (We Are) New York Lightning (Tony Davillo cover)
Tracks 18 and 19 are the non-album A&B sides of their 4th 7" single issued in late 1971 on Elektra EKM 45775. "Angry" features a duet vocal (male & female singers are unidentified) and is excellent - righteous and soulful in all the right ways. The B-side is a slower more soulful song - very nice - a superb extra to have. TONY DAVILLO wrote both the A&B – a session guitarist who also worked with The Edwin Hawkins Singers. 

20. Run Shaker Life (Live) (Richie Havens cover)
21. Soul To Soul (Live)
Tracks 20 and 21 are exclusive to the Various Artists album called "Soul To Soul" issued in the USA on Atlantic in September 1971 (SD 7207). It was recorded in Ghana on 6 March 1971 at a live concert in the capitol city Accra put together to celebrate the 14th anniversary of the African country's independence from British rule.  At times the group sound like 'live' Santana circa '69/'70 - absolutely on fire and kicking. (For those interested the DVD of the show was made available in 2004.)

The core 10-track album is top-heavy with other people's songs - "Simple Song Of Freedom" is a Bobby Darin cover, "Proud Mary" a Creedence Clearwater Revival song, "For What It's Worth" is the famous Buffalo Springfield track - while "Let It Be Me" is an Everly Brothers slow song all funked up. "Run Shaker Life" is a Richie Havens song that turned up on his 1969 2LP set "Richard P. Havens, 1989". Throw in two traditional songs in the shape of "No No No" and "Music In The Air" and that leaves only 3 original songs; "Right On Be Free" and "Gotta Be A Change" are penned by leading light in the Harlem area of New York, and founder of the group, singer CHUCK GRIFFIN. "Oh Yeah" is written by and features fantastic lead vocals from BERNICE COLE.

Two singles came off the album but did no business; they were "Right On Be Free” b/w “Gotta Be A Change" (Elektra 210013) and "Oh Yeah” b/w “No No No" (Elektra 210018)

Remastered by tape maestro BILL INGLOT - the sound quality on this great CD reissue is typically superb. The Remaster brings out the funky-as-fuck bass playing of Chuck Rainey - while Richard Tee's organ permeates every track with a church/choir feel. The liner notes suggest that the house band for these sessions is that of Hathaway's live ensemble, PHIL UPCHURCH on Funky Guitar, WILLIAM WEEKS on Bass and FRED WHITE on Drums - and they are superb. HATHAWAY fans will simply have to own these - I love that guy - what a loss he was to Soul Music.

But it's the assembled voices that dominate every song - and at times - just a little too much so. I would admit that these blasting righteous tunes may not be everybody's cup of Darjeeling - but for me they and the superb extras make it an essential purchase.

To sum up - this is an exceptional release in any man's language - a rare and sought-after album complete with the A&B's of two ridiculously rare 45s and a wad of great previously unreleased material. Is it any wonder fans love Rhino as a label. Way to go boys…

PS: This release is part of Rhino's "CLASSIC SOUL ALBUM - REMASTERED & EXPANDED" Series. Most titles are first time onto CD and are rare soul albums from the Warner/Atlantic/Cotillion/Elektra vaults. The other titles are:

1. Ace Spectrum - "Inner Spectrum" (see REVIEW)
2. Blue Magic - "Blue Magic" (see REVIEW)
3. Donny Hathaway - "Come Back Charleston Blue O.S.T." (see REVIEW)
4. Leroy Hutson - “Paradise" (see REVIEW)
5. Ronn Matlock - "Love City" (see REVIEW)
6. Gwen McCrae - "Gwen McCrae"
7. Gwen McCrae - "On My Way"
8. Prince Phillip Mitchell - "Top Of The Line” (see REVIEW)
9. Prince Philip Mitchell - "Make It Good” (see REVIEW)

PPS: 
PLEASE NOTE - the ROBF album has been reissued since 2007 (in Japan at a budget price) 'without' the bonus tracks - use the Barcode provided above to get the correct 2007 Rhino CD. Unfortunately it's been deleted years now so prices will fluctuate up and down…mostly up...

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