Chicago-born session guitarist Phil Upchurch had put out two albums on Cadet Records - “Upchurch” (1969) and “The Way I Feel” (1970) - when he then signed to Tommy LiPuma’s new label – Blue Thumb. “Darkness, Darkness” was his debut for that record label and is quite rightly considered by many to be a masterpiece of Jazz-Funk and Soul.
Produced by Phil Upchurch and Tommy LiPuma, it was originally issued as a 2LP set on Blue Thumb Records BTS 6005 in late 1971 in the USA and then subsequently on Island/Blue Thumb Records ILPS 9219 in early 1972 in the UK.
But what makes this 2008 reissue ‘sing’ is the new 24-bit remaster and the Super High Materials format on which it’s pressed (a SHM-CD in industry lingo). The sound quality on this disc is SUPERLATIVE – a truly GORGEOUS reproduction – and a very real advert for what this ‘best of the best’ format can do.
Geffen UICY-93418 comes in a 5” Mini-LP card sleeve - which reproduces the original artwork front and rear - and has an Obi and outer cellophane protective wrap. It breaks down as follows (67:06 minutes):
1. Darkness, Darkness [Youngbloods cover]
2. Fire & Rain [James Taylor cover]
3. What We Call The Blues [Phil Upchurch song]
4. Cold Sweat [James Brown cover]
5. Please Send Me Someone To Love [Percy Mayfield cover]
6. Inner City Blues [Marvin Gaye cover]
7. You’ve Got A Friend [James Taylor cover]
8. Love & Peace [Arthur Adams song]
9. Sweet Chariot [Traditional Song cover]
10. Sausalito Blues [Phil Upchurch song]
PHIL UPCHURCH – Lead Guitar
ARTHUR ADAMS – Rhythm Guitar
JOE SAMPLE of THE CRUSADERS – Keyboards
DONNY HATHAWAY – Keyboards on Tracks 3 and 10
BEN SIDRAN – Organ on Track 8
CHUCK RAINEY - Bass
HARVEY MASON – Drums On All [except DON SIMMONS on Track 4]
As you can see from the track list and musician credits above, it’s heavy on cover versions of the time (the title track itself is written by Jesse Colin Young of The Youngbloods) and the sessions featured the cream of musicians in the field. It was also engineered by Bruce Botnick of Elektra Records production fames (The Doors, MC5 and Love).
Musically - if you were to give “Darkness, Darkness” a comparison – it’s “Breezin’ “ by George Benson and “Free As The Wind” by The Crusaders from 1976 - only 5 years earlier. Each track is a guitar-driven jazzy instrumental with a very funky and soulful feel. The quality of songs is also uniformly excellent, even if “Fire & Rain” can sound at times a little like The Shadows doing a cheesy cover version. The two Upchurch originals are superb too, especially the slow BB King feel of “What We Call The Blues”. The playing standard is exceptional throughout – and the warmth of the remaster only accentuates that. It's a joy to listen to.
On the SHM-CD format, “Darkness, Darkness” is presently a Japan-only release – and is unfortunately already deleted, so it will therefore cost you to acquire it - but it’s so worth it if you can.
Any guitar player who was the principal sideman to such soul luminaries as Jerry Butler and Curtis Mayfield has got to be up there. Superb stuff – and big time recommended.