Sunday, 8 August 2010

“Rotary Connection” by ROTARY CONNECTION (November 1996 MCA/Chess CD Reissue Of Their 1968 Debut Album - Michael Omann Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"…Turn Me On…I Want To Know What It's All About…"

No less than six vocalists made up the American vocal group ROTARY CONNECTION - Bobby Simms, Sidney Barnes, Judy Hauff, Mitch Aliotta, Kenny Venagas and Minnie Riperton (Simms, Barnes and Riperton being the most well known). This - their debut album from 1968 - has often been cited as a Psychedelic or even Progressive record - but to me it's more 5th Dimension with a Pop-Soulful bent with some Psych seasoning on top.

Recorded in Chicago in October 1967 by Marshall Chess and Charles Stepney for Chess Records new label Cadet, “Rotary Connection” was released in early 1968 on Cadet Concept LPS-312 in the USA and sold well regionally - even picking up a Number 37 placing on the Billboard Album charts in March 1968. It also received a mid-1968 limited release on LP in the UK on Chess CRL 4538.

The debut album "Rotary Connection" by ROTARY CONNECTION has been something of a sought-after vinyl piece ever since and this equally desirable CD reissue of it put out Stateside in 19 November 1996 on Chess/MCA CHD-9365 (Barcode 076732936528) is in itself something of an expensive rarity too. Here's a breakdown (36:32 minutes):

1. Amen [Side 1]
2. Rapid Transit
3. Turn Me On
4. Pink Noise
5. Lady Jane
6. Like A Rolling Stone
7. Soul Man [Side 2]
8. Sursum Mentes
9. Didn’t Want To Have To Do It
10. Black Noise
11. Memory Band
12. Ruby Tuesday
13. Rotary Connection

Andy McKaie produced the reissue, the 6-page foldout inlay has affectionate and informative liner notes by Robert Pruter (author of the book "Chicago Soul") and MARK OMANN at MCA Music Studios handled the remastering. He did a fabulous job - superb sound quality - very clear and muscular - absolutely one of the highlights of this reissue. The clarity of piano, organ and bass on "Didn't Want To Have To Do It" is outstanding.

Musically - the album is a mixture of the great and the not so great. Of the 13 tracks, "Rapid Transit", "Pink Noise", "Sursum Mentes" and "Black Noise" are just 25 to 40 second musical 'mind-trip' snippets between songs ("Black Noise" rather naughtily uses the vocal refrain from the end of The Beatles "Hello Goodbye" without referencing McCartney/Lennon in the credits). Six songs are cover versions - radically reworked takes on the old Traditional "Amen", "Lady Jane" and "Ruby Tuesday" by The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan's "Like A Rolling Stone", Sam & Dave's "Soul Man" (written by Isaac Hayes and David Porter) and The Lovin' Spoonful's "Didn't Want To Have To Do It" (written by John Sebastian). Of the three originals "Turn Me On" (lyrics above) is probably the best. It was often misconstrued as being about drugs when it was about a man talking to God. "Memory Band" is an instrumental peppered with irritating childish vocals - it's good rather than great. While the last track "Rotary Connection" spends most of its three-minute running time segueing bits of the songs that went before together with a tune eventually emerging about half way through it. It probably seemed like a cool idea at the time, but it makes for a very awkward listen now.

Another bit of a disappointment too is that you really don't get to 'hear' Barnes or Riperton to proper effect except in backing vocals, but you do get to marvel at Stepney's string arrangements (the largely instrumental take on "Like A Rolling Stone" is a brilliant interpretation of an overly familiar tune while "Soul Man" is completely changed into something far edgier). Alongside such noted talents as guitar player Bryce Robertson and ace bassist Phil Upchurch, Stepney also played keyboards. It's a strange and wonderfully eclectic record with Side One called "Trip I" and Side Two "Trip II" - and you can hear why it has such a cult status now.

Rotary Connection would go on to make 4 more albums (a Hip-O Select box set surely beckons) and one - "Hey, Love" from 1971 - is a balls-to-the-wall masterpiece. For those not sure - or put off by the high prices - I thoroughly recommend the 1999 "Black Gold" 2CD retrospective for a taster and a more rounded picture or the Ace/Beat Goes Public CD that clumps together “Songs” and “Hey, Love”.

But this is where it all that gorgeous vocal Soul with a dash of Sixties Psych started - and a lovely thing it is too…

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