Wednesday, 18 December 2013

"Hey, Love" by The New ROTARY CONNECTION (2013 Japan Chess 'Best Collection Series' Reissue/Remaster on Their 1971 on Cadet Concept) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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For years I've been looking for an excuse to review this fabulous and criminally neglected Soul Funk Gospel gem - and now I have one. It's been reissued in Japan as part of the "Chess Best Collection" CD series and its just arrived on my doorstep in time for a cool Yule y'all (sorry couldn't resist).

I've had the 1998 Ace/Beat Goes Public disc that offers two LPs on 1CD of Rotary Connection's "Songs" (1969) and "Hey, Love" (1971) (2LPs on 1CD) for years now and treasure it. But this Japanese reissue is listed as having 2013 DSD remastering in adverts - so I had to own it. Doesn't actually say that anywhere on the disc or liner notes nor the Obi - but it does sound stunning - if not a little clinically clean in places.

Released 11 Dec 2013 in Japan – "Hey, Love" by The New ROTARY CONNECTION on Universal/Chess UICY-75987 (Barcode 4988005792754 for the right issue) is a straightforward transfer of the 9-track American album (40:25 minutes). 

The OBI wraps around the outside of the jewel case. The 16-page booklet is the usual Japanese affair - front cover artwork on Page 1 with the rear LP art on the last page. In between there is a Japanese essay and the lyrics in English - naught else (nothing you can really get your teeth into). It's a budget release so its priced at below 1000 Yen which means that even including P&P it's below a tenner - and often only eight quid - a bit of a steal frankly.

1. If I Sing My Song
2. The Sea & She
3. I Am The Black Gold Of The Sun
4. Hangin' Round The Bee Tree
5. Hey, Love
6. Love Has Fallen On Me
7. Song For Everyman
8. Love Is
9. Vine Of Happiness

Originally released on vinyl in the States on Chess/Cadet Concept CC 50006 in August 1971 - it features the hand of writer/arranger/player maestro CHARLES STEPNEY - Chess's answer to Norman Whitfield - a man with a conscience and a way with a funky and soulful tune. The other attractions are MINNIE RIPERTON, KITTY HAYWOOD, SHIRLEY WAHLS and DAVE SCOTT all on Lead Vocals with Stepney playing a huge number of instruments as well as arranging. Top session-men include superb guitarists PHIL UPCHURCH (see my review of his stunning 1971 double-album "Darkness Darkness" also on Japanese CD) and the fuzzed up axework of PAT FERRERI. The album also featured RICHARD RUDOLPH (Minnie Riperton's husband of the time) - he solo wrote both "Hanging Round The Bee Tree" and "The Sea & She" and excepting one other - co-wrote the rest of the album with Stepney.

The album's big tune is the magnificent "I Am The Black Gold Of The Sun" which was rescued from obscurity by British/US Funksters NUYORCIAN SOUL featuring JOCELYN BROWN when they sampled and covered it in 1997 on the hip Talkin' Loud label. They brought the song and Rotary Connection in general into the charts (to 31). Ace then reissued that CD the following year and there's been vinyl repros of the "Hey, Love" LP in the West End of London ever since - meeting the demands of those constantly searching for something cool and Soulful to rediscover. Besides "Gold" there are 4 other masterpieces on here - the echoed and swirling vocals of "Hanging Round The Bee Tree" (graced many of my Reckless in-store play lists), the gorgeous and sunny upbeat title track "Hey, Love" followed by Kitty Haywood letting it vocally rip on the sublime "Love Has Fallen For Me" (covered by Chaka Khan on her "I'm Every Woman" LP). But the best for me is the lone TERRY CALLIER track (a songwriter Stepney was plugging) called "Song For Everyman" - it is just brilliant and sends me every time I hear it (lyrics from it title this review).

In truth - and I played both to hear the differences - the only thing I'd say about the supposed 'remaster' is that it is unbelievably clean - but perhaps I suspect a little over-compressed. You have to give the tracks a bit of wedge - but even if you do - the clarity is gorgeous (hiss gone) and I've loved re-hearing these tracks in such beautiful sound.

So why didn't they make it? I suspect that with all those hippy-dip lyrical references to helping out your brother and bombing others with love - the group was perceived as a poor man's Fifth Dimension - a sort of watered down gathering peddling a lame "Hair" musical. This of course did for them commercially and is just plain wrong as an assessment. Typically it took British Soul fans to reignite interest and a torrent of well-deserved praise has followed ever since.

Stepney is a sort of underground cult figure now amongst aficionados - spoken about in hushed tones. Riperton went solo and produced a string of gorgeous Soul albums in the mid-Seventies only to sadly succumb to breast cancer at a criminally young age in 1979. Still - they all have this legacy to remind us. I adore "Hey, Love" and its infectious Soul upbeat message vibe - reminds me of the same joy I feel when I hear a great Staples Singers album.

Get this disc into your life soonest - I believe its up for deletion June 2014...

PS: See also my online reviews for "Rotary Connection" (their 1968 debut) and "Songs/Hey, Love" (a 2LPs on 1CD) release in 1998 on Ace/Beat Goes Public – and the Terry Callier album "I Just Can't Help Myself" also in this Japanese series of reissues...

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