Friday, 20 November 2015

"Method To The Madness & Smokin'" by THE UNDISPUTED TRUTH (2015 Robinsongs 2CD Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"...Get Ready To Get Down..."

The American Seventies-Soul-Funk group THE UNDISPUTED TRUTH has been ill served for decades now by CD – with only a few entries out there in the digital ether. I’ve already reviewed "Face To Face With The Undisputed Truth" – their 1972 album on Tamla put out by Universal in Europe in 2003 on one of their 'Original Funk LP Series' CDs – but at last - there’s some really good news...

Normally the preserve of 'Hip-O Select' out of the USA who have had the run of all things Motown and Chess for years now – up steps 'Robinsongs' of the UK (part of Cherry Red's set of labels) - and fast cementing a rep that's being building amongst Soul fans – they've pulled off a bit of a Reissue Scoop here with this clever 2CD set. It gathers together the last two LPs the Soul/Funk group did with Producer Norman Whitfield in 1977 and 1979 on his own Whitfield Records (distributed by Warner Brothers) - the pair being sought-after vinyl pieces on the collector's market for years now. It helps too that both are utterly wicked slices of Seventies P-Funk/Soul. Here are the Cosmic Details y'all...

UK released Friday, 20 November 2015 - "Method To The Madness/Smokin'" by THE UNDISPUTED TRUTH on Robinsongs WROBIN2CDD (Barcode 5013929950221) is a 2CD set (no Bonus Tracks) and plays out as follows:

Disc 1 (48:50 minutes):
1. Cosmic Contact
2. Method To The Madness
3. Sunshine
4. You + Me = Love
5. Hole In The Wall [Side 2]
6. Loose
7. Life Ain't So Easy
8. Take A Vacation From Life
9. Let's Go To The Disco
Tracks 1 to 9 are their 7th studio album "Method To The Madness" – released January 1977 on Whitfield WH 2967 in the USA and Whitfield K 56289 in the UK. Produced by NORMAN WHITFIELD – the band was JOE HARRIS, TAKA BOOM, TYRONE 'Lil Tye' BARKLEY and CALVIN 'Dhaakk' STEPHENSON with an array of various other musicians – mostly from ROSE ROYCE.

Disc 2 (40:46 minutes):
1. Show Time
2. Talkin' To The Wind
3. Atomic Funk
4. I Can't Get Enough Of Your Love
5. Space Machine [Side 2]
6. Tazmainian Monster
7. Sandman
8. Misunderstood
Tracks 1 to 8 are their 8th and last studio album "Smokin'" – released 1979 USA LP on Whitfield WHK 3202 and Whitfield K 56497 in the UK. Produced by NORMAN WHITFIELD – the band was JOE HARRIS, LLOYD WILLIAMS, MARCY THOMAS and MELVIN STEWART and an array of various other musicians – many of whom are ROSE ROYCE.

The 12-page booklet has succinct and informative liner notes from long-time Mojo contributor CHARLES WARING sided by album credits and label repros and discusses Norman Whitfield’s involvement with the group (freeing them from the tyranny of the 3-minute Motown tune imposed by Berry Gordy and letting them rip on socially conscious material about segregation, war and inner city poverty). The remasters are from licensed Warner Brothers tapes and were carried out by ALAN WILSON at Western Star Studios in Bristol. The Audio here rocks – this is fabulous layered funked up Soul from 1977 and 1979 – so the Production values are second-to-none - a gorgeous transfer (the cover to "Method" depicts a flying saucer beaming up the band for some cosmic probing - yum yum).

The influence of heavy-hitting P-Funk that dominated 1975's affectionately remembered "Cosmic Truth" continues on "Method To The Madness". It opens with a few minutes of synthesized nonsense - voices talking about beaming 'earthlings aboard' – aliens that question them and the group replies by saying "...we are The Undisputed Truth...and we've been waiting for a new world..." After that spoken cosmic claptrap – it's good to feel things return to slap-bass Funky normality with the brilliant title track "Method To The Madness" – a genius groove that feels like Graham Central Station firing on all sixes. We go mellow with the lovely "Sunshine" – a return to Whitfield's love-song roots of the early 70ts. But the Side (and indeed the whole album) is dominated by the near 11-minute Funkathon of "You + Me = Love" – a brilliant Rufus-like winner fronted by Chaka Khan’s sister Taka Boom (an edited version peaked at 37 on the American R&B charts in August 1976). What a blast this tune is...

Side 2 opens with another fantastic group effort – "Hole In The Wall" – where all four provide lead and harmony vocals behind a grooving guitar and brass Funk. With its 'dance all night long' mantra and wicked 'mother sucker' Chaka Khan shouts from Taka - it's the kind of neck-jerking dancer that used to have customers in Reckless run to the counter and demand to know 'whose playing!' The impossibly catchy "Loose" hits the same booty nerves - but another real crave of mine on this album is "Life Ain't So Easy" which returns to those deep-voiced Undisputed Truth masterpieces like "Smiling Faces Sometimes" in 1971. Mental smooch follows "Take A Vacation From Life (And Visit Your Dreams)" – a 'take a break from reality' mellow tune that Taka sings with tenderness while the backing vocals and acoustic guitar give it a beauty that makes you want to play it over and over again. It ends with commercial Funk on "Let's Go Down To The Disco" – a tune that is far better than its hip-with-the-dance-craze-of-the-moment title would suggest (great shared vocals).

After the high of "Method To The Madness" – thankfully "Smokin'" doesn’t let the side down. It opens with the near mine-minute shuffle Funk of "Show Time" – a typically brilliant groove written by Whitfield and fronted by the superlative vocals of (uncredited) Taka Boom (lyrics from it title this review). "Talkin' To The Wind" is very Rose Royce 'lurve' song fronted by the wonderfully expressive voice of long-standing band member Joe Harris. Equally good as the opener is "Atomic Funk" where Taka once again kicks the Funk ball out of the park (DOMU sampled this song for his "Springbreak" House 12" single on Tru Thoughts in 2009). We get a bit Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers CHIC slick with "I Can't Get Enough Of Your Love" - while the near seven-minutes of "Space Machine" is another brilliant builder of a song that feels like a cross between Soul and Rock (a wicked groove that plinks its way into your heart). "Tazmainian Monster" sees Whitfield get Prince dirty with the Funk - where wolf whistles assure us that wildly attired lady "...make all the other girls look like toys..." Gentle chimes lead in the love song "Sandman" written by Miles Gregory of Rose Royce – probably not the strongest tune on here. It ends on Marcy Thomas' "Misunderstood" which she sings with conviction and Soul and tried as a solo single years later.

It's a damn shame Robinsongs didn’t include the two-part single edits of the brilliant "Show Time" as Bonus Tracks - as the 2011 Wounded Bird CD did. But apart from that minor moan – this is an exciting release – and for me a definite 'Soul CD Reissue Of 2015'.

THE UNDISPUTED TRUTH and the incredible contribution Norman Whitfield made to Sixties & Seventies Soul and Funk in general are long overdue a major Box set offensive – they really are. But until such time - I'll be grooving to this fabulous twofer from Robinsongs until my cosmic booty drops. And that can only be a good thing Space Peopleoids of Plutonia...

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