Various – Personal Space Electronic Soul 1974 -1984 (CD Chocolate Industries)
A possible contender for strangest release of the year so far Personal Space collects together tracks that may have been unheard, underground, self-produced or self- released during the decade covering 1974 -1984.
It’s an eclectic bunch of tracks all firmly rooted in Soul but with some surprising twists and some wildly inventive ways of looking at the genre.
Recording or producing your own material, particularly back when these pieces where recorded, always allows for a little bit of the unconventional or for stretching the boundaries of what you’d imagine Soul to mean. And while plenty of the pieces on here fit the mould they are trying to perfectly, there are some gems that just defy any assumed rules that you would imagine covered what Soul would be.
The album opens with a fairly innocuous piece from Jeff Phelps (who’s moment seems to have come as he’s just had one of his self-pressed albums re-issued by Tomlab) followed by another fairly straight ahead Soul piece (with admittedly some strange choices in instrument levels in the mix) but then when you get to Jerry Green it starts to get slightly stranger. His piece sounds like the disowned brother of Rockwell’s “Somebody’s watching me.” It’s mixed so wrongly for what it’s supposed to be doing but that makes it work so much better, it gives it more imagination and more originality than something that tries to sound like every other track would have sounded then.
And that’s where the best bits of this album are in the pieces where they don’t bother with the rules or where maybe they weren’t even aware of them to start with. The Spontaneous Overthrow give us some Zappa like humour as they regale us with tales of their lack of money. T Dyson almost head into ballroom dance mood with their swirling strings and Starship Commander try to be the Jean Michel Jarre of Soul on what sounds like one of those huge home organs you could buy in the 70s. Jeff Phelps gets his second track near the end of the album with “Super Lady” which is far further out there than his album opener and sounds very homemade and under produced which again gives it that edge that makes you want to hear it again. “The New Year” have a far more Psychedelic take on soul than any of the others here with “My Bleeding wound,” with its four note guitar refrain and heavy use of echo and delay. I’d love to hear a whole album by them. The album closes with “Time to go Home” by Otis G Johnson which is a fairly straight laid back piece of soul/blues and takes the tone back down nicely.
I love how “out there” some of these pieces are and how some of them have decided to work in a genre where the rules are pretty much laid in stone but still managed to throw away the rule book. Some of the pieces on here are ones you can’t help but return to again and again and I’d love to see a second volume. DB