It’s a great time for rediscovering old music; it wouldn’t be hard to meet all your listening needs with nothing but a steady diet of reissues–they’re bombarding us from every era and style.
Vintage soul has benefited greatly from committed crate diggers like Chicago’s exemplary Numero Group, who keep uncovering lost gems and putting them in context for us. To meet the public’s natural desire to experience the music live, rather than only on CDs or scratchy old 45s, a rash of new soul-influenced artists (Amy Winehouse, Alice Russell, Duffy) have arisen, alongside veteran singers getting a second chance at fame (Sharon Jones, Charles Walker). Herbert Wiley of Oxford, Mississippi, falls into the latter category. He led a band called the Checkmates from 1960 till 1972, working the chitlin’ circuit with little recompense and leaving behind scant recorded evidence. Then he decided to give it another stab with a backing band young enough to be his grandchildren, and last year the reborn Wiley & the Checkmates released their second album, We Call It Soul, on Chicago’s Rabbit Factory label.
I’m sure the Checkmates put on a good show–I haven’t yet seen them–but I have to say, now that I’ve listened to We Call It Soul once, I feel no desire to do so again. The album isn’t bad, but it’s ordinary–with so much great vintage material floating around these days, it seems silly to opt for a studied simulacrum of it. And that’s what this is, despite what Ace Atkins claims in his dopey liner notes: “We Call It Soul is not a re-creation.”
But if you want to get down to some live old-school soul, you could do plenty worse. The band plays the Hideout on Saturday night, followed by a DJ set by the East of Edens Soul Express crew (which includes Rabbit Factory honcho John Ciba).
Danny Paisley & the Southern Grass, The Room Over Mine (Rounder)
Greg Kelley, Self-Hate Index (Semata Productions)
Lupe Fiasco, The Cool (Atlantic)
Lejaren Hiller, A Total Matrix of Possibilities (New World)
Cutty Ranks, Limb by Limb (17 North Parade)