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Bob & Gene - If This World Were Mine ...

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Artist: Bob & Gene

Album: If This World Were Mine ...

Label: Daptone

Review date: May. 10, 2007

Daptone Records has done soul collectors a remarkable service by issuing the lost debut album from Buffalo-based teenage soul duo Bob & Gene. Formed in 1967 as the flagship band for local musician and labor leader William Nunn’s new Mo Do label, Bob & Gene (Bobby Nunn - William’s son - and neighbor Eugene Coplin) were responsible for the label’s first slice of wax with the single “You Gave Me Love,” and would cut several more sides before recording their first and only LP, If This World Were Mine.... The album would be shelved for over 30 years until the aforementioned Daptone released it earlier in 2007.

Bob & Gene approach the various strands of ‘60s soul and R&B here with the ardor of young fans and the skill of old pros. “Gotta Find A Way” is a shuffling mid-tempo pleader that recalls the vocal harmonies of the Delfonics, the melodies of Smokey Robinson, and even later-era Impressions. While the next song, “Your Name,” rides a JB-style drum-and-horn track while the fellas sing a booming Stax-inspired vocal, a la Sam & Dave, that (literally) proclaims them soul men. In the course of a mere two tracks, the duo have touched upon nearly every important style of black popular music from the early ‘60s up to the dawn of the Sly Era. That they were barely driving age when it all went down is significant; Bob & Gene weren’t a two-pronged second coming of Little Stevie Wonder, but they were clearly in command beyond their years.

The rest of the album progresses along a similar path, alternating between sweet soul ballads and up-tempo shuffles. “Somebody’s Doin It (War),” however, is the band’s DIY sign of the times: The track kicks off sounding like a straight homage to Curtis Mayfield’s protest jams, but goes on to toss in a heady amalgam of tweaked-out instrumentation and rapid stylistic shifts. It’s a smaller, rougher “Ball of Confusion,” too exhilarating to ever make it out the door of more established labels. Over the course of 2 minutes and 28 seconds, Bob & Gene drop practically every hip musical thought black musicians had in the ‘60s, with it all culminating in what has to be the most concise funk freak-out in history. Then pow! “You Don’t Need Me,” with its spoken intro tugging at hearts like notes passed in class, drops listeners back in the high school gym where the kids are doing the Tighten Up.

Though other songs showcase the duo’s technical talents far better, that pair of tracks is perhaps the album’s finest one-two punch. The entire record has an endearing lo-fi quality that marks it as a remnant of a regional underground world that, save for hip-hop, is now all but extinct. Motown and Stax dominated soul music during the era; that combined with the budget restraints of upstart labels all but muted regional acts. But you wouldn’t know it from the way Bob & Gene go at it here, and “You Don’t Need Me” and “Somebody’s Doin It (War)” articulate that vitality perfectly, showing why underground soul is relevant to fans so many years on.

Rare or “eccentric” soul reissues, if you will, are a dime a dozen these days. And while it seems this excavation process may have reached hit-or-miss status, soul collectors need to own this album, without question. (Excellent liner notes and photos are included, too). It may not be the best place for newcomers to start, but the wonderful harmony vocals and DIY scrappiness will appeal to anyone who’s Aretha and Otis records are just about worn out.

By Nate Knaebel

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