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V/A - Calypsoul 70: Caribbean Soul & Calypso Crossover 1969-1979

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Artist: V/A

Album: Calypsoul 70: Caribbean Soul & Calypso Crossover 1969-1979

Label: Strut

Review date: Sep. 2, 2008

The title promises a lot, which this record delivers, but it still doesn’t tell the whole story. The key word is neither calypso (although several of this collection’s twenty tunes are either directly Calypso-based or at least Trinidadian) nor soul (although the record does capture music undergoing drastic overhaul due to the influx of North America soul music). It’s Caribbean, and the story this record tells is how Northern culture was adopted, repurposed or resisted across the Caribbean Sea by the man on the street – or the dance floor.

Calypsoul 70 surveys music from the northern to southern end of the islands, encompassing heavy hitters and obvious influences from Jamaica, Cuba and Trinidad, but also some mighty contributions from less musically influential locales like the Bahamas, Guyana and the French Antilles. It’s conceived as a user-friendly package, with copious liner notes that capture the vibe of the times and tell the musicians’ stories. Its tracks have been consciously selected to make a DJ’s life a little easier; if you can’t get a crowd moving with the swaggering horns, lilting guitar and cowbell on Clarence Curvan’s title track, someone in the room needs a coroner. There are plenty of ass-moving grooves, from Soca to reggae to calypso to disco, some pure, others masterfully mixed. Former Upsetter Boris Gardner’s instrumental “Negril” blends propulsive blaxploitation guitars and rib-shack organ soloing so well that without the name (it calls out a spot in Jamaica), you wouldn’t even know where it came from. On the other hand a couple contributions from St. Lucia, Magic Circle Express’ “Magic Fever” and the Checkmates’ “Disco Groove,” combine proto-disco synths and drumming with big, buy-me-another-rum horn charts that you just couldn’t find on the mainland.

Sometimes the dialogue is between different islands, as well as the Caribbean and the USA. Dawn Penn’s “You Don’t Love Me” was a true Studio One scorcher, but in the hands of Trinidad’s Gemini Brass, with its groovy organ and twangy guitar leads, you’ve got something that triangulates Hollywood, Kingston and Port Of Spain, and could also soundtrack a kids’ birthday party in the Munster’s house.

But this set doesn’t just bring the party; it shows how the music brought the news in a part of the world where calypso singers did that job decades before Chuck D proclaimed that rap was CNN for black people. One of the standouts here is Lancelot Layne’s erudite explanation of ghetto realities for a generation being seduced by the misplaced notions that U.S. ghetto life was glamorous. The totally non-assimilated nature of the arrangement – just chanting, drums, and flutes (no soul stuff here) – makes the case as clearly as his words for holding to local truth and not buying in to Yankee imports. Biosis Now’s “Independent Bahamas” argues the other side, It’s deeply indebted to more politicized streams of funk, with only the hand drums and organ separating this call for national unity from a New York or Chicago studio creation. Whatever the message, the music throughout Calypsoul 70 ranges from solid to great.

By Bill Meyer

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