24-Carat Black - "Gone: The Promises of Yesterday Sampler" (Gone: The Promises of Yesterday)
Anyone familiar with Chicago’s Numero Group knows that much of the appeal of the label’s releases is in the meticulous research and obvious passion that goes into them. Tom Lunt, Rob Sevier and Ken Shipley are essentially pop music archaeologists, quite literally digging – if not with shovels in darkened tombs, then certainly in record crates and dank basements – for their prizes. The presentation of their finds is always top notch, and is accompanied by thorough and enriching liner notes. The only problem, if it’s indeed a problem, is that sometimes the obscurity of these excavated objects trumps their actual aesthetic value.
24-Carat Black’s Gone: The Promises of Yesterday is indeed obscure and the story of its non-release and eventual resurrection is a good one. Whether it’s essential for even devoted funk and soul fans is up for debate. The six-track disc clocks in at just under 38 minutes and represents the salvageable remains of the would-be sophomore album from Detroit native Dale Warren’s group. 24-Carat Black’s debut, Ghetto: Misfortune’s Wealth, was one of several potentially ingenious yet poorly executed releases from Stax’s infamous Al Bell years of the early 1970s. A dark, politically charged concept album about the plight of inner-city America, the album remains fairly unknown to all but the most devoted rare-groovists.
The Promises of Yesterday – the tapes of which were decaying in a South Side Chicago basement until unearthed by Numero – flips the script a bit and re-casts the anguish and tension of the ghetto in terms of strained personal relationships and romantic strife. Though a product of Warren’s vision as a songwriter and producer, these tracks benefit from some serious playing. Primarily mid-tempo, jazz-tinged funk, the songs are built on a solid foundation of John Walls’ persistent, butter-smooth bass and Tyrone Steel’s straightforward rhythms. The two refuse to allow the music to drag, even at its most hazy. Vocal duties are shared among several singers and range from Princess Hearn’s strong, Dusty Springfield-esque delivery (see the album opener “The Best of Good Love Gone”) to Robert Dunston’s spoken/sung approach that, at its most potent, reminds one of Funkadelic’s contemporaneous cosmic call-to-arms (see the set closing “I Begin to Weep”).
Often brooding and tinged with a lite-psych flavor typical of the era, The Promises of Yesterday burns from time to time, but it’s not a classic. Best understood, like its predecessor, as a document of an era, the album is an intriguing example of the bold creative spirit of African-American music at the time, one that took a more cerebral approach to the visceral elements of 1960s soul and fused them with ambitious arrangements, instrumentation and narrative concepts. It’s an approach played out in the mainstream via Gamble & Huff, Curtis Mayfield, and the aforementioned Funkadelic. 24-Carat Black never achieves the majesty of the above legends but the group’s ambition – as both a musical collective and one man’s vision – is clear and hard not to respect.