Various Artists

Black & Proud Vol. 1 and Vol. 2

How freakin' weird is it that the absolute best survey to date of conscious American R&B during the Black Power era has come out on a leftist record label in Munich? Well, believe it, and fie on the American recording industry for lacking the guts to release something as important as Trikont's packed two-volume Black & Proud series.

Curator Jonathan Fischer's historical soundtrack offers a compelling alternative to the ambiguously political R&B hits that we usually associate with the early '70s post-Panther era -- e.g., James Brown's "Say It Loud (I'm Black and I'm Proud)" and Aretha Franklin's "Respect." Along with including obligatory left-of-center mainstays (Gil Scott-Heron's "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" and tunes by the Last Poets and Curtis Mayfield), Fischer offers a range of nuances in "message" soul. The Staple Singers' "Brand New Day" and Geto Kitty's rousing "Stand Up and Be Counted" trace the gospel strain, while Chicago blues guitarist Syl Johnson's "I'm Talkin' Bout Freedom" evokes the pop-compositional skills of Isaac Hayes and Jimi Hendrix.

The meat of Black & Proud lies in the diverse rare-groove funk that Fischer unearths. Detroit-based Segments of Time presents densely topical psychedelic funk in "Song to the System," which contrasts well with Walter Heath's "You Know You're Wrong," a potent 1974 finger-wag to ghetto drug dealers. But it's Marvin Gaye's forgotten election-issue jam "You're the Man" that sums up the mood of these two chapters of funky audio history: The minor-key song is despairing, hopeful, and thumping for dear life.

 
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