[25 January 2012]
The Two Things in One were a Bay Area group—young, too, with the average age apparently being 16 – that recorded an album’s worth of soul/funk material in the early ‘70s but only released three singles in their brief lifespan together. Now, “Bay Area”, “early ‘70s”, and “soul/funk” might make you think immediately of a certain group of Stones, who were at this point fracturing in tandem with the country around them. But The Two Things in One were just starting around that point, and though popular around their hometown, they never achieved the break-out success of some of their colleagues. (They weren’t around long enough.)
Together Forever collects all of the group’s work from their sessions on Music City onto one disc, after 40 years of the stuff only being available as vinyl collectibles. Kudos to the always-admirable Omnivore label for doing the reissuing, in the process helping to fill-out the picture of what actually happened in good ol’ San Fran after the ‘60s came to their end. We tend to have this image of a despairing conclusion in that area and time, probably because of There’s a Riot Goin’ On, but the music on Together Forever is almost wholly optimistic; even the cover of CSNY’s “Ohio” doesn’t carry much dread with it. (Though, in that case, it’s more of a problem than a benefit -– the backing vocals saying “Kent State” over and over again are kinda drawing it out to us in crayon.)
The question, naturally, is whether the band are worthy of this reissuing. Were they great? Revolutionary? Eh… not really. Knowing what we know now about the very best black music from the early ‘70s, the group’s shortcomings become more pronounced: too much torpid clutter from the organ; occasionally overwrought Stevie Wonder-esque vocals that go beyond homage and into pale imitation (the bass-y strains in “Over Dose” are straight “Superstition”). Their “slow-burners” like “You’re No Good” don’t really burn at all; the extended instrumentals tread lukewarm water. And the cover of “Walk On By” is sort of insufferable, simply because the vocals try to milk more than the groove justifies; even though it sounds nothing like Isaac Hayes’s 12-minute version, it can’t help but suffer in comparison.
But were they entertaining? Were they talented? Hell yes they were. The instrumental texturing is at once supple and declarative, and the title track -– the group’s most successful song -– uses a simple descending horn pattern that ends up being pretty irresistible in its voluptuousness (listen, also, to the so-very-satisfied backing vocals). And though the drummer’s admirable attempt to fill up space whenever there’s no groove to carry often ends up sounding unintentionally fussy, the percussion is usually dead-on tight. (And sometimes the fussiness can work out quite well: The cover of the Allman Brothers’s “Dreams” is intoxicating simply because it feels like it’s building and burning without actually doing either; “I’ve got dreams to remember” sounds like looking forward to something, rather than looking back.)
Also noteworthy is the band’s willingness to experiment mid-song. The change-up in “Confusion” to a prog-like keyboard takeoff comes out of nowhere, and the guitar echoing the horns in “Let’s Get It Together” is snappy and remarkably in-sync. And the amazingly-toned keyboard-bass interplay in “Over Dose” -– which you’ll dig if you get some kicks from Parliament’s “I Can Move You (If You Let Me)” (and who doesn’t?) -– might be the biggest catch of all. Combine all of this with the super-cool way that the guitarist seems simultaneously always aware of the grooves and yet making just enough effort to flicker his solos around them, and you’ve got some pretty snug jams going on here.
Again, this reissuing won’t reveal any long-lost masterpieces. (Except for “Over Dose” -– go download that one right now.) But it gives us a more holistic idea of the kind of casual buoyancy that we know so well from this era. Anything that brings more to that table is most welcome. After all, those were different times.