[23 March 2008]
Given the recent movement to resurrect the golden gems of soul and R&B’s forgotten past á la Soul Jazz Records, Truth & Soul’s latest release, Fallin’ Off the Reel Vol. 2, is a refreshing and inspiring album. As a collection of the label’s various limited release 45s—everything that appears on this disc saw no more than 2000 pressings—Fallin’ Off the Reel Vol. 2 is a joyous collection of tracks that showcases Truth & Soul’s old-school production methods and smooth melodies.
A chronological collection from the label’s catalog dating back to 2006, Fallin’ Off the Reel is filled with experimental originals as well as the occasional cover—they aren’t afraid to cover the Four Top’s bombastic “I Can’t Help Myself” as well as Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On”. The album goes from Motown-fueled “Just a Little While Longer” to the contemporary, conceptual collaborations between Wu-Tang cipher Raekwon and Truth & Soul standards seamlessly.
The album opens with Bronx River Parkway’s searing cuts “La Valla” and “Nora Se Va”. The former is a swarm of scattered, enraged horn lines while Jose Parla screams out his vicious Spanish flows. The latter is a significantly more subdued cut, riding a series of shuffling clicks, bouncing percussion, and softly hummed melodies before giving way to a mariachi croon.
Following these two are Tyrone Ashley’s Funky Music Machine’s two respective releases—the songs come in couplets rather than an having an artist’s work being dispersed across the album; presumably a- and b-sides—“Just a Little While Longer” and the aforementioned “I Can’t Help Myself”. While the cover leaves little to the imagination and follows the original rather strictly, their own production is a high-powered call and response track that harks back to more restrained Stax releases.
But what these and the subsequent few pairings prove is that Truth & Soul didn’t really have a distinctive sound for quite some time. Rather, it produced what it enjoyed rather than finding a universal voice, resulting in good but markedly scattered releases. It isn’t until the El Michels Affair songs—the label’s most famous productions to date—that Fallin’ Off the Reel (and to a greater extent Truth & Soul) finds it stride.
At this point in the label’s short lifetime, it becomes clear that it made a rather drastic dogmatic shift: from a stance that screamed of homage to one that boasted a progressive sheen and cerebral essence. This is not to say that the label abandoned the analog fuzz of soul’s wonder years, but rather that it seemed to build upon this new sentiment by expanding its sonic mindset, confident in its ability to experiment with short interludes, echoing vocals, and the occasional Wu guest verse.
The El Michels Affair cut “PJ’s” (a remix of Raekwon’s collaboration with Pete Rock) is Fallin’ Off the Reel Vol. 2‘s standout. With flanging guitars and downtrodden piano lines, the song sounds almost identical to something the RZA would’ve done on early Wu-Tang releases. It floats along as Raek spits heady, alliterative lines (“Birds back to 18 / I play ‘C.R.E.A.M.’ / Gray Beamers lean / New ‘didas jackets / Flippin’ them small deans”). His subdued flows form a palpable tension while the off-kilter chorus stumbles across the morose soundscape Raek previously constructed.
Several of the following cuts (“This One’s For My Baby”, “Odyssey Revised”) are similarly experimental amidst this collection of otherwise old-school soul standards. With approximately only one year under its belt since the initial release of “PJ’s”, Truth & Soul looks to have one hell of a future. Fallin’ Off the Reel Vol. 2 is simply the jumping off point for its casual, relaxed beats and soulful ballads.