[11 September 2008]
The easiest way to describe Eccentric Soul: The Tragar & Note Labels, the latest release from the grave-digging Numero Group label is, quite plainly, that Numero Group did it again—which is to say they’ve assembled yet another collection of hidden soul singles that most wouldn’t have heard otherwise. The Tragar and Note labels—the latter of which, a descendant of Tragar—are Atlanta-based labels from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Without going too in depth into the racial politics and other issues surrounding the lack of Atlanta soul releases, these labels, in their short life spans, produced a mass of tracks that rival the quality and sound of their more prominent, mainstream contemporaries.
This isn’t to say though, that the artists on Eccentric Soul: The Tragar & Note Labels were unfairly neglected from widespread radio play, because frankly, much of the work on this retrospective lacks the soaring melodies and knockout, raw power of Motown and Stax artists, respectively. Eula Cooper, one of the label’s headlining artists, can sing but clearly doesn’t have the pipes that someone like Aretha Franklin does. Cooper tends to casually stroll through songs (“Shake Daddy Shake,” “I Can’t Help If I Love You”), singing well but rarely with the sheer power of more notable artists.
Not to imply that Cooper’s songs suffer due to this classification, but rather—as one of the most frequently featured artists on this two-disc collection—her songs hint at a greater trend throughout the two labels: there seem to be no defining qualities that make any of the tracks on Eccentric Soul: The Tragar & Note Labels immediately recognizable as Tragar or Note releases. Though you could probably call it regionalism—growing up in Motown typically makes me look for specific things in my soul music—there isn’t the same energy or liveliness from many of these cuts.
Tee Fletcher’s “Would You Do It For Me” sounds drier than you’d expect something of its tempo and sentiment would. But in contrast, the L. Daniels instrumental explosion “Nitecap” is a Rhodes-piano-orgy, with more soul than half the music you’ve ever heard. But their mutual inclusion on the same label, and same post-label release, makes it difficult to really get a handle on the label itself.
The biggest issue that can be brought against Eccentric Soul: The Tragar & Note Labels, however, is the sheer magnitude of the collection. Boasting 50 songs—many of which clock in somewhere around a brief two minutes—it’s difficult to really sink your teeth into this collection. Sandy Gaye’s “Watch the Dog That Brings the Bone” gets lost halfway through the two discs—though its inclusion as the first song of the second disc was decidedly well done. Similarly J.J. Jones’ “I Can’t Stand It” and Langston & French’s “Let’s Get Funky” are hidden near the very end of the two discs.
So while Eccentric Soul: The Tragar & Note Labels is another collection of undiscovered soul, it is more or less unremarkable. It will quickly be placed in the catalog of similar records to be shelved and occasionally pulled out for a listen or two, because though there are some good tracks on these discs, Numero Group has done better in the past.