Under the Influence weaves together sticky webs of funk, boogie, disco, soul, and early electronic musical forms from the '70s and '80s.
A compilation can be many things. At its most basic, it’s a collection of like-minded tracks, exposing a certain facet of a movement or art form. Maybe it presents a unified aesthetic experience, songs that weren’t originally placed together but they should have been, less of an unknowing collection and more of a revelation about musical friendships. Compilations can also give voice to the voiceless, shedding light on songs hardly -- or never -- heard. And of course, compilations can be labors of love, an education for both the listener and the compiler, where songs aren’t merely thrown together, but present a sort of family. The two discs of James Glass’s new compilation, Under the Influence Vol. 3, weave together funk, boogie, disco, soul, and early electronic musical forms from the '70s and '80s.
The Under the Inflence series is put out by Z Records, founded by producer and DJ Joey Negro, who appreciates all things danceable. The label has a link to Joey’s Facebook feed on its home page, where Joey recently noted that “its [sic] amazing how many brilliant records are worth so little on Discogs these days.” He’s into the crate-digging, and Mr. Glass, a DJ based in the Bay Area drafted to curate this installment of the mix, is a crate-digger in his own right. Most of the tunes are little-known; listeners may have Eleanore Mills’ excellent one-off album, This Is Eleanore Mills (“Same Routine", from that album, appears here), but Mills is far from a household name, and she’s one of the few artists I recognized.
Volume 3 of Under the Influence percolates, undulates, struts, and slides through webs of scratchy guitars and powerful funk rhythm sections that know how to balance muscle and movement, for around two hours. There are definite peaks in the ebbs and flows, though. The lead track on a disc like this has to grab the listener’s attention, and Broken Grass’s “Rather You Than Me” does the trick nicely -- it doesn’t go too hard right out of the gate, but it builds an impeccable groove, and the hook’s sentiment, “rather you than me", makes it sound like the mix has an edge, like the listener may be in danger of falling too far under the influence.
And at times, that’s not far from the truth. Attitude’s “Pretty Little Girl”, a pretty little bundle of energy, is New Wave pop-funk akin to the kind that Prince perfected on his 1980 album Dirty Mind. Prophet’s “You Really Turn Me On” is a classic Jam & Lewis-esque juggernaut reminiscent of Alexander O’Neal’s 1987 epic “Hearsay", with the synthesizer, bass, and drum-programming all functioning like battering rams. A booklet would be nice: who are Attitude and Prophet, and why did they all choose cheesy, single-word band names? But to paraphrase another curtly-named artist on these discs, Ben, you “would have to be a fool” if you didn’t want to succumb to this.