Various Artists: Looking Stateside: 80 U.S. R&B, Mod, Soul & Garage Nuggets
A copious collection of '60s deep cuts pulled from the vaults of a diverse and exciting catalog
The late 1950s and early 1960s were watershed moments in the American musical canon. Rock 'n' roll was morphing from its earliest skiffle and folk influences into something bigger, badder, and more eclectic. Elements of soul, R&B, and jazz were finding their way into artists' arrangements at the same time younger folks' fashion sensibilities were beginning to trend bolder and brasher. Across the pond, the British press dubbed these newfound sensibilities the "Mod" scene, with raucous upstarts like the Who and the Small Faces as the culture's torchbearers. These bands, along with their peers like the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds, and the Kinks, deftly created an amalgam of sound, expertly blending various genres together to create albums' worth of diverse material that was indebted to all sorts of wide-ranging influences. As cultures began to merge and more and more clubs and dance halls catered to these new sounds, people on both sides of the Atlantic were picking up instruments and joining the fray. While only a handful of these bands have stood the test of time, various anthologies released over the past few decades, like Nuggets and Back From the Grave, prove that there were no shortage of vintage recordings left behind for perusal.
Along these lines comes the latest release from the UK's RPM Recordings Looking series entitled Looking Stateside: 80 U.S. R&B, Mod, Soul & Garage Nuggets. Having previously examined the era's "Swinging London", Femme, and Freakbeat scenes, this collection comprehensively digs into the wide-ranging scope of sounds that populated the club scene of the day; think that upbeat, clear-eyed, soulful tunes that loosely filed themselves under the Mod moniker. Less polished and most definitely less popular than the era's mainstream faces, the American bands and artists featured amongst the collection's three discs and eighty tracks all burned bright with passion and initiative, eager to get their sound out to the masses and yearning to make a mark on the scene.
There appears to be a great deal of care and attention paid to the order and sequencing of the compilation. With as many tracks as there are, these details are much appreciated and definitely prove to be a benefit in terms of keeping things on track. Furthermore, the packaging contains a wonderfully detailed 36-page set of liner notes that feature meticulous recording details and illuminating background notes for each track. Additionally, there are a nice set of archived photos that populate the pages, offering a nice visual complement to the sounds emanating from the speakers. It's cool to see just how young and carefree many of the involved men and women appear to be as they strut in front of the cameras dressed in their latest mod-influenced fashions. And, in terms of insider knowledge, a reading of the track-by-track analysis (that really does cover all 80 tracks!) will make listeners instant purveyors of obscure knowledge; one can dazzle party guests with anecdotes on featured performers like Mickey Lee Lane, Linda Cumbo, the Falcons, and the Jay Walkers.
As for these 80 tracks, they really do prove to be a treasure trove of discovery. Like the title states, several genres are duly represented. R&B from the early '60s is featured with nuggets like Willie Jones' sly "Where's My Money", Curtis Knight's uptempo "Gotta Have a New Dress", and Little Gigi's Etta James-esque "Take the Bitter With the Sweet". Soulful gems include numbers like Don Varner's "Tear Stained Face", the Showmen's "Take It Baby", and "Are You Satisfied", a show-stopping force of a tune belted out with aplomb from Philly singer and friend of Marvin Gaye's, Sheila Ferguson. To top things off, many fine garage rock 'n' roll stompers fill out the collection. LA's the U.S. Male, New Jersey's semi-famous Knickerbockers, and Tacoma, Washington's (and recently reunited) the Sonics all fuzz forth with blitzed intensity and fanatical energy worthy of Little Stevie's Garage Sirius/XM radio show. While most of the performers featured here failed to ever crack mainstream status, acute listeners will notice some familiar names with the International Bongo Band, Gene Vincent, and Joe Tex likely being the most prominent.
As a patchwork collection of musical styles, Looking Stateside doesn't dwell on one particular sound for too terribly long. This approach keeps the 80 tracks from sounding stale or growing tiresome. One minute, there's a soulful bossa nova, the next minute there's a down and dirty R&B shuffle, and then there's a gritty, raw rocker to top things off. It's great music to sit with while absorbing the liner notes' vast offerings of knowledge. Or, on the contrary, it's great music to load into the stereo and let fly while you go about the duties of your day. Either way, you'll enjoy and appreciate what you hear.