Omnivore Recordings continues gets it right with latest reissue of the Maryland-based Ru-Jac label.
There’s an entire market that exists specifically to fulfill the needs of music fans with a thirst for the deepest cuts from the body of soul music that exists. Northern Soul is one such example, a musical phenomena in England that eschewed more commercially successful soul music for artists and songs off the beaten path. Numero Group, Light in the Attic, and Rhino are labels that feed the need for the obsessive to delve beyond the top acts of a given genre, label, or era and Omnivore’s True Enough: Gene & Eddie With Sir Joe at Ru-Jac is another welcome entry into this field. Omnivore Recordings acquired the recordings of the Maryland-based soul label Ru-Jac and has been in the process of restoring and reissuing the music. The label’s Ru-Jac reissue initiative began in March of 2016 with the release of Mr. Clean: Winfield Parker at Ru-Jac.
This compilation focuses on Eugene “Gene” Dorsett and Eddie Best, Jr. and their work with producer Sir Joe Quarterman, a singer and songwriter in his own right. Quarterman gets to shine on several tracks featured here. Quarterman earned the nickname "Sir" in high school as a member of a group called the Knights. Quarterman, Dorsett, and Best Jr. all hailed from the Washington D.C. area and Gene & Eddie never had much success beyond their regional hit, “It’s So Hard”; that's a shame as the work contained is on par with much of the more highly esteemed soul music.
The compilation charts the shift from doo-wop to soul to a hint of early funk. Quarterman in particular had a strong interest in funk music and took some cues from James Brown in his later work. Chuck Brown, the Godfather of Go-Go, was active in the same area around the same time, so while not a direct predecessor to Go-Go music, this compilation serves as a missing link, filling in the gaps of the Washington D.C./Baltimore musical history.
And this is not merely some curio meant to serve the same function as a plate of steamed vegetables, and to continue with the food metaphor, it’s not to be consumed merely because it’s good for you. It is enriching and interesting and manages to be touched with familiarity without being docked for derivativeness. Vocally, Gene & Eddie recall Sam & Dave; that’s the obvious point of comparison yet also a little unfair to them. Their voices blend together well and they cover a good range of styles and genres, shifting from frenetic R&B workouts to tender ballads.
Omnivore is doing vital work with these reissues as the chronicling of an area’s musical history can fall by the wayside unless it strikes a chord with critics or strikes it big commercially. There will always be someone to write about the music coming out of Memphis and Detroit in the '60s, but the music of places like Baltimore might simply be relegated to the past. In a way, the smoothing out of regional differences mirrors the movement of American culture as a whole: a shift towards monoculture and a return to more regional culture.
It’s a shift one can observe in the food and drink industry in the growth of local food movements and craft brewing as well as in the entertainment world where a plethora of streaming titles, platform, and hardware allows the discerning culture to dictate precisely the terms of consumption. What better time to revisit regional music labels and artists? There are certainly pluses and minuses to the growth and decay of monoculture, but if it gives deserving artists another chance at the spotlight and more importantly proper financial compensation, it’s hard to get up in arms over that.