Various Artists: Searching for Soul: Rare & Classic Soul, Funk & Jazz from Michigan 1968-1980

Steve Horowitz

The underground sounds of Detroit's funk scene have been unearthed. The soul mining is worth the effort, yielding 14 real musical gems that most people have never had the opportunity to hear before.

Various Artists

Searching for Soul: Rare & Classic Soul, Funk & Jazz from Michigan 1968-1980

Label: Ubiquity
US Release Date: 2005-10-11
UK Release Date: Available as import
iTunes affiliate
Amazon affiliate

The difference between Motown, soul, and funk has little to do with geography. Remember, Detroit was not only the home of Berry Gordy, Jr. and company, but also the address of the Queen of Soul (Aretha Franklin) and the Kings of Funk (Parliament/Funkadelic). Although Motown put Detroit on the musical map (literally with a map of the town on the record labels attached to the center of the discs), the Motor City also deserves to be recognized for its incredible contributions to soul and funk. (The terms soul and funk are somewhat synonymous.) This album should help remedy the situation. Searching for Soul: Rare & Classic Soul, Funk & Jazz from Michigan 1968-1980 contains 14 classic tracks, each one a gem that deserves to be part of the soul/funk canon. These cuts rank right up there with tunes like Jean Knight's "Mr. Big Stuff", Freda Payne's "Band of Gold", and other tracks from the period commonly found on most soul/funk compilations.

Gordy ran Motown as a hit factory with studio musicians that professionally pumped out an incredible number of successful records. Motown groomed its star artists for live performances at classy venues. The singers and players on this Motor City compilation recorded the tracks in basements and backrooms and sold their discs at beauty shops and mom and pop stores. These artists had day jobs and often had to borrow their instruments. These sides have always been obscure and hard to find. This marks the first time any of them have been on a CD.

Several traits separate Motown lyrically from soul/funk. The Motown label's motto, "the Sound of Young America", concerned innocent themes of love, while soul/funk more commonly involved sex. While the Supremes may have sung about "Baby Love", Aretha was telling her man "sock it to me" and everyone knew what that meant. Many of the songs on this compilation concern doing the dirty deed, which is in fact the entire topic of El Riot's hot and heavy "Do It Right". Vocalist Roz Ryan commands the listener that "When you're doing wrong/ Make sure you get it right." Not only do several of the tunes here clearly concern erotic themes, so are some of the groups' names, including the explicitly entitled Detroit Sex Machines and the more subtly monikered Burning Desire.

Soul and funk generally address adult themes, such as war, drugs, and the grittiness of urban life. Manual R. Holcolm's plaintive "I Stayed Away Too Long" tells the story of a G.I. who has returned home from fighting overseas to find his girlfriend has found another man. He sings, "When I got your last letter/ I knew something was wrong/ But I was laying in a foxhole baby/ Deep in Vietnam." Holcolm suffers his disappointment like a man, but he can't help but be bitter. Robert Jay's take on "Alcohol" makes Brad Paisley's recent country hit of the same name come off as shallow. Jay knows the power of the bottle. He laments, "Alcohol oh alcohol/ I've got to let you go/ You've torn up my car/ You've put me behind bars." Jay finds nothing funny about the drug that caused his wife to leave him and almost killed him on several occasions. Tommy McGhee lays down the code of the streets in "Give & Take". McGhee sings, "No matter where you go/ If I do something for you, you gotta do something for me." It's a "universal truth" he declares, that nothing comes for free.

Musically, soul and funk feature wah wah guitars and horny horns with precision drumming. The sonic efforts here recall the best efforts of Isaac Hayes's and James Brown's groups, from whom these players obviously drew their inspiration. The disc includes several sizzling instrumental tracks, such as Wendell Harrison's "Farewell to the Welfare (Part 1)" and Jay Ward and the Soul Searcher's "Searching for Soul (Part 1)". Harrison's cut features an electric guitar solo that veers off into free jazz while the side musicians keep things grounded in funky chucka-chucka rhythms. The guitarist may be leaving welfare, but the musical line suggests he has left a material reality for a more drug-induced state. "Searching for Soul" takes one on a more earthly trip. The tempo mimics a train going down the tracks while the horns recall a steam whistle blowing. Both cuts are "Part 1", which suggest the rest of the songs, the second parts, can be found on the flip side of the original 45s.

The instrumental Black Aces of Soul join forces with the vocal band the Eyes of Ebony to create the rollicking "Let's Get on Down", which combines a deep bass and drum groove with staccato horns with layers of different pitched voices to make a party anthem. The two groups keep things ragged enough to sound real yet polished and professional. The song begs to be played on the dance floor.

While all of the cuts here are first rate, Dee Edwards "I Can Deal With That" is surely the most outstanding track. Edwards tells her boyfriend he can cheat as long he goes through the trouble of hiding the fact from her and treating her like she's the only one. Her expressive voice articulates the wisdom and pain of such a compromise. Meanwhile, the horn section behind her wails in sympathy and exultation. The song would sound right at home on the radio today, alongside tracks by John Legend, Mary J. Blige, and the like.






A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.


The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.


Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.