Various Artists: Bay Area Funk 2

Various Artists
Bay Area Funk 2

Luv N’Haight Records went through a lot of trouble to make this an instant collector’s item. “We searched harder and dug up heavier tracks for this second volume of the Bay Area Funk series”, boasts Luv N’Haight’s parent label, Ubiquity Records. Featuring rare gems and underground hits of the ’60s and ’70s funk/soul era in the San Francisco Bay Area, the tracklisting alone is liable to lead the avid fan of said genres to foam at the mouth.

I don’t quite fit that description, so my reaction must be based simply on the strength of the songs. Does this music appeal to the non-initiated? Or is it just a pat on the back, an easy sell, a niche release? Time will tell how Luv N’Haight markets the album, but I’m just the person to evaluate it objectively. Aside from the prolific Ray Camacho, who has performed for royalty and a leper colony, not a single one of these 15 names rings a bell.

I won’t be able to tell you who played on the Uptights Band’s “Devil’s on the Run”, or how the Windjammers’ “Poor Sad Child Pt. 1” stacks up to part two, or if there even was a part two. But I will be able to tell you if you’re gonna want to load this thing on your MP3 player, leave it in the car for easy access, or simply store it on the shelf for posterity’s sake.

The easy answer: somewhere between the first two. None of these tracks will blow your mind — well, Mike Selesia’s five-minute jazz/Latin/funk jam “Brute Strength” just might, because his mind was certainly blown when he recorded the song; Ubiquity claims he managed to play two saxophones at once during the session — but none falls flat either. To the untrained ear, the songs don’t necessarily sound underground, or rare, or straight outta the Bay Area. They just sound like some really solid OG soul and funk. You can tell they’re vintage recordings just by the sound quality, which retains that old-fashioned vinyl feel without detracting from the modern listening experience.

The most interesting thing to me is how the psychedelic sounds of ’60s San Francisco rock ‘n’ roll seeped into these recordings. Project Soul’s instrumental cut “Ebony” couldn’t be funkier, but then wham, an organ solo that’ll put a swirling kaleidoscope in your mind’s eye. Many of the tracks sound improvisational; these artists weren’t trying to cut singles, but live jams you could really feel with your soul. While local superstars Sly & the Family Stone (San Francisco) and Tower of Power (Oakland) were selling millions of funk and soul records across the country, a lively local scene packed sweaty nightclubs from Vallejo to Fremont. That’s the scene these artists came from, and it’s where most of them stayed.

One song you get the feeling was geared for radio play is Little Denise Stevenson’s “Hip Breakin'”. A hip-shakin’ riff straight outta James Brown meets a bassline… straight outta James Brown. Here’s where things get interesting: 12-year-old Denise’s little voice. “You’re invited/ To have a party out of sight/ So bring some friends/ It’s what we’re gonna do tonight,” she sings before a pair of backing female vocalists — probably twice her age — follow her into the chorus: “Dance/ The hip breakin’/ Breakdown/ A little soul shakin’.”

As it still is today, San Francisco was a melting pot of sounds and cultures in the ’60s and ’70s. Touches of Latin music work their way into Bay Area Funk 2, as in the killer bongos in the smokin’ “Creole Girl” from Victor Green, a onetime drummer for James Brown. Although they’re funk at the base, many of the cuts are also tinged with blues and soul. It’s easy to see how fellow San Franciscan Carlos Santana arrived at his massively popular fusion of Latin, funk, blues, and psychedelic rock.

Bay Area Funk 2 is an engrossing listen that will affirm the good taste of funk and soul connoisseurs and instantly educate the less familiar. Rare or not, these songs are great fun to listen to. That many of them have never been anthologized before, or perhaps even properly released, only adds to their value in today’s drastically different times. Luv N’Haight should be applauded for digging up these treats from a lost era. They’re certainly not doing it for the money.

RATING 8 / 10