Reissues (August 6): The Contempo Story, Screamin' Jay Hawkins and The Residents

Reissues (August 6): The Contempo Story, Screamin' Jay Hawkins and The Residents

Music Week's round-up of the latest album reissues and catalogue releases. This week, we run the rule over releases from The Contempo Story, Screamin' Jay Hawkins and The Residents

The Contempo Story 1973-1977 (Soul Time TOCKBX 4)

Established by Blues & Soul magazine founder John Abbey in 1973, Contempo released around 150 singles and a small number of albums in the next four years before running its course. Its original purpose was to cater for demand for black American music that was not otherwise available here, with funk, soul, Northern Soul, traditional R&B, blues and the nascent and evolving disco genre all grist to its mill. Initially a licensor, it eventually originated some excellent repertoire of its own from both American and British acts and, more than 40 years after the fact, is finally the subject of its first ever retrospective. With 63 tracks spread across 3 CDs in a clamshell box set, it includes some familiar, easy to find recordings but also makes available a lot of tracks which have either never been on CD before or have been long deleted. The label’s bona fide hits – Gloria Lynne’s magnificent Northern soul anthem I’m Gonna Run Away From You and Dorothy Moore’s deep soul takes on country songs Misty Blue and Funny How Time Slips Away – are present and correct, alongside less frequently heard but similarly excellent fare like Make Me Yours by Bettye Swan and Reward by Melvin Bliss. Some of the most impressive tracks are those specifically commissioned for the label, including Oscar Toney Jr.’s beautifully drawn and sublime cover of Burt Bacharach & Hal David’s Message To Martha (Kentucky Bluebird), UK-based American Richie Pitts’ sweetly soulful Every Couple’s Not A Pair, and British studio ensemble Ultrafunk’s hustling Batmanesque instrumental, Gotham City Boogie. An informative and heavily illustrated 36 page booklet provides a wealth of background information, completing a worthy salute to the label.  

Screamin' Jay Hawins:
Are You One Of Jay’s Kids?: The Complete Bizarre Sessions 1990-1994 (Edsel EDSL 022)

An American singer/songwriter with an intense, theatrical ‘shock rock’ style of delivery, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins – who died in 2000 – is probably best-remembered for his 1956 hit version of his own composition, I Put A Spell On You, which went on to become a much-covered standard. On the evidence of this new compilation – a 2 CD set which anthologises his albums Black Music For White People (1991), Stone Crazy (1993) and Somethin’ Funny Goin’ On (1994) and adds ten previously unrelease tracks from the sessions – his style remained uncompromised and manic to the end. Black Music… includes the bluesy shouter Swamp Gas, a rockabilly take on Tom Waits’ Ice Cream Man and a rap version of I Put A Spell On You. Stone Crazy is less memorable but fairly tight, with a slightly slower, less fevered version of a 1969 flipside working well as its title track. Somethin’ Funny Goin’ On is also solid, with self-penned throwback You Make Me Sick, the excellent I Am The Cool – which serves as the unlikely soundbed to the current Thomas Cook TV commercial – and Whistling Past The Graveyard (another Tom Waits cover) impressing.  

The Residents:
Fingerprince (MVD Audio/Cherry Red/Ralph NRT 004)/Duck Stab!: Buster & Glen (NRT 005) 

As anonymous and avant-garde as they are prolific and perverse, The Residents have put out a terrific amount of material since their 1974 debut, much of which is now being reissued in these ‘remastered, expanded and preserved’ 2 CD sets, with the original releases fully restored and supplemented by a plethora of previously unreleased material, accompanied by extensive booklets packed with previously unseen images, essays and liner notes in deep archive editions. Our jump-on point is Fingerprince, the coy collective’s seminal third album, which is just as unique, innovative, experimental, conceptual and left-field as it ever was. Their 1978 release, Duck Stab! sold out fast, and was immediately supplemented with Buster & Glen, in which version it appears here. 40 Years on, it remains one of their more accessible albums, with shorter, less way out songs, although the bonus material, including re-imagined and live recordings, is more challenging. The Residents are an acquired taste but have a large and faithful fanbase, who will doubtless embrace these new editions of their work with enthusiasm.

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