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What Is It
- Pressed on black vinyl
- Originally released in 1971
- Featuring hit track, “Burning Spear”
Some musical nuggets have sometimes difficulties to reach the public at the time of their release, by lack of promotion or, simply, the misfortune of their destiny… That doesn’t prevent them, with time, to take value and to become pearls to be had in one’s discotheque. What Is It, the first release of the band S.O.U.L – whose acronym stands for Sounds Of Unity and Love – is one of them!
Originally from Ohio, the combo was created in 1970 by bassist and singer Lee Lovett, accompanied by drummer Paul Stubblefield, guitarist Walter Winston and saxophonist and flutist Gus Hawkins. And to tell the truth, their career had started quite well! By participating in a contest organized by the Cleveland radio star, WHK, and the Musicor label, the quartet won the first prize: a contract signed with the latter and the modest sum of 1000 dollars.
The band went to New York to record a track as a precursor to their first album: inspired by the chorus of Donny Hathaway’s hit ""The Ghetto"" released the year before, ""Down In The Ghetto"" is a track with a percussive and funky rhythm in which the band inserted ""fake"" crowd cries in post-production!
It is quite naturally that this one will open their first album, What Is It. LP of 7 tracks, it highlights the effectiveness of the choice of the pieces, balanced between covers and original compositions calibrated for the occasion.
As for the covers, we notice a particular taste for Motown productions, whether it’s ""Get Ready"" (a track written by Smokey Robinson and become famous thanks to the versions of Rare Earth or The Temptations) or ""Message From A Black Man"" (a track composed by the magic duo of the psychedelic era of the Detroit label, Norman Whitfield and Barett Strong). If the quality of the originals is not to be demonstrated anymore, the versions of S.O.U.L are also of high quality.
To continue in the covers, Charles Wright’s ""Express Yourself"" is transcended by the rhythmic talent of drummer Paul Stubblefield whose stick stroke is one of the essential elements of this band. And when Gus Hawkins’ flute enters the dance, as on the reinterpretation of Herbie Mann’s ""Memphis Underground"" or the aptly named ""Soul"", one of the compositions he created with Lee Lovett, then the groove is at its peak.
But it is without doubt the track “Burning Spear” that remains the nugget of this album. The song was originally written in 1967 by bassist and arranger Richard Evans for his project The Soulful Strings and here again the drum/flute interplay works wonders. It’s no coincidence that this version has been sampled by Peter Rock & CL Smooth, Rob Swift or Organised Konfusion.
In spite of the obvious qualities of this first try, the group will only have a success of estimate. Far from being discouraged, its members decided to hire new musicians including the organist Larry Hancock and released a new album.
Down In The Ghetto
Message From A Black Man