Various Artists

Purple Snow: Forecasting the Minneapolis Sound

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Purple Snow follows Secret Stash's Twin Cities Funk & Soul but, true to Numero Group form, it's a lavish package -- a major undertaking, even by the label's standard. Its two discs, stored in pouches within the front and back of a hardbound 140-page book filled with eye-popping images and information, contain over 70 minutes of music released on small labels. Another hour consists of previously unissued material. As R&B lovers outside this region gradually learned during Prince's commercial rise, the Twin Cities had a deep talent pool. The Time, with roots in Mind & Matter and Flyte Tyme, Sue Ann Carwell, Rockie Robbins, the undervalued André Cymone, and Alexander O'Neal all followed Prince with major recording deals. Other acts didn't make it that far but left deep local imprints. Unlike the 1964-1979 range of the Secret Stash compilation, this set's focus is on the mid-'70s through the early '80s. The earliest material comes from a 1974 single by Haze, led with an aching ballad in the realm of Black Ivory and the Moments, while the latest is a decent archival synth-funk cut from Ronnie Robbins -- who, along with Flyte Tyme's Cynthia Johnson, played a role in the success of Lipps, Inc. James "Jimmy Jam" Harris' Mind & Matter, anthologized on 1514 Oliver Avenue, leads the previously released material with the gorgeous, clavinet-sweetened "I'm Under Your Spell." A close second comes from the Stylle Band, whose charming "If You Love Me" could have been a major hit if recorded on a Solar or Tabu-level budget. Alexander O'Neal's rawer but more muscular "Do You Dare," also from the early '80s, seems to fall somewhere between Stephanie Mills' "Put Your Body in It" and upbeat Rick James; he had yet to find his identity with Harris and Terry Lewis. Notable previously unreleased material comes from Cymone, his all-woman group the Girls, and the Mass Production/ADC Band-like Aura (not to be confused with Aurra). There's also Rockie Robbins, whose kicked-back "Together" is enjoyable if inferior to the slightly more uptempo version released as a B-side to his excellent 1980 A&M single "You & Me." 94 East's "If You See Me," featuring rhythmic and song-serving lead guitar from a 17-year-old Prince Nelson, leads off the set -- one of the most fascinating compilations of rare, regional R&B. Those who possess inside-out knowledge of the Prince and Jam & Lewis songbooks should be thrilled with it.

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