Over a decade in the making, Soul Cal: Disco & Modern Soul, 1971-1982 collects 15 impossibly obscure tracks from an era of transition. The artists showcased here were navigating the murky territory between funk and the rise of disco, usually self-supported, on a shoestring budget and with extraordinary results. The genus of the collection began with producer and record nerd Eothen "Egon" Alapatt's discovery of a dusty gem in the form of Luther Davis' 1982 single "You Can Be a Star." Egon became obsessed with the single and hunted down Davis, eventually getting him to agree to a reissue of the disco-tinged dance track. The reissue failed to sell, but Davis' song and the story behind it (piecemeal recording in kitchens and living rooms, distributing copies out of his house before eventually giving up on disco and switching over to the blues) had so captivated Egon that he and his crew began seeking out other artifacts of this in-between sound. Soul Cal is the result of these compulsive crate-diggers' excavations. The tracks that stand out the most are those that aim for smash hit status and land in far weirder territory. The incredibly home recorded-sounding dirty funk of Mixed Sugar's "It's a Bad Feeling" and the washy phase-damaged disco of "Wake Up" by Pure Essence couldn't even make regional waves in their day, but sound absolutely vital when plucked out of obscurity. Like any comp put together by sample-oriented artists, the magic is in isolated moments of most of these songs rather than an entire front-to-back listening experience. The fried acid funk-fest of Stanton Davis & Ghetto Mysticism's six-minute freakout "Things Cannot Stop Forever" may not register with a cursory listen, but close inspection reveals the kind of mind-blowing moments of lightly psychedelic production and electronic twists that sample-happy DJs dream of. Ultimately more impressive than any of the songs is the 82-page book that accompanies Soul Cal. Painstakingly researched in first-hand interviews, the book dedicates a chapter to the story of each artist, complete with replications of the original 45 labels or master tapes as well as photos of the bands and artists in their prime. To be sure, this collection and book are pure record-nerd fare, even more fine-tuned for those already versed in funk 45 obsession and looking to get even deeper into hyper obscure subgenres and micro-histories. Though the sounds might not be universally impactful, it's impossible to argue with the amount of care and earnest excitement poured into this production.
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AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas