Various Artists

Eccentric Soul: The Tragar & Note Labels

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The 20th release by the Numero label focuses on the little-known soul scene in Atlanta during the late '60s , specifically the Tragar and Note imprints run by the iconic Jesse Jones. Jones was a saxophonist by trade and began his road career in the business as a teen with Jimmy Witherspoon -- not just playing but arranging, too. Jones was possessed of a deeply entrepreneurial spirit, and was a hard worker who believed passionately in the music and in his artists. After doing time in Los Angeles at Specialty with Robert "Bumps" Blackwell and Art Rupe, he recorded a number of sides for Ebb that went nowhere and founded his first label, called Lita, and later Four-J Records. Jones went broke in L.A. and returned to Atlanta where he founded Tragar, and later Note. There are 50 cuts spread over these two discs, and a number of them are unreleased; while they are not the complete vaults of these two labels, they tell their collective stories well. As has been the wont of Numero, they reissue music from the catalogs that succeeded regionally at best or not at all: labels that may have wanted to play the game in Los Angeles and New York but, for various reasons, were blacklisted. Jones was one of these men, which makes these recordings all the more remarkable -- perhaps not always musically, but simply that they exist at all -- due only to Jones' indefatigable spirit. A couple of tracks here were recorded by "Tokay" Lewis, aka "Bobby" Lewis, aka soul legend Barbara Lewis. One only need hear "What Can the Matter Be," a self-penned post-divorce soulful blues that drips heartbreak, bewilderment, and rage with killer electric guitar. The guitar work of J.D. Morris is a constant counter-wail to that of Lewis, and the track works beautifully. Particularly noteworthy in the history of these hard-bitten labels are the various sides cut by Eula Cooper. Right, you never heard of her. Too bad, but then, most of us haven't -- until now. "Try," with its bright sunshiny B-3, stellar high-register horns, strings, and tight little snare and tom-tom breaks, provides a gorgeous mix of expansive late-'60s soul, psych-textured pop, and the musical sophistication that Isaac Hayes and David Porter at Stax and Motown's Marvin Gaye were beginning to explore -- but the Southern sound is permanently etched in the grooves. Proof in the pudding of this is her 45 "Shake Daddy Shake," with its gritty, off-kilter, but in-the-pocket rhythm and tough horns that threaten but do not overwhelm Cooper's gorgeous voice. It's pointless to go into this more, because 90 to 95 percent of these tracks would qualify for their own reviews. There is so much here from "The House That Jesse Built" that the intrinsic value of this lies in the grooves and in the package, which includes an absolutely wonderful long-form historical essay by Rob Sevier and Numero boss Ken Shipley with help from Brian Proust. The 32-page booklet is littered with rare photos and the price is stone cold fair. Anyone interested in the history of American popular music needs to pay close attention to what Shipley and Numero are doing.

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