Lou Ragland

I Travel Alone

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Numero has always set itself to a high standard, bringing to listeners impossibly rare, forgotten, unheard, and unissued music in various genres from funk, soul, gospel, blues, folk, country, and rock. I Travel Alone is a three-disc collection of Ohio soul and funk legend Lou Ragland's early career, which began in earnest in the middle of the '60s. The 34 tracks contained here, arranged chronologically, were recorded for several small labels. The set begins with Ragland's first single -- cut in between sessions when he was working the board at Way Out Studios as an unpaid apprentice -- which is the stellar title track, and its flip, "Big Wheel." It's followed by two cuts from the 1969 studio group which called itself Volcanic Eruption with Ragland on lead vocals. These four tracks proceed to one of the true holy grails of funk, the Hot Chocolate album. Hot Chocolate was a group founded by Ragland before the U.K. pop ensemble existed, but the latter got to the charts first thanks to their deal with Apple Records. The Ohio group's album, featuring a scorching, trademarked brand of early-'70s funk and stretched-out soul was released independently and disappeared from sight. Included here are both extended album and edited 45 versions of "We Had True Love," which are stunning in contrast. Two latter day but still excellent cuts from Lou Ragland & Hot Chocolate -- a single -- round out disc one. The second disc here contains the full-length Understand Each Other and Lou Ragland Is the Conveyor. The discs are polished (not slick), socially conscious, sophisticated '70s soul albums, by a large group (a larger version of Hot Chocolate and a guests), with a who's-who of Cleveland luminaries. It is every bit as fine, if not more so, than the earlier Hot Chocolate sides (think Mike Kirkland and Marvin Gaye). The final disc in the package contains a previously unreleased Hot Chocolate set, Live from Agency Studios, which includes originals as well as wonderful covers of "The World Is a Ghetto," and dig this, "Brother Louie," written by two members of Hot Chocolate U.K.! The sound quality of this final disc is rough. Apparently the analog tapes were knocked over to DAT in the early '90s and the masters were tossed. You can hear everything, but one can only imagine what was lost in the process. Musically, however, it's all top shelf with an exhaustive, excellent, historical liner essay by Jon Kirby and Ken Shipley. In essence, this becomes the definitive statement on Lou Ragland's early career.

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