Various Artists

Miami Sound: Rare Funk & Soul from Miami Florida 1967-1974

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Like other releases from the U.K.-based Soul Jazz label -- such as Philadelphia Roots or New Orleans Funk -- the 17-track Miami Sound: Rare Funk & Soul from Miami Florida 1967-1974 prides itself on its obscurity, digging out tracks that have been lost to all but the fanatically dedicated collector. That's Soul Jazz's stock in trade: They occasionally feature hits, but they're regional hits, and none of the material on any of their collections is readily available on CD. While there's the occasional feeling that sides are chosen for obscurity's sake, it's often overshadowed by the consistency of the material; it all sounds of a piece, due to the compilers' expert ears and their desire to hold the groove above all other considerations. This is appropriate especially for Miami Sound, since the city's soul was as groove-oriented as New Orleans, but considerably more splashy, stylish, streamlined, hard, and sleek -- the kind of grooves that work really well as recordings, which is why this may be the best installment yet of Soul Jazz's soul-oriented compilations. Each cut here has a bright neon glow and deep danceability that point the way to disco, and while that can sometimes get a little samey on the instrumentals -- with the notable exception of Timmy Thomas' rampaging "Funky Me," whose beat even points the way toward electro -- what makes this collection a real delight is the abundance of great songs. Little Beaver is deservedly a respected cult figure and George and Gwen McCrae are both represented with good early cuts, but the real finds are Joey Gilmore's deep soul, Frank Williams & the Rocketeers' vocal sides, and especially James Knight & the Butlers, whose two tracks, "Save Me" and "Fantasy World," are pure dynamite, a pair of the best unheard soul of the '70s and reason enough to get this collection. Make no mistake, no matter how good those Knight songs are (or much of the rest of this compilation is), nothing here would have been a national hit: They're too idiosyncratic and quirky, too concerned with the overall sound and groove to appeal to a wider audience. But that's why Miami Sound is worthwhile -- it captures a regional sound in all of its strengths and flaws, and it's all the more compelling a compilation for it. It's one of Soul Jazz's best releases to date.

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