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CD of the Week: Various Artists, 'Soul Cal'

MusicThe Now (music group)

Various Artists
Soul Cal


In the digital age, there's a lot of talk about "value-added" products, which basically means making something tangible that can't be stolen through file-sharing or given away in the ether. The Now-Again label — which specializes in deeply researched and elaborately packaged re-issues of ultra-obscure music from around the world — may have solved the problem simply by turning every release into a deluxe archival coffee-table object. Soul Cal is a collection of excellent but super rare soul-funk from 1971 to 1982. These recordings were originally released independently on small labels, most of which vanished, along with the artists they represented. But the music is salvaged from oblivion here, with lengthy essays about each artist and label, awesome vintage promo photos and live shots. Opener and ultra-rare single "You Can Be a Star," by Luther Davis, was originally released in 1977, the sole record on Davis's self-financed label, with 500 copies pressed. It and the other tracks on this compilation are all about groovy uplift, positivity and inspiration. In places there are massive breakbeats, relentless cowbells, funky horns and manatee-sounding slap bass run through a wah-wah — it's still weird, but 30 years or more after it disappeared, this music deserves a hearing. 

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