- Unless you're eating a really good steak, rareness, ipso facto, doesn't equal quality. That doesn't mean hidden gems don't exist, but at this late date, an area as heavily mined as disco isn't exactly studded with diamonds in the rough. Not to mention that the further along these excavations go, the less glittery the results. Exhibit A: this new compilation, two CDs compiled by Mark Grusane and Mike Cole, who own Chicago's Mr. Peabody's Records.
On paper, it's obvious why The Real Sound of Chicago might be appealing. Covering the period between disco's late-'70s peak and the mid-'80s rise of the house music that would enshrine the city as one of modern dance culture's spiritual homes, Chicago had as busy a local indie-label R&B and disco scene as any center of black American life. But few of Grusane and Cole's selections have much to recommend them other than the thrill of obscurity.
In many of these cases, that obscurity was well earned. Tempos waver (Expo ft. J. Eliot Robinson's "Road to Sunshine," Billy Hinton's "A Challenge"), singing goes painfully sharp (LaJohn & Sheela's "Too Far Gone") and one-note ideas meander on past any point of interest (Lonnie Givens' "Running to a Disco"). The cheap, lo-fi charm that is the selling point for much of this stuff often runs out quickly, as with Ghalib Ghallab's cheapo-organ-drenched "School Days (Mr. Peabody's Edit)," thanks to its beyond-smarmy vocal crooning: "We went to the drive-in mo-oo-vies / Now let me tell you what we did, it was soothing." Wink-wink, nudge-nudge, blecchh.
What's most frustrating about this excessive blah is that there's some genuinely fetching stuff here. Maxx Traxx's "Don't Touch It" is confident mid-tempo boogie with a sharp guitar-synth breakdown. Yohon's "B.T. (Boogie Terrestrial)" lives up to its cash-in title with as sparkling synth-funk track in the Gap Band vein. Larry Houston's "Promise (Instrumental)" (odd subtitle, given that a vocal runs throughout it) is a boisterous, horn-heavy big-band romp. But even that one recalls better records arranged just as floridly—Janice McClain's "Smack Dab in the Middle," say, or the first Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band album. Even if you crave the shock of the new-old, why settle?
01. Premonition - Your Love Is in the Pocket
02. Loveship - Love So New
03. Larry Houston - Promise (Instrumental)
04. LaJohn & Sheela - Too Far Gone
05. Yohon - B.T. (Boogie Terrestrial)
06. Billy Hinton - A Challenge
07. Maxx Traxx - Don't Touch It
08. On Stage - Hooked On Your Love
09. Sidney Thomas - Look Let's Make Love
10. Bilalian Express - Disco Nights
11. Martin L. Dumas - Attitude, Belief & Determination
12. Ghalib Ghallab - School Days [Mr. Peabody’s Edit]
01. Expo - Road to Sunshine
02. Gregory James - Happy Baby
03. Carmen Amez - Never Gonna Fall in Love Again
04. Tomorrow's People - Open Soul
05. The Moore Brothers - Bass Come Back
06. Lonnie Givens - Runnin' to a Disco [Mr. Peabody's Edit]
07. Esquires - What Good Is Music
08. Synergy feat. Jimmy Tillman - Can You Feel It
09. Brighter Side Of Darkness - The Disco Ball
10. Fantasie - The Composer [Mr. Peabody's Edit]
11. Cheryl Berdell - Fall in Love
12. Cold T - Funky Preacher [Mr. Peabody's Edit]