- When the golden era of Chicago house gets mentioned nowadays, people will be quick to mention people like Frankie Knuckles, Marshall Jefferson, Farley "Jackmaster" Funk and Larry Heard, but Eric Lewis and Merwyn Sanders? Although they might not be household names, the duo's small discography is highly rated by connoisseurs of the deeper Chicago sound, and some might go as far as to say that their debut EP from '89 as Virgo Four is arguably the finest house music 12-inch ever created. I'm inclined to agree, and if you've ever heard the strutting space-age bleep-house of "In a Vision" or the euphorically melancholic reggaematics of "Take Me Higher" before (the latter of which I would rate as one of the best electronic music tracks of all time), it's likely that you will too. Virgo compiles the aforementioned Do You Know Who You Are? EP with their Ride single from later that year, much in the same way that it was licensed to UK-based imprint Radical Records back in its original year of release.
Speaking in the reissue's liner notes, Merwyn Sanders downplays the amount of thought that went into making the material on Virgo, stating that it was "really just song 'ideas,' somewhat unfinished in a sense," but that really doesn't do justice to the timeless melodies and luxuriant sound design that they managed to achieve during these live jams. Sanders may lament the simplicity of certain aspects of the Virgo sound—such as their rudimentary but commanding drum machine programming—but it's this characteristic that gives their music so much charm. Take the effortless but irresistible groove of "Do You Know Who You Are?" or "Going Thru Life"'s lolloping piano riff, for example, both of which embody the duo's visceral approach to music making.
With quality tracks like these at the start of the record, Virgo was always going to feel front-loaded, but the Ride material should really be looked upon as a different entity to the first half. Showcasing a darker and more vocal-led direction to their first EP, Lewis and Sanders cycle through skulking low-slung house ("School Hall"), jacking balladry ("Never Want To Lose You") and even a bit of moody slap bass ("All The Time"), but it's the title track that really stands the test of time. As close to menacing as you'll hear on any of their records, the oft-overlooked "Ride" could easily slot into a set of contemporary techno with its crisp rattling hats, urgent vocal and positively evil modulating bass line.
Rush Hour's remastering treatment isn't particularly drastic, but those of you weighing up whether to grab the original issues may be interested to hear that the new version has crisper highs and a slightly punchier low-end, and unlike the Trax originals, the double pack will definitely have been pressed on virgin vinyl. Nevertheless, it's a shame that Rush Hour didn't think to include any extra bonus tracks, such as the vocal versions of "Do You Know Who You Are" and "In a Vision," or their two contributions to 1993's Lost Trax compilation. Radical Records CD issue has proved either difficult or expensive to get hold of in recent times, and if you're a vinyl-buying house music fan and don't already own this seminal body of work, it's a perfect opportunity to pick up a quality pressing. Merwyn Sanders has always maintained that they've continued to produce music, and with this reissue giving him and Eric Lewis the recognition that they deserve, hopefully we'll see more Virgo gems make it to vinyl in the near future.
01. Do You Know Who You Are
02. In a Vision
03. Going Thru Life
04. Take Me Higher
06. School Hall
07. Never Want to Lose You
08. All the Time