Eccentric Soul: Mighty Mike Lenaburg and Good God! A Gospel-Funk Hymnal: Review

Eccentric Soul: Might Mike Lenaburg and Good God! A Gospel-Funk Hymnal
(Numero Uno)

In 2006, after 25 years plus of rare funk and soul compilations, it’s a wonder that there are any crates anywhere in the world left that have not been thoroughly dug through. The most interesting diggers, compilers and DJs have developed increasingly baroque tastes and collections, focusing on highly local or obscure scenes. Numero Uno has put out disks of little known labels from Columbus, Chicago, Miami and Detroit in its Eccentric Soul series – and, as the title indicates, specializes in songs that barely fit in the genre of soul, whether through lyrical extravagance, bizarre genre hybridizations, or ruthlessly lofi production values that make the average Pebbles garage psych band sound like the Blue Oyster Cult. Mighty Mike Lenaburg concentrates on the soul and funk scene in the unlikely location of Phoenix, Arizona. Lenaburg, actually born in the UK in 1946, became a DJ in Phoenix in the early 1960s, and started putting out soul ‘45s later in the decade. While some tracks here are fairly straight ahead soul, others like Michael Liggins and the Super Souls’ “Loaded to the Gills” and We The People’s “Function Underground” match blasting horns with clip-cloppy latin percussion, flutes and rock guitar, creating an improbable but delightful Tejano-funk-psychedelia fusion, equal parts mariachi, JBs and Sir Douglas Quintet.
Good God! covers the gospel-funk scene of the 1970s whose best known exponents are probably the Mighty Clouds of Joy. The sound here is much rougher than the tracks found on Soul Jazz’s excellent Gospel Soul collections – this is definitely “funk” complete with chattering scratch guitars, breakbeats and ferocious call and response vocals that attempt to overpower their musical accompaniment through their zeal and devotion. John Fahey observed in his notes to Revenant’s pre-war gospel collections that beneath the heavenly harmonies and Christian words of African-American spiritual music lurks an unbowed pagan spirit. That goes doubly here for the James Brown screams and booty-bumping bass whose sensuous, electronically amplified bump is heading across town at high speed on the down-low, away from the church and back to the players’ lounge. The quality of the selections is terrific – from The Voices of Conquest’s 1968 choir meets breakbeat “O Yes My Lord” to simultaneously raw and overproduced rolling funk monsters like Cliff Gober’s “A Poor Wayfaring Stranger”. The disk ends on a particularly high note with the mind-boggling Hustler’s Convention meets Sunday sermon of LaVice and Company’s “Thoughs Were the Days” (sic), a nostalgic look at the joys of hell, taken from an unlikely church basement musical in Philadelphia called “Two Sisters from Bagdad” (sic).

Originally published in The Wire, 2007.

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