Graded on a Curve: Tropical Disco Hustle Volume Two

Soul Music of All Diasporas! That’s the calling card of Cultures of Soul, a label operated by Deano Sounds out of Boston, MA, and a large portion of his venture’s output is devoted to international surveys of original disco. Illuminating an earlier era of idea exchange amidst distinct geographical flavors, the sum has been listenable as well as informative; available now on CD and 2LP is Tropical Disco Hustle Volume Two.

By my count Cultures of Soul’s disco comp tally is up to five; one Brazilian, two Hindi, and now two from the Caribbean region. Never did I think I’d be inundated with the impetus of so much ‘70s rump shaking, and the endeavor has proven surprisingly successful. That’s in part due to a sustained curatorial point of view highlighting subtle detours from formula while documenting a worldwide dance imperative. I’ve no idea how much more is in the pipeline, but the series has yet to falter.

Wild Fire, Trinidadian stars of the first Tropical Disco installment, open Volume Two. “Try Making Love” gathers a standard disco template, deepens it with a killer bass line, and lends uniqueness through crisp hand drums and ample spacey guitar. The lyrics take the titular advice and kinda drive it into the ground (or deep into the mattress, as it were), but that’s not really a weakness in dance floor-inclined stuff; “Try Making Love” topped the chart in Trinidad for six weeks.

The funkiness of “The Dealer” is more lyrically elaborate, presenting a storyline of an itinerant character hustling to make ends meet by acquiring and selling materials big and small. An interesting portrait, but closer to the disco norm is “Dance with Me,” a fairly typical gyration motivator loaded with electric keyboards and a dash of synthetic strings.

Sprinkled throughout Volume Two, Wild Fire does a solid job of representing the sequence’s commercial core. More enticing however is a trifecta of one-shots. The first is “Music Makes the World Go Round,” the debut ’78 single from the Hamilton Brothers, three legit siblings (not always the case) who combine vocal group style, impressively layered spring-action riffing, zesty horns, and a rhythm that seems to be impersonating a heartbeat as captured through an amplified stethoscope.

The second track comes from calypso singer Cecil Hume, better known for a highly-regarded self-titled LP of ’76 under the moniker Maestro. That year he produced “Savage,” an uptempo single matching disco’s groove momentum to the swagger and social content of calypso. Oozing confidence, Maestro spits out brisk verses, interacts well with his backing vocalists, and near song’s end throws down sarcastic growls and even a few cool high notes. Hume was struck by a vehicle and died in ’77, Trinidad robbed of clear talent.

The third in the trio belongs to Patti Charles. Reportedly best known for a ’77 cover of Peter Frampton’s “Baby I Love Your Way,” I can’t imagine it’s better than its flip side. Like most of Volume Two’s highpoints, “Music Lady” leans into the funk, and the result is a simmering punch strengthened with melodic touches and Charles’ capable voice.

The three previous cuts share an association with Charlie’s Records. A store-label-studio located in the Brooklyn borough of Bedford Stuyvesant and started by Trinidadian émigré Rawlston Charles (as featured in Mitchell Kezin’s feelgood holiday music doc Jingle Bell Rocks!), Charlie’s Records is storied for top-notch mixing and mastering. Charles released a ton of wax, and based on the selections here his discography was the equal of any larger enterprise tending to the same market niche; frankly stronger, as he was sly enough to not bathe the records in sheen.

Specializing in the steelband panorama style of calypso, The Original Defosto Himself (aka Winston Scarborough) gets backed by the Trinidad Troubadours (found on Volume One’s “Disco Music”) and brings the ’78 single “Socorama.” The title references Soca, a funkier ‘70s offshoot of calypso that exists to this day; not as heavy on the steel as an ear might hope, it’s chock full of horns and flashes of rudimentary synth, though the calypso influence is obvious. Sample lyric: “Calypso is my God.” Also apparent via recurring vocal interjection is the impact of Bedrock resident Fred Flintstone.

Leaving Trinidad for neighboring St. Lucia delivers the Tru Tones, a group formed by guitarist Ronald “Boo” Hinkson. Stretching back to the late-‘60s, by the arrival of the disco boom they were under the sway of Philly soul specialists Gamble and Huff and MFSB in particular. The two numbers here, “Dancing” and “Let’s Party,” are custom-made for drinking daiquiris on a cruise ship while wearing a white suit or crimson off the shoulder dress; as such I can admire the execution, though neither cut is amongst my favorites.

Volume Two also offers a pair of tracks from Guadeloupe, with Keith Paul and the G.T. Boom Band’s “My Life, My Music and Me” brandishing the sort of horn charts high school band instructors covet for their charges. That means it’s quite vampy, honestly as informed by Blood, Sweat & Tears as disco, but a passage of James Brown-like emoting helps, as does an unusual instrumental motif seemingly lifted from a piece of renaissance baroque.

As on Volume One, a few remix entries have been added; I wasn’t so jazzed by them last time, but here they increase the value considerably. For instance, there’s an edit of “Caribean People” by soprano sax man Camille Sopran’n Hildevert aka C Soprann H by French DJ Waxist Selecta. A long-serving member of Les Vikings De La Guadeloupe, by 1980 Hildevert left to form his own group and craft a rhythmic style called Gazz Jazz; he soon migrated to Paris where the root of this edit was recorded. After soaking it up I’m primed to hear the entirety of C Soprann H’s Caribean People LP.

Waxist Selecta’s other entry solidly retools high-profile Jamaican Derrick Harriott’s disco-reggae cover of Chanson’s “Don’t Hold Back,” but Volume Two’s best mix is the Al Kent version of “Try Making Love.” It finds Wild Fire’s undeniably mainstream source receiving a beneficial rise in potency through dance-club ingenuity.

Only faintly lesser when compared against its predecessor, this chapter’s level of quality gets a substantial boost from the Charlie’s Records’ gleanings and the general attention paid to genre hybridization familiar from Cultures of Soul’s other global disco collections. Continuing to sate aural curiosity, Tropical Disco Hustle Volume Two is a winner.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
B+

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