Monday, April 26, 2010

Rotary Connection Black Gold: The Very Best of Rotary Connection 2006

Rotary Connection was an interesting band. The group was assembled by Marshall Chess, son of the legendary Leonard Chess. Marshall saw the burgeoning psychedelic music genre and figured he'd cash in on the idea for his new record label Cadet Concept, a subsidiary of daddy's Chess records. Or maybe he just wanted to try something different. He hired a multiracial gang of artists, singers and arrangers to develop a mix of cover versions of popular rock and pop songs of the day and originals done in quasi-classical psychedelic style with dashes of pop, spacey interludes, rock and soul. It actually worked to produce something unique and original in pop. That unique something never developed much more than a small audience in the midwest. I bought the first one for the cool cover, and liked the music. I saw the band live in Cleveland opening for the Lemon Pipers in 1969.

They released six records between 1967 and 1971. That first record was the only one just like it that they made, but their other records always contained some good songs. And that's where this 2 CD set comes in. They came pretty close to making exactly this much good music that you might like to hear today. Or you will think this is the most ridiculously dated sounding CD ever. You'll have to decide.

Their secret weapons were Minnie Riperton, with her five-octive range, and classical-pop arranger-producer songwriter Charles Stepney. But the rest of the band and singers were good, and there are plenty of musicians on the records. Eight of the thirteen tracks from the debut are here, and they are fun to hear. The cover of Soul Man from that eponymous album is sadly left off this Best Of, but their albums are all available on CD. The first is available by itself (and it was almost tempting to recommend it over this Best Of) and their other records are available as twofers- two albums on one CD (the sixth record was a Christmas album, and it was one weird Christmas album- it is not available on CD as far as I know.)

Sometimes they sound like the Carpenters on acid. Sometimes they sound like the Hollywood Strings on acid. And sometimes they sound like the Fifth Dimension doing Cream covers, on acid. They do covers of Sunshine Of Your Love, Respect, Didn't Want to Have To Do It, We're Going Wrong and The Weight. And there are quite a few Stepney originals that hold their own with the covers, although a few are overly syrupy. Peace and love abound.

This big, orchestrated pop-psych sound is the one thing that continues through all of their work. They always have skilled singers, the playing is top notch, and the arrangements, well, here's the thing. The arrangements are pretty out there, especially the covers. And they don't all work. But they are consistently different. Nobody does them this way. Yea, it's hippy-heavy in a way hippies of the time wrote off as hype. But they were wrong. It's fun stuff, and it is well-executed.

I don't know if you'd like this one as much as I do, but you can always donate it to the library. It is a unique historical document.

1 comment:

  1. What is Marshall Chess doing on this album?? Can anyone imagine a real producer like Richard Perry, George Martin, etc. so such a narcissistic thing? What an ass..............