Monday, 3 April 2017

"Headless Heroes Of The Apocalypse" by EUGENE McDANIELS feat Miroslav Vitous and Alphonse Mouzon (2001 Label M 'Classic Albums' CD Reissue and Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"...Jagger The Dagger..."

Weird and wonderful and compared to what indeed! It's amazing now to think that this obscure, right-on, very American and at times 'difficult' Funk-Fusion LP from 1971 got issued in the UK at all. I mean who was buying Eugene McDaniels back then?

As one of the principal buyers in Reckless Records, London buying across the counter and visiting people's homes all over the city and elsewhere - I can recall maybe two occasions seeing this album in someone's collection - and I'm talking about buying vinyl LPs for nearly 20 years. The Voices Of East Harlem's "Right On" LP on Elektra Records from 1970 was/is the same (another hugely sought after piece from the time). "Headless Heroes Of The Apocalypse" on (Plum Label) Atlantic Records 2400 163 must have sold jack on release.

But of course times change and across the 90s and 00s – a steady stream of Rare Groove CD compilations and Box Sets from the massive WEA Archives have seen Soul and Funk fans rediscover the pioneers, innovators and nutjobs of those halcyon years.

Nick-named 'Elephant Ears' by Mile Davis and Cannonball Adderley when he backed up their live shows in the Sixties - at the time of this second Atlantic Records album (“Outlaw” was his first for Atlantic and had been issued in 1970) – The Reverend Mc. D was most well known for writing "Compared To What" for fellow Atlantic Records Jazz Keyboard whizz and Vocalist Les McCann. McCann and Saxophonist Eddie Harris had charted their duel-credited "Swiss Movement" LP in December 1969 on Atlantic SD 1537 - seeing it and the funky "Compared To What" track peak at No. 2 on the US R&B LP charts. In fact going much further back - Gene McDaniels the Soul Boy had a career with Liberty Records in the first half of the Sixties where he worked his way through an impressive eight rapidly released LPs (1960 to 1963) including popular titles like "Tower Of Strength" and "100 Lbs of Clay!"

But then the mid to late Sixties happened and social change/revolution grabbed every African American artist by the short and curlies and suddenly the crooners of old were now storming, funking slices of anger and righteousness. Apparently on hearing the condemning and savage lyrics in the album's title track - even Richard Nixon's administration (itself embroiled in justifying the ludicrous and callous Vietnam War) reputedly called up Atlantic's Promotions department demanding to know what the Hell they were playing at? How could they and their 'uninformed' artist be so unpatriotic as to suggest in his lyrics that 'powers in the master game' saw Americans and The Vietnamese as the same - '...basically cannon fodder...' for the '...player who controls the board...' McDaniels was of course right and Nixon would go on to infamy for all manner of dodgy 'I'm not a crook' reasons.

Heady stuff indeed - deep lyrics in deep grooves - as the rather brilliant and insightful liner notes from $mall $hange inform us. And that’s where this fab little CD reissue from New York’s 'Label M' comes in – here are the dagger details...

US released 19 November 2001 - "Headless Heroes Of The Apocalypse" by EUGENE McDANIELS on Label M 495733 (Barcode 644949573326) is a straightforward CD Reissue and Remaster in their ‘Album Classics’ Series (manufactured by Rhino) that breaks down as follows (38:34 minutes):

1. The Lord Is Back [Side 1]
2. Jagger The Dagger
3. Lovin' Man
4. Headless Heroes
5. Susan Jane
6. Freedom Death Dance [Side 2]
7. Supermarket Blues
8. The Parasite (For Buffy)
Tracks 1 to 8 are the album "Headless Heroes Of The Apocalypse" - released May 1971 in the USA on Atlantic Records SD 8281 and July 1971 in the UK on Atlantic Records 2400 163. Credited to EUGENE Mc DANIELS The Left Rev. Mc D - and Produced by JOEL DORN - it didn't chart in either country. All tracks are written by Eugene McDaniels with "The Lord Is Back" co-written with Dwight Singleton.

GARY KING – Electric Bass

KEVIN CALABRO and $mall $hange produced the CD Reissue – a gatefold card digipak with see-through tray and a 12-page booklet. The liner notes are all typed in over-sized letters (a tad pretentious actually) - but the content and insight is superb. GENE PAUL and JENNIFER MUNSON did the Mastering at DB Plus Digital Services in New York and the Audio is fabulous - full of presence and oomph where needed. This really is a lovely sounding reissue.

The album opens with "The Lord Is Back" - telling us that the divine one is black, riding the subways in the rain and here to make a few corrections on our self-inflicted road to mass destruction. It's hard-hitting guitar funk feels like Sly Stone just had a baby with Funkadelic - those Mouzon drums whacking your speakers as McDaniels echoed-vocals warn and scorn (dig that slinky keyboard slide in too). Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones doing the Devil Dance comes in for some stick in "Jagger The Dagger" - Carlo Cargill duetting with the Mc D on vocals. The very cool rare groove of "Lovin' Man" turned up on a 1996 Japan-Only CD I had called "Free Soul River" - while the aforementioned political dynamite of "Headless Heroes" were found on the CD Compilation "Right On!" Volume 1 of Break Beats And Grooves From The Atlantic & Warner Vaults in 1999 and also on the stunning "What It Is!" Rhino 4CD Box Set in 2006. The Acoustic "Susan Jane" feels like the album's first ballad even if it is about a bum-wiggling, sugar-cane-eating hippy that likes to make love barefoot in the muddy road (yeah baby).

Keeping with mellow - the beautifully transferred shuffle of the Bass (Miroslav Vitous of Weather Report) and the Drums on "Freedom Death Dance" opens Side 2 with a winner. It's a fantastic groove that's both mellow and funky at the same time - and the lyrics wax lyrical about needing justice and equality and not more pointless political dancing from Capitol Hill types who don't care (lovely licks on the guitar too). Trading a can of peas for a lousy loaf of bread becomes an incident in "Supermarket Blues" where a cop joins in the fracas by threatening the man on the floor with some lead - while a white woman calls him a Communist (God damn!). The album ends with the near ten-minutes of "The Parasite (For Buffy)" - a tale of forked tongues and religion and liquor and guns screwing up the native Indian population. At times it feels like Gil Scott-Heron circa 1971's "Small Talk At 125th And Lennox" - letting rip on a subject that appals him. It over extends its welcome and goes musically mental in the last minute - like Zappa and the Mothers having a guitar wig out.

Hard in ways to categorise or pigeonhole - "Headless Heroes Of The Apocalypse" is nevertheless a quietly magnificent album that thoroughly deserves its underground status. It's not all genius for sure and his vocal mannerisms I know can irritate some  - but man that good stuff.

And as I look at that dedication on the rear sleeve "...we have killed the very earth beneath our feet...yet we still kill each other and speak of the future..." - I think other words come to mind - like real, timely and right on...

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