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You Know They Had Soul

January 25, 2007

The Scottie B haul at the True Vine reminded us of this great site, the kind of specialized, obsessive cataloging that’s exactly why Al Gore blessed our lives with internet, the sort of deep crates research that a decade ago would have been confined to a photocopied zine that approximately 35 people got a hold of, and with no ability to update on the fly—or, maybe more recently, an article in Wax Poetics, where it would receive the kind of copyediting that makes you worry for humanity’s future. The work of one Kevin Coombe, DC Soul compiles the hidden, forgotten, or just plain obscure output of small-label, small-run, D.I.Y. soul, R&B, funk, and (though it’s not on the masthead) disco from Washington and Maryland between the 1960s and the ’80s. Record geeks will appreciate the who/what/when/where care and detail, along with the occasional sound clip, that Coombe has put into his research and presentation; older folks may recognize some names they haven’t heard in years; and younger cats can wonder if their inkjet mixtape covers will one day receive this kind of treatment. This world, captured on the washed-out, monochrome picture sleeves and peeling labels of these 45s and 12-inch DJ singles, is all fly-wide lapels and teased-out ‘fros and cryptic publishing credits by now forgotten gangs of four and five from Charm City who fancied themselves the Mid-Atlantic equivalent to the mighty Temptations–or the JB’s, or the Trammps, or the Sugarhill house band–or ladies with hairbrush-in-front-of-the-bathroom-mirror daydreams to be the next Diana or Aretha, then magically given a golden ticket to a makeshift local studio to cut a few singles that maybe got spun on local radio, only to wind up decades later, like so many things that make breathing worth bothering with, in the hands of nerds. Eventually a reissue label like the Numero Group will get around to the collected work of Ru-Jac or Bay Sound, but for now, amateur diggers can use DC Soul as an eBay guide and B-more music fans have just that much more insight into its winding history.