Jimmy Castor Bunch ‘Butt of Course’ / ‘Supersound’ / ‘E-Man Groovin’ 2 CD (Cherry Red) 3/5

jimmy-castor-bunchMulti-instrumentalist, singer and leader Jimmy Castor enjoyed a varied career spanning several decades and had the knack of adapting his sound to new musical trends. He started off in New York as a doo-wop singer in the 1950s, but with the onset of the 1960s and a new Latin sound, Latin soul or boogaloo, Castor scored a major pop (top forty) and R & B (top twenty) hit in 1966 with ‘Hey Leroy your mama’s callin’ you’. The song was revived in the 1980s with the jazz-dance generation and ended up on a Street Sounds ‘Jazz Juice’ compilation. Thereafter Jimmy Castor became interested in Latin and Caribbean percussion and both elements featured in his later funk period. This handy three albums on two CD set takes the story that bit further to the post-Troglodyte period, when arguably Castor was at his creative best, and Castor, like other musicians, was reacting to trends rather than creating them. The three Atlantic albums contained within cover a relatively short period, 1974-1976, but major stylistic changes were afoot in black music and Castor was clearly sensitive to them.
Funk-tinged jazz, jazz-funk and classic soul were the principal sounds one could hear in 1974 and ‘E-Man Boogie’ is a de facto résumé of these disparate styles. The influence of early Kool and the Gang and the Fatback Band is evident on ‘Bertha Butt Boogie’ which has what would become a trademark humorous monologue from the leader with the addition of psychedelic layered sound effects (influenced here, perhaps, by Norman Whitfield). It is a catchy, if somewhat gimmicky song, but definitely grows on you. A stronger number is ‘Potential’ that has the loveliest of bass lines with a minor rap and trumpet straight out of Donald Byrd circa 1973 and the Blackbyrds era plus wah-wah guitar. Elsewhere Stylistics-influenced soul ballads and proto-smooth jazz instrumentals make up the rest and for the latter a cover of Elton John’s ‘Daniel’ comes as something of a surprise. Even more in a Blackbyrds vein is ‘Let’s party’ with another prominent bass line. The Christmas themed bonus cuts are in a laid back soulful groove.

The second CD begins with the ‘Supersound’ album from 1975 and the emerging disco sound was beginning to influence Castor’s musical approach. While ‘Bom Bom’ with simple catchy chorus line and a pan-Caribbean percussion was ideal for party music, a fusion of funk and disco could be heard on ‘A groove will make you move’ with another seriously funky bass line while the guitar riffs are lifted directly from disco. Once again the formula of smooth jazz instrumentals and Philly-style soul ballads was repeated. For the final album, ‘E-Man Groovin’ (1976), disco was taking over the airwaves and this is reflected in a track such as ‘Space Age’ which comes here in its elongated 12″ version, complete with Chic-esque guitar licks and mid-1970s synths. The title track repeats the much earlier ‘Troglodyte’ formula and has just about enough in female vocal chants and Latin percussion to carry it off, but by now the public had simply moved on. Castor was stuck in something of a stylistic rut that he found difficult to shake off and that is discernible on ‘Dracula Pt.1 and 2’ which rapidly wears a little thin. The sound of Earth, Wind and Fire can be heard on the pleasant, if derivative, ‘I love a mellow groove’. With Jimmy Castor chasing new sounds, the problem was always likely to be that in the process the musician would lose some of his individuality. Easy-listening jazz-funk is in evidence on ‘Everything is beautiful to me’.

This double CD works best when selecting individual tracks rather than listening to the albums as a whole since the latter are not quite strong enough to sustain repeated interest in their entirety. The fact of the matter is that Jimmy Castor was primarily a singles artist and consequently his music is best appreciated via that medium. That said, this an inexpensive place to find several of his mid-1970s 45s including a bonus 12″ version. Ideally, an anthology that groups together his singles would make for a preferable pared down way to hear Jimmy Castor in his prime.

Tim Stenhouse