Various ‘The Is Mainstream!’ 2LP/CD (WeWantSounds) 3/5

“This is Mainstream!” is a compilation of recordings from the early 70s originally released on Mainstream Records, an independent U.S. label active in the 60s and 70s. The compilation taps into the funk, soul and jazz output rather than its psychedelic/blues rock back catalogue. Some of the tracks listed here haven’t been re-issued on vinyl since their original release.

“Miss Fatback”: Saundra Phillips kicks off the comp in style with some raunchy greasy funk. ‘Don’t nobody wanna a bone but a dog!’. A cover of Bill Wither’s ‘Kissing My Love’ follows by Afrique. It’s a 12 bar groover with mono-synth melody lines on a bed of scratchy wah wah guitars. Hal Galper’s “This Moment” is blissful electric jazz featuring solos from the Brecker Brothers. December’s Children’s “Livin’ (Way Too Fast)” has a strutting distorted guitar riff and strained slightly shrill vocals which soon diminish the warm feeling from the previous track. A proficient but pedestrian example of the socially conscious rock-soul of the time. Back to the dance floor with the soul-jazz of Blue Mitchell’s “Blues’ Blues”. Next is a slightly jazzier version of Bread’s “Make It With You”. Maxine Weldon’s enunciation and phrasing is a bit Dame Shirley when she’s belting it out. Overall though, you get the same disappointed feeling you get when you hear Curtis Mayfield play “We’ve Only Just Begun” on ‘Curtis/Live!’. Reggie Moore’s piano led “Mother McCree” is a welcome return to funky jazz.

Jay Berliner’s instrumental cover of “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” retains the dominant bass and neat wah-wah rhythm of the original but with Berliner’s heavily affected guitar laying down the vocal line. Smooth Latin grooves with Rhodes piano and flute are to the fore on Dave Hubbard’s “T.B.’s Delight”. Almeta Lattimore’s “These Memories” is an un-apologetic soul ballad with a proto-disco swooping string section. Next up is “Lean On Me (Lean On Him)” by Buddy Terry. From the title, you can probably guess its a gospel re-working of the Bill Withers tune. Although there’s a nice flute solo and superb driving bass guitar, the concept is clunky and feels shoe-horned into the original. A highpoint of the album is “Bird And The Ouija Board” from Pete Yellin’s ‘Dance of Allegra’. An epic fusion delight with soaring improvised horns and Stanley Clarke’s manic electric bass bubbling beneath which locks into an uptempo groove with exciting solos. It’s a pleasing juxtaposition of funky fusion and free jazz. “Just A Little Lovin’” is the quieter conclusion to the release. It is a delicate and precise performance from Sarah Vaughan but is typical of big band jazz-pop of the time.

I have to admit I’m not a big fan of compilation albums. I’m old enough to remember K-Tel and Ronco! With very few exceptions, they are best served as samplers for listeners seeking new tunes. The tracklisting is well constructed but ultimately this is an example of the above. It’s difficult to cater for an individual’s taste with such varied musical styles on show so there’s bound to be an element of hit and miss. However, there is plenty to like here, particularly the excellent soul-jazz and fusion tracks. To own some of these tracks would require a bit of crate-digging so it may be worth getting a copy for that reason alone. Either way, it’s definitely worth a listen.

Kevin Ward