V/A ‘Virtue Recording Studio’ (Tramp) 4/5

This compilation features a collection of 18 songs recorded at Virtue Recording Studio in Philadelphia, a recording studio setup and operated by Frank Virtue, who was himself a local musician before becoming a full-time record producer and record label owner of numerous labels in the 1960s until his death in 1994. Here, the Virtue record label is the focus, which was essentially a soul and funk record label that released dozens of singles from 1967 to the late 1970s, and it’s the more collectable 45s from this era that Tramp have curated for this release.
The artists featured will not be known to most, but highlights include Bob Marshall & The A/Cs double sider, ‘Big Ladies Man’, which stays in funk 45 territory and the previously released Tramp 45, ‘The Funky Fox’, which is an uptempo instrumental jam, both being solid DJ friendly pieces. R.D.M. Band have three cuts, ‘How Can I Get In Touch With You’ with vocals by Milton Campbell and ‘Give Up’, with both falling into the modern soul category. And finally ‘Butter That Popcorn’ is an obvious James Brown inspired funk roller, with its uptempo pace and solid drum, bass, horn and guitar grooves. I just wish someone would tell me what the fascination was with popcorn in early 1970s funk, with James Brown having eight different records with the word ‘popcorn’ in the title.

Ann Byers’s rousing warning cry to women, ‘This Man Is Rated-X’, is a 1975 early Disco stormer that was actually released as a single in the UK in the same year, and here you hear traces of the early Philly soul/disco sound that was to become so influential on the burgeoning disco scene. And staying soulful, Gene Faith delivers four soul gems, ‘Love Of A Woman, Soul Of A Man’, ‘When My Ship Comes In’, ‘Family Man’ and ‘My Baby’s Missing’, but all are slightly funky in the production department.

Releases from Fantastic Virtues, ‘Tequila‘, and The Virtues ‘Meditation Of The Soul’ (they’re essentially the same group) require further attention, with ‘Tequila’ being a hybrid of Latin and funk, with dabs of psychedelic overtones and fuzz guitar which is probably the quirkiest track of the set, and ‘Meditation Of The Soul’ is best described as sitar funk, although it sounds somewhere between a guitar and a sitar, with both again being very DJ friendly.

Past Due ‘Hot Fun In The Summertime’, which is a cover of a lesser-known Sly and the Family Stone single, would have gained more attention if it had originally been released on 12” rather than 7” in 1976, when 12” singles were first being issued. This solid instrumental chucks a 120 BPM Philly disco rhythm over guitars and horns and is very reminiscent of MFSB, although the version here is an instrumental and not the (pretty average) vocal version that I know, but it’s a shame the drum track at the beginning of the vocal is not present in this version.

There are two tracks by New World which are taken from different 45s from the mid 1970s, ‘World Today’ – the funky soul male vocal is a message driven dance floor piece and was previously released on 45 by Athens of The North in 2016, and ‘To Be A Man’, which contains touches of early B.T. Express. And rounding up, there are releases by Quiet Storm with ‘High Horse’, which is another disco message piece, The Volcanos ‘No Trespassing’ and the funky soul of ‘Take These Memories’ by The Creations.

The included CD booklet includes an abundance of information regarding Virtue Records, Frank Virtue and the artists signed to the label and its offshoots, and rightly documents their history in detail and essentially highlights the fact that the music industry, especially within black music history, has been forged by small independent record labels and passionate individuals such as Frank Virtue.

So this isn’t a strictly raw funk compilation album, and neither is it an outright rare soul album either – but funky soul, early disco and modern soul sounds are all presented in addition to some heavy funk numbers. And thus, you don’t become bored, which is a criticism of many genre specific compilations of this nature.

Damian Wilkes