Various ‘Running The Voodoo Down Vol 2: Explorations In Psychrockfunksouljazz 1965-77’ 2LP/CD/DIG (Festival) 3/5

This is the follow up to the seamlessly interwoven first volume that took in Buddy Miles and Miles Davis, grouped together the Undisputed Truth and Sly Stone, and made the connection between Jimmy Hendrix and Don Cherry. Sadly, the second volume fails to live up to that heady billing and comes across as something of a left-overs compilation, with a few extra numbers that are questionable in being bracketed as ‘psychedelic’. That is not to say the listener will make some interesting discoveries along the way. Any compilation that includes the input of Tony Harlow and Dean Rudland will have content worthy of musical merit and Sonny Sharrock’s ‘Black Woman’ is a lovely piece from a vastly underrated musician. However, several numbers are already familiar (Dr. John and his psychedelic era or Shuggy Otis) and one wonders whether they needs to appear on yet another compilation when they are already readily available elsewhere. For example could an alternative version of ‘Love Supreme’ by John Coltrane be found (Elvin Jones recorded a 1970s interpretation that would fit comfortably into the psychedelic jazz bag), and do not most readers already possess ‘Sweetback’s Theme’ by Malvin Van Peebles on any one of a multitude of blaxploitation soundtrack anthologies, or even on the original soundtrack? This is the ongoing dilemma of any compilation: the desire to open up new discoveries while simultaneously pandering to the commercial prerogative of having to sell and not be too obscure in the process.

With this caveat in mind, there are nevertheless interesting items that this writer had not heard before. Pride of place goes to Chairmen of the Board and their highly unusual and soulful piece of psychedelia in ‘Life and Death In G and A” (Parts 1 & 2)’. That directly precedes the offering from the Temptations who were arguably the most consistent soul band to fuse their harmonies with psychedelic rock accompaniment, largely thanks to the highly innovative work of writer and arranger Norman Whitfield. Here the socio-political commentary of, ‘Ungena Za Wilmewengu (Unite the world)’ marks a clear departure in the Motown story and one that deserves to be followed up on. A pity, then, that the sub-genre soulful psychedelia was not explored in more depth. Instead, the soulful content within tends to get confused with a smoother brand of soul, which, although of merit in its own right, does not automatically or even justifiably qualify as ‘psychedelic’. There is no doubting the prowess of Isaac Hayes on ‘Do Your Thing’, but is it actually psychedelic in nature? Even less so the admittedly left-field soul of ‘To The Establishment’ by Lou Bond, fine examples of mid-1970s soul though these two songs undoubtedly are. The first half of the compilation does follow a coherent logic with the cross-fertilisation of jazz, pop, rock and soul, but loses its thread in the second half. An excellent idea, however, and one that needs to be further encouraged by all means, provided that the execution can fully deliver the goods.

Tim Stenhouse