V/A Henry Stone’s Miami Sound – The Record Man’€™s Finest 45s (Athens Of The North) 4/5

henry-stones-miami-soundHenry Stone was a Miami-based record label owner, producer and entrepreneur with a career in the music business spanning over 60 years. In that time Henry signed James Brown to his King record label, distributed records for Motown, Stax and Atlantic and set up T.K. Records and dozens of other notable and influential record labels, touching the careers of almost everyone involved in the Miami black music scene including Betty Wright, George McCrae and Bobby Caldwell.
This posthumous compilation comprises of 20 less common funk and soul singles released between 1970 and 1977 from a variety of significant Henry Stone run record labels, but mainly from Drive, Dash, Alston, Dig and Blue Candle.
The set focuses mainly upon vocal tracks within only two instrumentals and includes music from Robert Moore, Beginning of the End’s Raphael Munnings and William ‘Little Beaver’ Hale. The inclusion of T-Connection’s ‘Do what you wanna do’ is a bit of a strange addition being the only outright disco record here and also the most well known and doesn’t really sit with the rest of the compilation.
But highlights include Stevens & Foster ‘I want to be love’ from 1977, a funky but sweetly sung female vocal number that on original 45 can cost more than a European holiday, Wildflower ‘You knock me out’ from 1976, an in demand 2-stepper and the breezy funky soul of Formula 1 ‘Walking with my eyes closed’ featuring vocals from Rodney Mathews, later of The Mighty Ryeders.

Other interesting gems include Oceanliners ‘Cutting room’ a brass heavy funk instrumental who later became The Sunshine Band, the main in-house band for T.K Records and K.C.’s group. Phillip Wright’s ‘Keep her happy’ is a jolly vocal piece from the brother of Betty and Milton and the 1972 breakbeat bomb ‘Bahama Soul Stew’ by Funky Nassau being one of the more known cuts.

Some of the other lesser known releases here fall into what many collectors call modern soul, a very loose term which is impossible to define as it’s a rather subjective tag applied to certain soul records. But nonetheless, Friday, Saturday & Sunday ‘There must be a better way’ and Brand New ‘Thousand years’ from 1971 and ‘72 respectively provide rare soul comfort to any discerning record collector. I’m personally not a fan of applying descriptive branding to records, especially calling something ‘modern’ when it’s 40 years old – they are just great soul records.

If you’re a fan of the Miami soul/funk sound then this will very much appeal to you. It does include some very rare but worthy 45s with most on CD for the first time. But as we all know the high cost of some rare records does not always equate to high quality, but these are mainly well-produced and crafted records, reminding us of the quality output that Henry was known for.

There will always be difficulty in curating compilation albums of this nature by aiming to strike a balance between including a mixture of interesting and less known songs with more common and accessible material that will also appeal to regular music buyers, but this compilation from Athens of the North is geared towards the less obvious releases from Henry’s catalogue, although, due to his large catalogue, there will always be omissions.

A separate Henry Stone rare disco compilation album might be a nice touch, and some of the recordings were obviously taken directly from vinyl pressings rather than the master tapes, which is a shame. But generally this is another strong release from AOTN, which will hopefully go someway in highlighting the massive impact and influence that Henry had on the music scene.

Damian Wilkes

Miami has an important, if understated role in the history of black music in the United States. In the present day era, it is more associated with Latin grooves (and in fact it is the de facto entry to Latin America from the USA for many migrants as well as record executives alike), but the 1970s proved to be a fertile period of music for Miami from both a soul and funk perspective and this excellent compilation showcases some of the tastiest 45s that came out of the production house of Henry Stone. George and Gwen McCrae are far more famous alongside K.C. and the Sunshine Band, but some of the lesser known musicians could certainly give those chart entrants a good run for their money. This is certainly the case of Milton Wright whose 45s have become rare groove collectors nirvana and the offering on this occasion, ‘The silence that you keep’, is a deeply moody affair with a slight hint of Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s going’ on’ and jazzy orchestrations that are reminiscent of Johnny Pate in his prime. Marvin is evoked further in terms of his social message on the rasping delivery of one Johnny K on ‘I got bills to pay’, a mid-tempo number that recounts the daily constraints on life and is close both in approach and content to ‘Inner City Blues’. Curtis Mayfield’s influence is most certainly felt on the sweet classy soul of ‘You knock me out’ by the Wildflower with a falsetto male lead and lovely production values that were a feature of Stone’s studio. In a more uptempo vein, Funky Nassau offer up a Caribbean soul gem in ‘Bahama Soul Stew’ and this comes across as a neo-Booker T sound with the added bonus of Caribbean percussion while the psychedelic period of the Temptations were surely in Stone’s mind on the decidedly uptempo and groovy, ‘Hey there Jim’ by Jimmy Bo Horne. A slow burning funkster of a tune from the 1970s comes in the underrated vocals of Lynn Williams and ‘It takes two’. Elsewhere a real discovery and contender for inclusion on a Richard Searling or Ralph Tee radio show is Leno Phillips’ Confusion’ that is a connoisseur’s cut while Raphael Munnings’ ‘Sleep on, dream on’ has a grittier edge with clipped guitar hinting at James Brown and a soulful vocal delivery. T-Connection offer up more familiar material on ‘Do what you wanna’, but in general this anthology is a treasure trove of little heard of discoveries and that makes it required listening for the summer months and indeed well beyond.

Tim Stenhouse