Jimmy Castor Bunch ‘It’s just begun’/’Phase Two’ (Cherry Red) 4/5

jimmy castor bunchSome songs acquire a cult reputation even when they originally enjoyed major commercial success first time round and thus proves the case for multi-instrumentalist Jimmy Castor who scored a hit in 1972 with the 45 ‘Troglodyte’ and an enticingly funky ditty it is too. Interestingly, it was not the first single from the album, yet as radio play in the major US cities demanded that ‘Troglodyte’ receive a single release, it did come out and subsequently became a million seller. The album from which that 45 is taken, ‘It’s just begun’, and its follow up ‘Phase Two’ form a terrific twofer on one CD set here that showcases the talents of Jimmy Castor who has become a rare groove reference par excellence. Indeed, even jazz fans love his earlier Latin semi-instrumental classic, ‘Hey Leroy. your mama’s callin’ you’ which found its way onto one of the Jazz Juice compilations in the mid-late 1980s.

The first album, which features a pared down quintet line up, is the stronger of the two and is quite varied in approach. There are subtle shades of Norman Whitfield’s psychedelic soul production aka his period with the Temptations on ‘Psyche’ which is notable both for the Isley Brothers-style guitar in the background and for the Latin vamp that suddenly kicks in part way through and leads on to a son montuno inspired percussive interlude. This writer’s favourite track on the whole album is actually the first single release, ‘You’d better be good (or the devil’s gon’ getcha’)’ which is a steaming Latin funk number and there is old-school funk of the Ohio Players and Brass Construction variety on ‘Bad’. The second album has another Latin soul groover in ‘Party Life’ with cultural life in East Harlem seeming to influence the sound here. For another side altogether to Castor’s repertoire, the instrumental reworking of an anthemic folk ballad, ‘Euan Mac Coll’s ‘The first time I ever saw your face’ (Roberta Flack recorded a stunning version), is played by Jimmy soloing on saxophone and there is a heartfelt tribute to Jimi Hendrix on the funky medley of ‘Purple Haze’ and ‘Foxey Lady’. An attempt at recreating the ‘Troglodyte’ groove with a very obvious successor in ‘Luther the Anthropoid (Ape Man)’ was only marginally successful and Jimmy Castor’s sound was out of kilter with the prevailing music scene by the mid-1970s. It took the rare groove scene of the 1980s and beyond to rightly resurrect his back catalogue and this is an ideal place to start the investigation.

Tim Stenhouse