The Undisputed Truth ‘Method to the Madness’ / ‘Smokin’ 2CD (Robinsongs/Cherry Red) 4/5

the-undisputed-truthNorman Whitfield is one of the most innovative producers in soul music history and in the late 1960s and early-mid 1970s he carved out a new direction for soul with a more psychedelic influence. Key musicians for his production imprint included Edwin Starr and the Temptations and the latter scored major success with songs as immortal as ‘Papa was a rolling stone’. However, a lesser known group, The Undisputed Truth, were equally the recipients of Whitefield’s production genius and we have included on this CD a pairing of two funk-inflected albums that originally came out in 1976 and 1979. The group had in fact scored a crossover hit in 1971 with ‘Smiling faces sometimes’, but the mid-1970s re-incarnation of the group was a major makeover with only Joe Harris remaining and a large number of the instrumentalists on board second time round would become part of a new Whitfield created formation, Rose Royce. One of the joys of this re-issue is that, with the benefit of hindsight, we can hear how the classic Rose Royce sound was evolving in its infancy. The first album was a summation of Whitfield’s musical mind and the opener, ‘Cosmic contract’ featured space-like sound effects and hi-hat cymbals (what was to be known as the classic disco drum beat) and this number serves as an overture to the rest of the album.

A major dancefloor hit was scored with the epic eleven minute, ‘You + me = love’ and the title borrows something from a Ray Charles album, ‘Genius + Jazz = Soul’ and this song alone practically defines the funkier side of the disco era and is a much-loved 12″ slice of vinyl. A second dance floor friendly song graces side two of the original album with the somewhat title of ‘Let’s go down to the disco’ misleading in that this was anything but formulaic dance music. If anything the song has similar elements to Rose Royce’s ‘Car Wash’ and the comparison is certainly not co-incidental. Singer Taka Boom is at her absolute stunning best here on lead vocals and the expert arrangements of Paul Riser who worked on many a Motown album add to the musical delights. A false cappella ending and instrumental breakdown make this a treat for dancers and listeners alike. It deserved to at least mirror the success of the first single. In a slower vein, ‘Sunshine’ was a quality ballad that hinted at the future Rose Royce sound minus the voice of Gwen Dickie.

The second album, ‘Smokin’ featured the then novel sound of the syndrum and ‘Talkin to the wind’ was another precursor to the Rose Royce ballad template. However, ‘Sandman’ was the strongest song and was a dance number with distinctive gospel-tinged vocals and this could and, perhaps, should have been released as a single to showcase the album more generally. Of note is ‘Space Machine’ which was sampled in 1998 by Def Sound on ‘Check’n’ me out’. The original version contained within has a guitar riff right out of the O’Jays ‘For the love of money’. ‘Smokin’ did not score as highly as the first album here, largely because the end of the disco era was nigh and there was no obvious commercially oriented song to attract a wider audience to the music. Viewed from the prism of four decades later, it is a perfectly decent album and very much in the mould of the Norman Whitfield production.

Tim Stenhouse