by Fred Mills
There are finds. And then there are finds with fascinating stories to go with ’em. Such is the case with Chicago’s Bandit Records, whose 1969-1981 existence was marked by such curiosity, tragedy and shady goings-on that it practically reads like a rejected script for a blaxploitation flick. Despite issuing a number of singles, Bandit never really made any impact beyond the regional confines of Chicago and surrounding area, and it only mustered up one album (by the Majestic Arrows) in its time. Yet all the music on Eccentric Soul: The Bandit Label could have been hit material if placed in the right marketing hands. Showcased are such delights as Johnny Davis’ “You’ve Got To Crawl To Me” (Davis’ impeccable falsetto contrasts with some impressive dips into the lower register, while arrangement-wise, think Curtis Mayfield tackling “Standing In The Shadows Of Love”); Linda Balintine’s “Glad About That” (Supremes-like, with a dose of Aretha thrown in); Altyrone Deno Brown’s “If You Love Me” (young Michael Jackson goes to Memphis); and the Majestic Arrows’ “Going To Make A Time Machine” (psychedelic soul a la the Temptations, but with both male and female vocalists). Also included are three Arrows rehearsal tracks taken from cassettes recently discovered in the home of one of the singers.
The colorful Bandit yarn — including a label owner (Arrow Brown) who lorded harem-like over a household of women, a child prodigy (Altyrone Deno Brown) whose career steadily fizzled after the label’s demise, a bona fide star vocalist (Johnny Davis) whose own career was cut short because his body was found jammed into a trash incinerator, and a disgruntled family member who unceremoniously dumped the label’s master tapes and cache of 45s in a back alley following Arrow Brown’s death — is recounted in the 16-page booklet’s copious liner notes. With lavish packaging that includes an outer slipcase housing the jewel box and due care taken in the music’s vinyl-to-digital transfer (the occasional pops and clicks aren’t even an annoyance), this is a quality product all around. It comes from relative newcomer Numero Group, a two-man Chicago outfit dedicated to archival projects and whose first two releases were Eccentric Soul: The Capsoul Label (an overview of a short-lived Columbus, Ohio, imprint from the early ’70s) and Antena: Camino del Sol (a reissue of an obscure ’80s French-Belgian electro-samba group). Up next is a two-CD collection of vintage power pop combos, and after that, reportedly, will be yet a third installment in the Eccentric Soul series, this time covering, fittingly, a Detroit label. Keep an eye out on the label’s Web site, numerogroup.com, for developments.
Fred Mills writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to email@example.com.