The Upshot: Sweet sunshine pop, Latino rock, and psychedelic-tinged soul from the age of Aquarius.
BY FRED MILLS
You gotta love an archival project like this one, and not just because it is a true across-the-board labor of love. There’s a freshness and optimism suffusing the music, and while it is definitely “of a time”—specifically, late ‘60s/early ‘70s—the tunes have also stood the test of time, their seamless blend of sweet sunshine pop, Latino rock, and psychedelic-tinged soul as fine an ambassador to the era as you’ll find.
The group was co-founded by Little Willie G and Lil’ Ray (that would be misters Garcia and Jimenez, respectively), late of East L.A. Chicano rockers Thee Midniters, and had a kind of streamlined Sly & the Family Stone-meets-Fifth Dimension sound thanks in no small part to three female vocalists joining the par at the mic, notably one Lydia Amescua (described as “a teenage girl with a big voice”) and an Aquarian-age vibe. As detailed in the exhaustive liner notes penned by author/journalist (and Blurt alumnus) Denise Sullivan, once the project got off the ground the musicians hooked up with local entrepreneur Eddie Davis, who helped them land a deal with the UNI label and put them in the studio with the legendary Wrecking Crew to up their studio game several notches. As these things often turn out, however, UNI wasn’t sure how to market and promote the band, and with other pressures coming to bear—the musical culture was rapidly changing as well, away from vocal groups and in the direction of rock bands and singer-songwriters—the group fell into disarray. Two singles for UNI, and that was that.
The music they left behind, however, deserves to be heard. From the richly soulful midtempo ballad “Dream” (sung by Little Willie G) and the percolating, organ-powered garage pop of “It Don’t Make No Difference” (somewhat reminiscent of ? and the Mysterians, featuring Lil’ Ray on lead), to the lush, orchestral, almost Lee Hazelwood-esque “Hey, Does Somebody Care” (which was also the theme song to television series Matt Lincoln) and sinewy, wah-wah/congas-powered rocker “Music Is the Answer” (available here in both vocal and instrumental versions), there’s plenty to tuck into. A cover of pop schmaltzer “Put Your Head On My Shoulder” may inadvertently have telegraphed how the group was growing out of step with the times, but a gorgeous, inspiring version of Billy Preston’s “That’s the Way God Planned It” more than redeems matters.
Incidentally, in addition to CD, Music Is the Answer also was released on limited edition brown vinyl for this year’s Record Store Day, and as of this writing you can still find reasonably priced copies at Discogs.com. Grab it while you can.
DOWNLOAD: “That’s the Way God Planned It,” “It Don’t Make No Difference,” “Music Is the Answer”