BY FRED MILLS
Funk-soul archivist label Secret Stash uncovers another crate-diggers’ gem—in particular, you should check out last year’s amazing Twin Cities Funk & Soul covering the Minneapolis scene—in the form of this reissue of an Angela Davis tribute/benefit, originally released on the Golden Triangle label in 1971 long before tribs and benefits were commonplace. At the time the black activist and associate of the notorious Soledad Brothers had landed on the FBI’s Most Wanted List and arrested on charges of kidnapping, conspiracy and murder; Free Angela was part of a widespread grassroots effort to raise funds for her as a political prisoner during the turbulent times (the Rolling Stones, Nina Simone and John & Yoko also pitched in with support for the Free Angela Davis Defense Committee), and as such, the record has additional cultural and political resonance beyond its obvious musical merits.
Though relatively brief, at just nine tracks, the record overflows with vintage soul. Particularly noteworthy are the three tunes contributed by Larry Saunders (born Sanders), cut in Alabama and utilizing the legendary talents of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section; the recent Muscle Shoals documentary adds to Free Angela’s 2013 relevance. Saunders’ “Free Angela” is riveting, a hypnotic, jazzy-bluesy incantation for guitar, vibraphone and flute that finds the singer in a Curtis Mayfield state of mind; he’s additionally heard hitting some stratosphere-strafing falsetto notes guaranteed to give you chills. Of further interest is Dickie Wonder’s “Nobody Knows,” a wonderful Motown-style workout, and the rousing “Baby Can’t You See” by Tyrone Thomas, still operative in the Richmond area.
Meanwhile, the thick 32-page booklet outlines in great detail both Davis’ story and the tale of Alexander Randolph and his small Virginia-based label Golden Triangle (among the anecdotes is a narrative about Jimi Hendrix and his alleged, though unproven, involvement in several sessions for the label). Rare photos and a discography round out the package, making it an invaluable piece for collectors and students of history alike. And speaking of collectors: there’s also a limited edition (350 copies) vinyl version that comes with a bonus 45 by Oscar Wright. Essential stuff.
DOWNLOAD: “Nobody Knows” (Dickie Wonder), “Old Uncle Tom is Dead” (Nitroglycerine), “Free Angela (Larry Saunders)