(The Numero Group)
Herein lays the plight of the white music snob: the constant
strive for a musical authenticity and an inability to find these moments in
their collective punk and rockabilly pasts. But out of that frustration and a
genuine love of amazing music comes the great hope for white kids still rocking
the vintage vinyl-filled shoulder bag while listening to their iPod: The Numero
Group and their amazing series of vintage soul compilations.
On Numero’s latest (and their most ambitious) release Light: On the South Side, the label,
through both a musical compilation entitled Pepper’s
Jukebox and 132- page hardcover book featuring photographs by Michael
Abramson and an essay by Nick Hornby, chronicles a Chicago music scene from 1975-1977
that was equal parts seedy blues and syrupy funk. The photos and music capture an era when the
blues was not considered passé, the civil rights struggle had come to an end,
and disco had not taken hold of R&B.
The result of the book and music is nothing short of a cultural
immersion for the lily-white hipsters who froth at the mouth for every Numero
As a complete package, the release is beautiful. The life
and laughter that fill the books work as a visual guide for Pepper’s Jukebox. Here’s an album that can be bawdy one moment (Arelean
Brown’s proto-cougar anthem “I’m A Streaker”) and mournful the next (Little
Mack Simmons’ “The Same One” is a criminally unknown blues ballad) without
skipping a beat.
But between the photos of the snappily-dressed players and
foxy mamas on the album, there’s a feeling of sadness in the photos and the
music. In some ways, this was the last gasp of the blues as a viable, youth
oriented form of music. The book and album seem to be a eulogy of sorts for the
music and culture that came with it. Within a few years disco would arrive, and
with it a glittery wave of beautiful people taking the grit and sadness out of
the sound and leaving an artificial, coke-fueled happiness in its wake.
But instead of mourning the past, Light: On the South Side presents this not as a eulogy but instead as a non-stop party for those eager
ears and eyes who weren’t lucky enough to be there to experience the big
shouldered funk and Windy City weepers that await listeners on this disc. Those
days may be gone, but the spirit is still with us with scorchers like Artie
White’s “Gimmie Some of Yours” and Lucille Spann’s “Women’s Lib”.
As a museum peace, Light:
On the South Side works to showcase the vibrant sights and sounds of a
neighborhood preparing to change, as a culture and scene caught between the
past and the future, and as a vibrant tombstone for all of those days gone by.
But as an album it’s an ass-shaking, head bobbing and foot tapping ode to great
artists and the amazing music they created. Somehow, they both work
simultaneously on this release.
Standout Tracks: “Women’s
Lib” (Lucille Spann), “Detroit Blues” (Willie Williams), “The Same One” (Little
Mack Simmons) JASON BUGG