Album Review: The Westbound Sound

Armen Boladian’s Westbound Records was an important force in the funk and r&b scene of the late ‘60s and early 1970s. With Funkadelic as its anchor artist, the label turned out some compelling and memorable albums and singles. Some of the best from among those are collected on this new Record Store Day release.

The album opens with the stomping “I Bet You,” a Funkadelic single written by George Clinton and (my good friend) Sidney Barnes. The deep groove and hypnotic vibe make it one of the era’s great funk tracks.

While they’re noted on this LP as The Counts, when the single “Rhythm Changes” was released in 1971, it was credited to The Fabulous Counts. And they are pretty damn fabulous, with more grooves, a soulful horn chart and (as the title suggests) a rhythm section that slays. That distorted B3 is ace, too.

Multigenre vocalist Denise LaSalle released “Hung Up, Strung Out” as the b-side of her single “Heartbreak of the Year.” Here she and her backing players unmistakably nail the Stax vibe, and in fact the recording was cut in Memphis and arranged by Willie Mitchell.

The Detroit Emeralds aren’t among the most well-known acts of the era, but the tune that represents them on this set, “Do Me Right” has a great arrangement, solid vocals and some very nice string sweetening. The track made it to #7 on Billboard’s soul singles chart.

Guitarist Donald Austin also cut that tune for his 1973 Crazy Legs LP, but it’s another track from that platter that appears on The Westbound Sound. “Hot Rooster” is a one-chord funkster with layers of tasty guitar.

Those ubiquitous Shaft-y wah-wah rhythm guitars show up on the discofied “Alvin Stone (The Birth of a Gangster)” by the Fantastic Four. This 1975 single sounds like the theme song to a blaxploitation flick of the era, but it doesn’t seem to actually be one. Either way, it’s solid and cinematic, and at nearly seven minutes, definitely designed for dancing.

Anyone who spent time in record stores of the ‘70s will know The Ohio Players. They might not know the music, but those sexy album covers… oh, yeah. In any event, the group’s “Funky Worm (Single Mix)” has some weird ‘n’ wiggly synth work and a stomping groove to recommend it, but the lead vocal is intrusive and annoying. An instrumental remix would have been more welcome.

“Tangarine Green” (sic) from Parliament-Funkadelic co-founder Fuzzy Haskins has a lot going on, with great chorus vocals and some ace clavinet work. It was the leadoff track on Haskins’ solo debut, A Whole Nother Thang.

Top-notch strings and beefy horns lay down a superb musical bed for Spanky Wilson’s “Shake Your Head.” The tune should have been a highlight of her sole album for Westbound, 1975’s Specialty of the House, but apparently it was released only as a promo single (on associated label Eastbound). It deserved a higher profile; here, belatedly, it gets one.

Dennis Coffey is a legend all his own. Funk Brother, superb and innovative guitarist and top-notch producer, Coffey made a lot of great records that remain out of print. “Live Wire” is a repetitive chorus vocal disco number in the vein of Silver Convention (or Herbie Mann’s “Hijack”), and as such not among his greatest works. But his guitar playing is – as always – a must-hear.

The album wraps with “Devil’s Gun” an atmospheric number from C.J. & Co. Who are they, you may ask? Well, they’re a project led by Coffey and collaborator Mike Theodore. The tune is more disco, but it’s pretty thrilling stuff, with sweeping strings, ooooh-aaah vocals and some thunderous guitar licks slipped in. “Devil’s Gun” made it to #12 on the r&b chart and #36 on the pop singles chart.

As a sampler of Westbound’s singles and deep-cut tracks, The Westbound Sound is a must-hear. And unless you’re an ardent aficionado of the label, most of this music will be new to you (or at least long-forgotten). Dig if you will, and you should.