Album Review: Various Artists – Boddie Recording Company: Cleveland, Ohio

The Numero Group has quickly developed a well-earned reputation for unearthing fascinating archival material. Jazz, soul, R&B, disco, psych…you name it, Numero has scored old unreleased session tapes to bring previously-unheard music to – if not the masses – discerning 21st century ears.

Perhaps the most unusual entry in the ongoing Numero series (#35 if you’re counting) is Boddie Recording Company: Cleveland, Ohio. This sprawling set (3CDs or 5LP spanning some fifty-plus tracks) covers pretty much every genre and subgenre imaginable. According to the liner notes, the folks at Boddie “issued nearly 300 albums and 45s [and] recorded 10,000 hours of tape.”

Out of necessity, Boddie was very much a lo-fi operation, but the right amount of care went into these tracks. Clearly many were cut in a single session sans overdub. For every cut like The Chantels‘ “World of Soul” (an energetic number that’s nonetheless little more than a thin retread of “In the Midnight Hour”), there are cuts like Rev. R. L. Hubbard‘s “Child of the King,” a gospel-reggae hybrid cut. Apparently Boddie would cut anything, anywhere: they used a remote setup to capture the almost painfully thin sonics of Juanita Ellis‘ “Make a Joyful Noise.” But somehow, the desired vibe still comes through; forget that you could get a better recording today with your hand-held Zoom H2 and just enjoy the sincerity of the singers. The same is true of the Gospel Hebrews‘ “Jesus is All Over Me,” a track that features vocal chorus, handclaps and a sole electric guitar.

There are a few gems, to be sure. Headlines‘ “He’s Looking for Love” sounds like a Motown hit (albeit one that’s been channeled through AM radio via the speakers of your ’64 Falcon). The funk-psych of Creations Unlimited‘s instrumental “Chrystal Illusion” suggests a cross between Shaft-era Isaac Hayes and Iron Butterfly. And on “The Players,” Inter-Circle combine an Allman Brothers aesthetic with what Frank Zappa once called the Carlos Santana Secret Chord Progression.

There’s some definite weirdness, too. A dance-party number titled “Don’t Make Me Kill You” doesn’t serve up the kindest of sentiments as it exhorts listeners to do the funky chicken. Another odd title is the propulsive “Monkey Hips and Yice,” which takes its cues from the Bar-Kays and James Brown‘s band. On many of the cuts included in the reviewer’s sampler, there’s more spirit than polish, but the immediacy and field-recording nature of the tracks serves only to add to their charm.

Certainly, with this many tracks there will be some stinkers. The vocal performance on the Wings of Faith Juniors of Grand Rapids MI is – to put it mildly – grating. And the backing harmonies on Harvey Hall‘s “All in Your Eyes” could have benefited from an additional take (or a bit more rehearsing). And sitting through King James Version‘s field recording of “He’s Forever (Amen)” will test the patience of all but the most resolute listener. But the missteps are few and far between, and are essential to tell the Boddie story.

Think of Boddie Recording Company: Cleveland Ohio as a multi-genre answer to the Pebbles series. It’s all but guaranteed that you won’t have any of this music in your collection already.

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