Time is a funny thing: Obscurities or castoffs from past decades become lost treasures or telling time capsules through the rose-colored lens of nostalgia. Records that an artist couldn’t give away at the time of their release change hands for thousands of dollars decades later, to the slack-jawed disbelief of their long-since-retired creators. And while decades of digging in crates and plumbing dusty vaults have meant there are few unturned stones from the past 50 years of music, damned if there isn’t still some gold — or at least some really great imitation gold — in them crates.
Such is the case with “Stone Crush: Memphis Modern Soul 1977-87,” the latest compilation from Seattle-based archival indie label Light in the Attic, which has released lavish and lovingly curated collections from Sly Stone, Serge Gainsbourg, Rodriguez and many others. Compiled by Memphis collectors and DJs Daniel Mathis and Chad Weekley, the album pulls together 19 songs from artists that a normal person is almost guaranteed never to have heard of — unless they’ve somehow got funk from “Singing Dentist” O.T. Sykes, Silk Satin & Lace or Captain Fantastic & Starfleet in their trunks.
The term “Memphis soul” immediately conjures Stax and Otis and Sam & Dave, but there’s very little of that here. As with many such deep-dive collections, leading lights of the era and the genre cast a vast influence over “Stone Crush”: Parliament-Funkadelic, Philly soul, crooners like Teddy Pendergrass and funk ranging from Kool & the Gang to Zapp and the Gap Band. The album plays out like an obscure parallel history of funk and soul of the era, with flashes of R&B and disco along with harder funk and synthy early Prince. Most of these songs emanate from singles pressed in small quantities during the first half of the 1980s; there’s even a previously unreleased demo.
Truthfully, few (if any) of these songs are great, but many are awesome, if that makes sense. O.T. Sykes’ Chic-ish “Stone Crush on You” gives the collection its title; there’s some horn-speckled old-school soul from Sweet Pearl; P. Morris brings the disco to “Can We Melt the Ice”; Silk Satin & Lace (named-dropped by Tyler, the Creator) shimmer atmospheric soul; and perhaps most impressive of all are the two tracks from Captain Fantastic & Starr Fleet — one like a low-budget Zapp and the other a funk workout with a choppy riff and comic closing exchange between a man and the sexy-voiced woman he’s trying, seemingly unsuccessfully, to woo: “Life is a dance, baby!”
“Stone Crush” closes with a song by Mark Anthony (not that Marc Anthony) & Lyte Speed called “I’m Just a Boogie Roller.” Whether or not that speaks to you is a failsafe indication of how you’ll feel about this album.