Review: At the tail end of the '80s, Sylvia Striplin quit Norman Connors' jazz-funk group Aquarian Dream in order to pursue a solo career. Joining forces with producers James Bedford and Roy Ayers, she recorded 1981 debut album "Give Me Your Love", a well regarded but largely overlooked set that has since become a sought-after item amongst soul collectors. This Expansion reissue presents the album on vinyl for the first time in two decades. As with many soul albums of the period, it sashays between jazz-funk, boogie and heartfelt slow jams, contrasting memorable dancefloor workouts (see stone cold classic "Give Me Your Love" and a stellar cover of Roy Ayers favourite "Searchin") with more saccharine, loved-up fare.
Review: A reissue of American singer Debra Laws' 1981 single here on Expansion. She made her debut as a solo recording artist in in the same year, with the release of her album titled Very Special. This album, produced by her brothers Hubert and Ronnie, was a success with the singles "On My Own" (a lovely neon-lit disco-funk groove) and "Very Special" (a super sensual ballad on the slo-mo tip) being featured here. Up until the beginning of the '90s, Laws worked with her three siblings, recording and doing many live performances in the United States and abroad. Samples from "Very Special" can be heard in Jennifer Lopez's 2002 hit single of "All I Have".
Review: Athens of the North originally contracted obscure 80s boogie artist Billy Bruner about reissuing two of his rare, sought-after singles - "The Tulsa Song" and "The Dream" - but instead raided his tape archives and putting together what's effectively his debut album. Combining previously released tracks (including some made as part of similarly obscure outfit T'Spoon and the gospel-leaning band The Davis Family), unheard extended versions and previously unreleased songs, the album is warm, soulful, slick and summery. Highlights include the stuttering P-funk flex of "Cats Meow", the sizzling dancefloor heat of "School Dance" and the deliciously extended version of glassy-eyed '80s soul jam "Never". If sparkling, synth-heavy '80s soul is your thing, this is one surprise retrospective you won't want to miss.
Review: "What About The Child" by Avelino Pitts' obscure band GOLD has long been a sought-after deep funk rarity, with copies of the 1977 seven-inch single being extremely hard to come by these days. Helpfully Athens of the North's Euan Fryer knows the score and has decided to offer-up a much-needed reissue. The track is a fine slab of psychedelic soul in the vein of leading San Francisco groups of the period - Vehicle, Tower of Power and so on - with plenty of rhythmic shuffle and fine group vocals. Fryer has unearthed a gem for the flip, too: a previously unreleased cut that's on a similar sonic tip to Rotary Connection. It's worth the entrance price on its own.
Review: Way back in 1970, People In The News released their sole single on Knap Town, a tiny label based in Indiana. Original copies of that funk "45" are notoriously hard to find, thanks in no small part to the quality of both cuts. Step forward Athens Of The North boss Euan Fryer, who has secured the rights to reissue the single for the first time. A-side "Color Me" is the real bomb: a down-low chunk of mid-tempo funk with politically charged group vocals, rasping guitar licks and hip-hop style drum breaks. Over on side B, "Misty Shade Of Pink" is the kind of rock solid instrumental funk workout you'd expect to hear from the Meters.
Review: London singer-songwriter Michael Kiwanuka builds on the success of his first two albums by drafting in Danger Mouse and Inflo to produce the beats that house his hugely expressive voice. That voice is of course front and centre - and whether delivering tender moments of intimacy or more breezy soul, it is always wrought with tension and emotion, slow burning and buttery smooth. The production feels timeless yet contemporary whether offering gauzy, guitar laden textures "Hero" or soaring pop ("Final Days") and makes this an album that touches on all forms of soul with equal originality.
Review: Athens Of The North celebrate the longstanding contributions of host, presenter, writer, personality and occasional singer Bernard "Spider" Harrison. Recorded sometime around 1970, and fetching large triple figures between collectors, the feel good bluesy soul cut "Beautiful Day" first landed on Lulu Records and has barely seen the light of day since... Until now. And it's loaded with a never-before-released drum cut. Don't sleep, though. Only 500 of these have been pressed.
Review: Many disco-era modern soul collectors regard, Larom Baker's "You're The Best", which initially appeared in 1978 on an impossible to find, single-sided 7" single, as one of the style's genuine "Holy Grail" records. It's good news, then, that Athens Of The North has secured the rights to reissue it, releasing the full studio version (rather than the shorter edit that was released all those years ago) for the very first time. It's a genuine gem, with Baker's deliciously breezy West Coast soul vocal seemingly floating over a killer backing track rich in hazy horns, bustling slap bass and crunchy Clavinet lines. Turn to the flipside for the more disco-minded "Train Of Thought", one of a string of recently discovered Baker recordings that form the basis of a forthcoming album of previously unreleased tracks.
Review: Throughout the 1970s, North Carolina outfit Brief Encounter released a string of fine, but largely overlooked, funk and soul 45s. Their most significant and celebrated release, though, is 1981 album "We Want To Play", a warm and groovy collection of boogie-fired soul songs that regularly changes hands for significant sums online. As this Athens Of The North reissue proves, the LP has lost none of its luster over the years. Highlights include the inspired string-drenched ballad "Now I Know I Love You", the groovy dancefloor heat of "Rocking" and the soaring gospel-disco brilliance of "Always".
Review: To mark Record Store Day 2018, London store Love Vinyl pressed up a tasty 12" containing the best of the disco-era work of Ohio-based soul combo Timeless Legend. Tucked away on the B-side was "I Was Born To Love You", a soaring chunk of sweet and punchy disco-soul from 1980. Here that track gets the reissue treatment from Richard Searling and John Anderson's admirable Expansions imprint. As with the original Dawn-Lite seven-inch single, the inspired A-side vocal version (Part 1) is accompanied by a slightly wilder, largely instrumental flipside take (Part 2) that's worth the entrance price on its own.
Review: What with their super-rare rare groove album "Synchronised" fetching four figures and some of their key singles rocking similarly big price tags, Columbus soul troupe are renowned for their sought-after wax collectables. It's not hard to hear way. Gossamer smooth with just hint of boogie on both sides, "Do You Love Me" is a yearning end-of-night smoocher that doesn't cut on the weight while "You're The One" flexes a much more upbeat groove with slap bass and keytars running off pure positivity. Only once reissued before, this Expansion excursion will be more than welcome news to many.
Steve 'Doc' Willoughby - "All My Life" (long version) (5:22)
Review: Those in the modern soul scene should already be familiar with Expansions' "Soul Togetherness" series; after all, the label has been putting out annual compilations of the best contemporary dancefloor-focused soul jams under that name since the dawn of the century. The 2019 edition contains plenty of soulful heat, from the synth-sporting '80s soul revivalism of DCR's "Positive Vibes" and the head-nodding, boogie-flavoured R&B of Shaila Prospere's "Plus One", to the Loose Ends-inspired warmth of Magoo's "Still Really Love" and the anthem-like sing-along that is Rockie Robins' "Good Life". SolatiMusic's stripped-back and seductive "Tell Me" is also brilliant.
Review: Many of the finest independent disco 45s that Athens of the North has reissued were licensed by crate digger David Haffner, so it's fitting that AOTN boss Euan Fryer has given him a compilation of his own. "Disco With A Feeling" contains some of those picks, alongside other obscure favourites from Haffner's sizable record collection. It's absolute fire from start to finish, with the little known private press and small-run cuts tending towards the more soulful and jazz-funk influenced end of the disco spectrum. Basically, it's a must-have for anyone who gravitates towards the rare end of the disco spectrum.
Review: At the tail end of the '80s, Sylvia Striplin quit Norman Connors' jazz-funk group Aquarian Dream in order to pursue a solo career. Joining forces with producers James Bedford and Roy Ayers, she recorded 1981 debut album "Give Me Your Love", a well regarded but largely overlooked set that has since become a sought-after item amongst soul collectors. This Expansion reissue presents the album on CD for the first time in two decades. As with many soul albums of the period, it sashays between jazz-funk, boogie and heartfelt slow jams, contrasting memorable dancefloor workouts (see stone cold classic "Give Me Your Love" and a stellar cover of Roy Ayers favourite "Searchin") with more saccharine, loved-up fare. This edition also boasts a couple of bonus cuts, including the superb 7" mix of "Give Me Your Love".
Review: Expansion's latest must-check seven-inch mines Roy Ayers' 1983 album "Lots Of Love", a sparkling post-disco set that combined the vibraphonist's usual jazz-funk flavours with colourful synthesizers and genuine boogie flavours. "Everybody" on the A-side is particularly potent; a lolloping synth-boogie head-nodder rich in life-affirming synthesizer squelches, rubbery jazz-funk bass, fluid Ayers vibraphone solos and background vocals that sneakily reference "Everybody Loves The Sunshine". Flipside "And Then We Were One" is if anything even more summery in feel, with mazy synth and vibraphone motifs dancing atop a killer jazz-funk groove. It's a little more up-tempo than the A-side, but arguably a little less addictive.
Review: Athens Of The North hitting us with big fat juicy slap bass feels right here as an ultra-rare joint from Miami's Frank Cornelius and Gary King aka Myth comes our way. "Play With Me" comes live and direct from 1985 and you can tell in every direction. The production is fat and roomy and the boogie flavours are off the Scoville scale. Meanwhile on the B we have the duo's first single "In Action". Equally funky, salubrious and widescreen but with a little more vocal action, it's another boogie triumph from the Scottish reissue kings.
Review: Over the years Athens of the North founder Euan Fryer has heard a lot of incredible music, so when he says that La Rombe is the best singer/songwriter he's heard we sit up and take notice. To prove his point, Fryer has trawled through the Philadelphia musician's archive of recordings (it stretches back to 1979) and put together this essential retrospective. There's much to admire throughout, with the assembled cuts mostly mining the overlooked artist's soul, disco and 1980s rhythm and blues work. We'd highlight individual tracks for praise, but such is the quality throughout that naming favourites seems pointless. Take our advice: grab a copy while you can.
Review: As he does on the regular, Athens Of The North chief Euan Fryer has unearthed, licensed and reissued another obscure, impossible-to-find gem. Chuck Brimley's cover of Michael Frank classic "St Elmo's Fire" originally appeared on a tiny Milwaukee-based label in 1981, but pretty much sank without trace (according to Fryer, even local record-diggers didn't know of it's existence). It's something of a seductive, early AM radio gem - a deliciously warm, woozy and dewy-eyed mixture of AOR, soul, soft rock and the kind of glistening jazz-funk that would once accompany 'pages from Ceefax' on late night BBC TV. The track's jazzier elements - think trumpet and sax solos, twinkling electric piano riffs and so on -come to the fore on the accompanying flipside instrumental version.
Review: Foster Emerson Sylvers was a member of the Sylvers when he was just a kid, and his debut LP form 1973 preceded what the Jackson Five achieved towards the end of the decade. At the time of his self-titled debut, Sylvers was only 11 years old, and the kid from Philly already had enough elegance and panache to perform on any stage across the globe. This magnificent LP, reissued by the trusted Mr Bongo, is a pleasure in every single way...for the artist's voice, for the diversity of these soul ballads, and for their irreplaceable charm. There is so much love, so much passion, and so much (true) soul across these 11 tracks - not to mention the fact that tey have been near impossible to find until now! What a corker - do not let this one slide!
Review: Vocally-led by child sensation, Foster Sylvers, The Sylvers family grew into their own throughout the 70s, and 1973's The Sylvers II really instilled their sound as the gold standard fo funk music. We're talking about a family of kids who were all incredible musicians, truly offering the world a heartfelt performance, whichever aesthetic they were going for. Mr Bongo has delivered the goods once again with this reissue, and we are totally stoked about the fact that we are receiving the sort of funk and soul which still has not been experienced by everyone. It is about the mystique, it is about the charm, and it's most certainly high time for some soothing soul direct from the source - oh, and check that bassline on the magnetic "Handle It". Recommended.