I've seen the UK variant of this album in all honesty maybe twice in nearly 40 years of collecting vinyl - it's both genuinely hard-to-find and sought-after by Soul collectors. "Right On Be Free" is a sort of Gospel-Funk Righteous-Soul miss-mash. And as original copies don't surface that much - Rhino's October 2007 Remastered Expanded CD version on 8122-76435-2 (Barcode 081227643522) with a tasty 11 Bonus Tracks is more than welcome and a good move from a smart reissue label. Here's the gritty urban breakdown:
1. Right On Be Free 2. Simple Song Of Freedom 3. Proud Mary 4. Music In The Air 5. Oh Yeah 6. For What It's Worth 7. Let It Be Me 8. No No No 9. Gotta Be A Change 10. Shaker Life Tracks 1 to 10 are the lone album "Right On Be Free" by THE VOICES OF EAST HARLEM released in late 1970 on Elektra Records EKS-74080 in the USA with the Butterfly Label Design and EKS 74080 in the UK with the Red Label Design (later pressings 2469 007) -- both original issues donning the luxury of a gatefold sleeve.
BONUS TRACKS: 11. Oxford Town (A Bob Dylan cover) 12. Sit Yourself Down (A Stephen Stills cover) Tracks 11 and 12 are the non-album A&B sides of their 3rd US 7" single issued in mid 1971 on Elektra EKM 45753. The Dylan song first appeared of his 1963 masterpiece "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan" and was a powerful protest song then - here it's typically funked up - heavy on the choppy 60's organ with Cynthia Sessions giving impassioned lead vocals. "Oxford Town" was always a strong tune and this is a great version of it. The Stephen Stills track is from his 1970 debut album "Stephen Stills" and is a very clever choice of song in that the original had a very soulful even churchy feel to it anyway. The TVOEH version keeps to that feel and for me it's definitely one of the highlights here. (The beautifully handled male lead vocal for "Sit Yourself Down" is unknown - so come out wherever you are and claim the glory).
13. Nation Time 14. I Wanna Be Free 15. Hey Brother 16. Love Is The Answer 17. Kind Woman Tracks 13 to 17 are all from the aborted second album sessions recorded in New York between June and September of 1971 with all songs produced and overseen by soul maestro DONNY HATHAWAY. All are previously unreleased and make their CD debut here - and what a find they are. It's clear that a truly superb 2nd album was in the making and its criminal that it never made it off the blocks. "Nation Time" is a Gamble & Huff song penned in 1968 which was made a hit by THE EBONYS on their self-titled debut LP for Philadelphia International in 1973. It's an excellent funky tune - sort of Ike & Tina Turner guitar-driven righteous soul. "I Wanna Be Free" is a Richie Furay tune with all the right-on musical and lyrical credentials needed. "Hey Brother" contains a version of Hendrix's "Hey Joe" in there and is just superb. "Love Is The Answer" is possibly by Donny Hathaway but the writer is credited as `unknown'. "Kind Woman" is another Richie Furay song from his stay with Buffalo Springfield (on their second album "Last Time Around" from 1968) - TVOEH give it a gorgeous slow ballad working.
18. Angry (Tony Davillo cover) 19. (We Are) New York Lightning (Tony Davillo cover) Tracks 18 and 19 are the non-album A&B sides of their 4th 7" single issued in late 1971 on Elektra EKM 45775. "Angry" features a duet vocal (male & female singers are unidentified) and is excellent - righteous and soulful in all the right ways. The B-side is a slower more soulful song - very nice - a superb extra to have. TONY DAVILLO wrote both the A&B - a session guitarist who also worked with The Edwin Hawkins Singers.
20. Run Shaker Life (Live) (Richie Havens cover) 21. Soul To Soul (Live) Tracks 20 and 21 are exclusive to the Various Artists album called "Soul To Soul" issued in the USA on Atlantic in September 1971 (SD 7207). It was recorded in Ghana on 6 March 1971 at a live concert in the capitol city Accra put together to celebrate the 14th anniversary of the African country's independence from British rule. At times the group sound like 'live' Santana circa '69/'70 - absolutely on fire and kicking. (For those interested the DVD of the show was made available in 2004.)
The core 10-track album is top-heavy with other people's songs - "Simple Song Of Freedom" is a Bobby Darin cover, "Proud Mary" a Creedence Clearwater Revival song, "For What It's Worth" is the famous Buffalo Springfield track - while "Let It Be Me" is an Everly Brothers slow song all funked up. "Run Shaker Life" is a Richie Havens song that turned up on his 1969 2LP set "Richard P. Havens, 1989". Throw in two traditional songs in the shape of "No No No" and "Music In The Air" and that leaves only 3 original songs; "Right On Be Free" and "Gotta Be A Change" are penned by leading light in the Harlem area of New York, and founder of the group, singer CHUCK GRIFFIN. "Oh Yeah" is written by and features fantastic lead vocals from BERNICE COLE.
Two singles came off the album but did no business; they were "Right On Be Free" b/w "Gotta Be A Change" (Elektra 210013) and "Oh Yeah" b/w "No No No" (Elektra 210018)
Remastered by tape maestro BILL INGLOT - the sound quality on this great CD reissue is typically superb. The Remaster brings out the funky-as-fuck bass playing of Chuck Rainey - while Richard Tee's organ permeates every track with a church/choir feel. The liner notes suggest that the house band for these sessions is that of Hathaway's live ensemble, PHIL UPCHURCH on Funky Guitar, WILLIAM WEEKS on Bass and FRED WHITE on Drums - and they are superb. HATHAWAY fans will simply have to own these - I love that guy - what a loss he was to Soul Music.
But it's the assembled voices that dominate every song - and at times - just a little too much so. I would admit that these blasting righteous tunes may not be everybody's cup of Darjeeling - but for me they and the superb extras make it an essential purchase.
To sum up - this is an exceptional release in any man's language - a rare and sought-after album complete with the A&B's of two ridiculously rare 7"'s and a wad of great previously unreleased material. Is it any wonder fans love Rhino as a label. Way to go boys...
PS: This release is part of Rhino's "CLASSIC SOUL ALBUM - REMASTERED & EXPANDED" Series. Most titles are first time onto CD and are rare soul albums from the Warner/Atlantic/Cotillion/Elektra vaults. The other titles are:
1. Ace Spectrum - Inner Spectrum (see REVIEW) 2. Blue Magic - "Blue Magic" (see REVIEW) 3. Donny Hathaway - "Come Back Charleston Blue O.S.T." (see REVIEW) 4. Leroy Hutson - "Paradise" (see REVIEW) 5. Ronn Matlock - "Love City" (see REVIEW) 6. Gwen McCrae - "Gwen McCrae" 7. Gwen McCrae - "On My Way" 8. Prince Phillip Mitchell - "Top Of The Line" (see REVIEW) 9. Prince Philip Mitchell - "Make It Good" (see REVIEW)
The Voices of East Harlem were a local choir, whose abilities brought them to the attention of a wider audience, via, among others, the Major of New York. They were signed to the Elektra label, at the time home to every musical genre other then Black Music, and performed with Hendrix, before recording this debut album.
The 8 tracks of the original album use the Gospel roots of the choir to infuse a mix of originals and covers, with the accent firmly on a Black agenda of protest, right down to the cover picture. The title track sums that up, with it's message underscored by Funk (similarly the closer "Shaker Life"), although the groups abilities are also displayed well on "Let It Be Me", a simply beautiful mid-tempo cover.
The additional tracks include the recordings for a second Electra album, which were produced by Donny Hathaway. Notable among these is Dylan's "Oxford Town", "Hey Brother" (from Hendrix' "Hey Joe") and "I Wanna Be Free", which become funky organ driven gospel. The groups collaboration with Hathaway never saw the light of day, however, and remained unreleased until this set, despite the superb quality of the performances.
The final single release on Elektra is included (heaven alone knows why the wonderful B-side, "New York Lightning" never got more attention), while there are also tracks from the choirs performance at the "Soul to Soul" festival in Ghana (which became a movie).
All in all this is an excellent set, which encapsulates the feeling of the times, when Soul was king and when Black culture was asserting it's identity. The Voices were unmistakably part of that, and their music resonates to this day.
If you appreciate raw , unreserved , funky , heartlifting passionate Soul - Gospel this will certainly appeal to you. As previous reviews mention its 2 LPs in one, with the first 10 tracks providing the unadulterated gripping hip shaking toe tapping raw energy of the VOEH at their best. Fantastic examples of the Call and Response - style in gospel, powerful anthems for justice, peace and equality. The 2nd half is a much better sound quality, but for me rather less gripping but still provides some excellent tracks which are more a move to their Soul sound. Right On and Shaker Life - are the stand out tracks for me on this CD, (which comes with great detailed sleeve notes about VOEH,.) I for one will be searching out their later work with Curtis Mayfield ,, but Id REALLY reccomend this and credit to Rhino and suppliers for making it available. Rich
This is an excellent, stonking album. The sincerity and depth in this collection is astonishing, you can feel the warmth, charisma and heart felt hope in the voices of the young talents on display here and makes you want to rise up and join the march for freedom with them.So much talent.
It is also of real historical value and reflects a period in black America where people were not judged on their bling or their booties. The honesty and charm of this album pores out. Do yourself a favour and envelope yourself in the power of The Voices of East Harlem. Believe in fighting the power with beauty and nobility.It makes me wanna holla !