Numero Group, a label favorite for their brilliant archival and restoration work, have wowed us again – and in a typically new and delightful way. Local Customs: Downriver Revival is yet another eclectic compilation, spanning multiple genres, making it difficult to categorize due to the truly diverse nature of the track selection. Though compiled from the work of Felton Williams between 1967-1981, many of the tracks feel as though they exist without a time-stamp, encompassing various genres ranging from gospel and soul, to mod and funk.
Several of the artists make repeat appearances contributing some of the collection’s strongest tracks — these often being the more polished and practiced groups who already had their rough and soulful sound worked out. The Coleman Family are one such group, whose two tracks, “Peace on Earth” and “People Has It Hard” are instant standouts. With its Scotty Moore style guitar, stripped drums and readymade sermon, “Peace on Earth” is a stylistically heavy package – residing somewhere between country-thumper and work song. With a near perfect handclap and sing-a-long chorus, the song feels like it’s been lifted from an old church jukebox.
Conversely, the song that has both perplexed and captivated my attention is The Coleman Family’s “People Has It Hard.” It’s difficult to imagine these two songs being by the same artist.; while strikingly similar, the simple change in guitar tone transforms the group from gospel choir to near reggae. The women seem young, and yet the complexity and depth of their voices render them ageless — stuck somewhere between the sound of young heartbreak and reflective wisdom. The one-take feel of the scratch guitar, the room-echoing drums and the removed and rehearsed voices gives it a quality of timeless oddity, feeling something akin to a 1930’s Lomax recording and yet intimating strains of the fusion of soul, folk, gospel, rock and jazz.
What Numero Group continues to accomplish with its growing catalogue is the introduction of new projects of astounding ambition — joyfully forcing the listener to see and connect the threads. Their collections are not “My Favorite Funk Tracks” nor “The Best of So and So” – they are well thought out, well constructed stories – musical stories that, taking the long view, become a cohesive whole. words/ b kramer
MP3: Coleman Family – People Has It Hard
MP3: Shirley Ann Lee – There’s A Light
Amazon: Local Customs: Downriver Revival