While the satisfaction of happening upon a track from a long forgotten artist, with a song barely heard through the ages, has in part been sated by various reissue labels around the globe, so seldom is a picture painted. A single track by a single artist is no more than that—no fragments of a previous composition, no full albums of sleepers and gems. These snapshots, thrilling in their uncovering and dazzling in their quality, will often lack context. They are not Motown lifers, suddenly stepping into the limelight with a charted past of backing vocals or minor hits, even unreleased records. Often, if at all, the closest we can come to diving deeper than a single track is a demo. Of course this is not exclusive to reissue labels—much of the “reissued” classic records cottage industry features little more than slightly different versions of well recognized tunes. These are hardly the revealing indicators one might strive for upon hearing a new-old artist.
One such example of this kind of progression arrives courtesy via the always indelible Numero Group. Their Eccentric Soul: The Prix Label—which delves into the insanely short lived Columbus imprint who graces the title—features four distinct tracks from one Eddie Ray. Comparisons of any artist from any reissue label around bound to break crest, but are often fruitless; based less in talent and more in the assumption of derivatives. Simply put, Ray was more than an ample front man and the band assembled behind him tight as the house men at Stax or Hitsville, USA.
Ray’s entries include “You Got Me”—certainly the most jangly and spaced-out of his tracks, and a demo version. Among other things the coupling is a rare peek into the creative process amongst Numero’s releases, and those of reissue labels in general. While not an expansive look back, it is a rarely seen window into the production capabilities and musical proficiency of the players whose contributions coalesced into, assumably, numerous tracks and in this singular instance, the early prototype of one such completed jam.
Through it, Ray’s voice easily shines, ready for the red light to pop on and bust out a final take. A bare, jabbing guitar fills for what would become a wobbly up-and-down-the-scale funk. A hand drum opens, starts to fill a beat, and never quite finds a place to set the tone. If nothing more than just two versions of the same song, the demo shows an intentionality of design impossible to fully appreciate without context. That both versions could be so listenable is only testimony to both the artist and the compilers. words/ b kramer