Prince is the Artist: a virtuoso, a maverick, a symbol. The Purple One’s genius has transformed the man into a musical hero and a legendary performer. If Prince is a somewhat inscrutable artist today, ensconced in Paisley Park, the Twin Cities provided a palpable point of origin for the myth, the hometown scene of a young Prince Rogers Nelson.
Purple Snow: Forecasting the Minneapolis Sound is the 50th proper release by Numero Group, the historically curious, keen-eyed, crate digging wunder-label. This idea of a “Minneapolis Sound” is inextricably linked to Prince, and the compilation’s evocative title means the Purple One will inevitably be the point of entry into these songs. However, the late ’70s/early ’80s funk scene in Minneapolis and St. Paul is actually a great match for the Numero treatment–the label’s best releases involve scrutinizing an overlooked local history and hanging a narrative around forgotten music. Prince’s meteoric ascent into purpled high fantasy fogged up what was going on in the dove’s nest, but his influence insures the Minneapolis sound will never be forgotten. We’re talking about 1999 and Control at the most mainstream, which just means the stakes are extra high for Numero as revisionist historians–a fitting challenge for the label’s 50th release.
Purple Snow tells the story of an isolated, insular music scene that matures in tandem with its breakout star and then wrestles with its new identity. The 32 recordings trace a community’s creative journey from riffing on the popular soul music of the day–Curtis Mayfield and the Philadelphia Sound of Gamble/Huff–to embracing a flamboyant future-funk, cutting off in 1984, just before the release of Purple Rain. Prince, plays backup on a few early tracks by 94 East and The Lewis Connection, but the focus here is on everyone else, namely Alexander O’Neal, André Cymone, an early iteration of The Time called Flyte Tyme featuring Jimmy Jam Harris and Terry Lewis… “Forecasting” is the key word, because Purple Snow documents the sonic scaffolding around the Minneapolis Sound rather than the Sound itself. This collection guides the listener through the incorporation and development of the falsetto singing, the synths, the processed drums and slinky guitars. Standout jams emerge from the tracklist, but as with most Numero releases, it’s the presentation which completes the sense of time and place. The liner notes (book!) were assembled with near-academic rigor, and the included photos are an essential companion to this music–the visual foundation for what is to come in Purple Rain. words/ a spoto