DAPTONE RECORDS is at the center of a contemporary soul/funk cottage industry that is very much of their own making, and which is centered around the main recording studio for the label, Daptone’s House of Soul (though the record at hand was recorded at the related Dunham Studio). I nerdily went out of my way to check out the Daptone studio like seven years ago while in Brooklyn. From the outside it looked pretty house-like. But magic happens there in that space, and the people behind Daptone have over the last decade and a half truly created a world of music around the label that many including myself have oft pined for.
And I wish Daptone all the success in the world, for the farther SHARON JONES goes, and the more AMY WHITEHOUSEs that the label and those associated with it make happen, the more CHARLES BRADLEYs and more COMO MAMAS the label is going to be able to unearth. If you are unfamiliar with Daptone, have a look. We don’t talk about them that often around here, but they are truly a shining light of independent music here in 2015. But anyway . . .
THE COMO MAMAS are a trio of deeply soulful female singers from Como, Mississippi who have apparently been singing gospel music their entire lives but who released their first album (the first on Daptone, anyway) in 2013. That record is called GET AN UNDERSTANDING, and it is a powerful a cappella gospel experience that warrants your attention. Last fall the group released a follow-up 7” record, however, and it is that recording, where the soaring, earthy vocals of the Mamas partner with the Menahan Street Band (billed here as the Radiant Rhythm Band) to create that specific brand of gospel that I have never been able to find or get enough of. I’m talking R.H. HARRIS post–SOUL STIRRERS, I’m talking the STAPLES SINGERS, PILGRIM TRAVELERS (w/ LOU RAWLS). I’m talking exquisite use of repetition! I’m talking the impassioned vocals of gospel (which obviously mutated into soul and beyond) meeting the backbeat of rock ’n’ roll/soul and then, further on, funk. SAM COOKE, Gospel’s crossover hero/villain, gave the world a nice chunk of this special kind of thing via his SAR RECORDS as well. Mostly though, as rock ’n’ roll happened, and R&B and gospel became intertwined with it (the synthesis of soul) . . . gospel was a loser. Tastes moved fast toward secular music, and it’s not hard to believe that the God-loving hardcore gospel performers and fans in turn chose to shun that backbeat. Devil’s music, right?
And listen, I’m no friend of God, but human beings’ passion for a ruler on high has inspired some amazing music (and sure a bunch of shitty shit, and even some good shit). And at this fork in the road where gospel headed toward SISTER ACT (broad statement, yes I know) and soul music hurtled toward a funk frontier, we the listener lost out on what could have been a lot more amazing music. But that’s why the Como Mamas are here, and that’s why I hope the best for Daptone and finding others like the Como Mamas. “Out of the Wilderness” is a gospel standard of one kind or another (I couldn’t find any writer credit on the Internets), and the Como Mamas’ version is untouchable. A little piano and organ, some excellent guitar playing, and a funky backbeat create a smart, simple framework for these three real women to hang their awesome voices upon, led by Ester Mae Smith’s up-front and in-your-face delivery. I’ve listened to this track so many times. I listened to some other versions of this song for some context as well, and everyone else seemed disgusting in comparison. I truly hope the Como Mamas have plans to get together with the Radiant Rhythm Band for more sessions very very soon. Let’s get these ladies up to Boston, right?