Randy Muller needs no introduction. He’s been writing, arranging and producing groove-laced funk and R&B for over three decades. If you’ve ever danced or vibed to dynamic jams by the likes of Brass Construction, B.T Express and Skyy, the name will automatically ring a bell. But even Muller’s biggest fans haven’t heard it all before. With his latest CD, Randy Muller Presents: Unreleased Vol. 1 1978-1985, the rhythm-centric music man immerses listeners in a classic steamy sound bath, delivering groovy gems that speak to the soul as well as the shoe soles of admirers seeking a slam-banging soundtrack for those times that are better than good. This collection comes up as super-bad as anything Muller dropped straight from the lab.
Years after most of them were recorded and mixed, tunes no one even knew existed arrive to embody all of our collective joy, spirit and drive to keep things moving and grooving. Kicking like afrolistics, everything here flows from Muller’s funk-saturated template whose gifts couldn't help but keep on giving. He’s a perpetual-motion music machine expertly combining synthesis with consistency. You can hear for yourself how never-before-heard titles by the five-man band First Circle and soloist Raphael Cameron gel with new cuts by the horn- and organ-happy combo Soul Biscuits. Its sparkling sonic style bridges vintage ‘70s funk and R&B and knotty neo-soul. As Muller, the group's mastermind, puts it, “We do then and now, all at the same time.”
First Circle made its debut in April 1987. Consisting of Glenn “Chango” Everett (drums, guitars, vocals), Larry Marsden (guitar), Al Lee (lead vocals), Richard Sinclair (percussion, bass) and Anthony Mc Ewan (percussion), the group’s EMI Records album Boys Night Out spawned a pair of pumping singles: “Workin’ Up A Sweat,” which heated up both the United States R & B and UK pop charts, and “Miracle Worker,” another post-release collectible.
Unreleased Vol. 1 1978-1985 reveals some of the band’s earlier works made under its former names (Motivation, Pulse, Nyteshift, Full Circle). The set glimpses the range of this bold Brooklyn band: economical, anthropological funk on the one to the solid two and four of a classic reggae groove.
“The Funk is On,” which became the title track of the Instant Funk album that followed the group's mega-smash “I Got My Mind Made Up,” was originally First Circle's. It swaggers like a dap dude ready for fun on a Friday night. The spirited “Is This Party Hot?,” meanwhile, captures the band swimming comfortably in the universal solvent – sweat. Everett keeps the rhythm locked in a solid pocket reminiscent of classic P-Funk, framing a squelching groove no true funkateer can ignore. Both songs find the group exploring electro land. On the syncopated reggae pleaser “Hold On.,” singer Al Lee’s signature soulful style serves as the perfect ornament atop a slinky riddim that’s satisfying like “cooked food,” as they say in JA.
Which bring us to Caribbean crooner Raphael Cameron. The Guyanese-born singer signed a production deal with Muller’s company after a chance meeting back on a Brooklyn street corner. Almost immediately, the pair started making demos. In the same Brooklyn studio where many Skyy and Brass Construction hits began, Skyy’s rhythm section – guitarists Solomon Roberts and Anibal Sierra, bassist Gerald Lebon, and drummer Tommy McConnell – along with Muller on keys served as backup band for the sessions.
The Cameron songs on Unreleased Vol I. were recorded between 1978 and 1979, before Cameron signed to Salsoul Records. His 1980 debut, Cameron, sold over 300,000 units in the US, leapt into the British Top 20, and became an international collectible from South Africa to Paris and Japan. In 1982 Raphael Cameron was named Record World magazine’s “Top New Male Vocalist” and “Single Male Artist of the Year” at the R&B Music Awards. “We really wanted all these songs to be on the first Cameron album, but due to limitations of the medium, we simply could not fit all of the tracks on one vinyl disc. So, “If,” “Song For You,” Happy To See You Again,” “Start The Boogie (Dance),” “Nightlife,” “Tonight” and a few other tracks remained in the library, completely forgotten until I recently stumbled onto them,” Muller recalls.
“I vividly remember recording 'Song For You." Except for a few changes at the top, it was a jam that just combusted into one funky fireball of a groove. When I recorded in those days, I would stand behind each musician and yell out instructions as the tape ran. I spent a lot of time talking to drummer: ‘Gimme a crash here, a roll there,’ and stuff like that. I also remember encouraging “Butch" Sierra to do his rock guitar thing. Then I added that synth solo on the old Mini-Moog. There were no fancy sequencers and automation to pull it off! You simply had to play your ass off, and I sure had a ball jammin’ on that one!”
Soul Biscuits is a response to the urgings of both close friends and fans yearning for more ‘70s-style funk and soul from Muller. This latest assemblage of handpicked musicians – including Jeff Smith (Family Stand) on saxes, Larry Marsden (First Circle), Kevin Scott (Joe Public), Eric Huff on sax and Muller himself (keys, vocals, percussion) – proves a well-oiled crew with musical groundings in both the classic funk and soul sounds of the late '70s/early '80s (a la earlier works by Brass Construction, BT Express and Skyy) and the neo-soul sounds of today. Muller’s approach here is the same as hip-hop producers who merge old-school samples and loops with modern melodies. "The only difference," he says, "is we play those old- school pockets from scratch!" The live horns have an uncanny ability to transport listeners back to the days of the funky instrumental horn single (reminiscent of early Kool and The Gang), and the sublime organ pads conjure up the best of Booker T & the MGs.
Two Soul Biscuit songs –“Come As U Are” wiggles like gelatin, and is funky, jumpy and laid-back too; "Beautiful Day," is an irresistible feel-good groove whose easy charm transcends all socio-temporal trappings – are bonus tracks on Unreleased, presented as appetizers to a main course. Among other Soul Biscuit cuts to look forward to on its album is a remake of Brass Construction funk favorite “Get Up To Get Down.”
"Music is about expression, a feeling rooted in a cultural milieu and social context specific to a time and place," says Muller. "It reflects the goings-on of its moment and puts a face on what would otherwise remain indescribable." Unreleased seamlessly melds then and now, all the while forging a brand new soulful space with a funky embrace that brings on a delicious déjà vu feeling that can withstand the test of time."