The Numero Group | 009: Eccentric Soul: The Big Mack (The Numero Group)

Compared to the polished sounds coming out of the Motown studio across town, the Big Mack recordings sound pathetically amateur. But in their amateurism they are brilliantly filthy, and you are overwhelmed by the feeling that these records sat in a room under a basement and we are lucky to be listening to them.

 

The more you listen to soul music, the more you realize that most of it sits in dark, unvisited basements. We all know about those who managed to make it up the stairs, but so much more of it lies unknown and unheard, musical dinosaurs buried under bankruptcy and time.

And then there are the archeologists who dig it up. The Numero Group, the Chicago-based label that isn’t exactly a label, are the archeologists, a three-man team whose goal it is to find gems at the bottom of musical haystacks. They don’t simply find gems, but the rarest, most obscure pieces of music. With Numero 009: Eccentric Soul: The Big Mack Label, they’ve chosen their haystack: a fledgling Detroit soul label that was barely even a candle to Motown’s sun. The label flickered and would eventually fail, but the box of dirty, scratched acetate 45s that represents its life has been carried up the stairs.

The beauty of soul music comes in the interaction of sounds, each voice, violin, or horn blending perfectly like fine thread in a Persian rug. The sounds are soft, sensual, and powerful all in one, and as the name of the genre implies, you hear all these sounds come together not in your head but in your chest. In the Big Mack compilation, there is no shortage of these moments, where spit-shine horn sections crash down onto the melody, or a hungry voice fights to break away from the instruments struggling to keep up. There is “I’ll Be on My Way” by Bob & Fred, with an absolutely beautiful transition from violin to voice. Essence, Big Mack’s first female act, appears on the compilation with its heavily sensual cover of the classic Cooley and Davenport song “Fever.” Tyree “Sugar” Jones’ “If You Feel It” is equally sensual, with a soft drum melody completely dominated by a voice that darts out of the song and into your chest.

Compared to the polished sounds coming out of the Motown studio across town, the Big Mack recordings sound pathetically amateur. But in their amateurism they are brilliantly filthy, and you are overwhelmed by the feeling that these records sat in a room under a basement and we are lucky to be listening to them. You can sense that as they cut these records, in a studio that doubled as a dispatch center for ice cream trucks, each man and woman understood the likely fate of their creations.

Outside of the 19 songs on the compilation, the Numero Group gives us fantastic liner notes that detail the history of the label, its artists, and their songs. It’s packaged better than most CDs I’ve ever bought; the disc that sits inside is something deep out of some basement, ready to be heard.


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