The beat-digging purveyors at Gerald "Jazzman" Short’s Jazzman Records are naturally expected to lead the field in deep-funk excavations. The label has met and exceeded many of those expectations with its recent series of regional American funk comps: Midwest Funk, Florida Funk, Texas Funk and now Carolina Funk, reissued domestically courtesy of Stones Throw offshoot Now Again.
As with the preceding volumes, Carolina Funk is chockfull of nuggets, hits and bizarro tracks. Such diversity is a direct result of the label’s incessant search for homegrown talent and rare records, which ensures a degree of chance with the quality of material. Thus the expected bruise of "Ease It to Me" by Shirlean Williams & the Tempo’s Band is offset by the ska-disco-rap of Wally Coco’s "Message to Society."
But make no mistake: This is a Jazzman production, so heavyweight tracks like DJ Shadow’s choice Funk Spectrum find "The Road" by Communicators & the Black Experience Band, and Now Again faves Carleen & the Groovers’ "Can We Rap" can also be found.
Many of the tracks take obvious cues from popular styles, songs, or ideas of the day. Gamith’s "Darkness" sounds like a demo of Johnny Pate’s "Shaft in Africa." Dynamite Singletary’s "Super Good" pays soup to nut homage to the Godfather’s "Super Bad." And the Black Exotics’ cover of the Blackbyrds’ "Theme of Blackbyrds" is a rare document of what most chitlin’ circuit bands did: play covers, not originals. In fact, many of these bands, most of whom recorded only a handful of singles, if they even made it past the first recording session, are being remembered for a document that had little to do with their stage shows. It’s a fortunate yet ironic circumstance.
The rarity of many of these records and the copious information documented in each volume certainly shames us Yanks for not showing this much appreciation and enthusiasm for our own culture, but these compilations are also conservative efforts in need of fine tuning. Jazzman’s geographic approach to organizing deep-funk history fits with the traditional music narrative: time and location as the principle factors of context. Carolina Funk compiler Jason Perlmutter attempts to make connections between style and place–for example, he tries to link the "more rugged, aggressive sound" of South Carolina’s funk with its comparatively larger history of racism and oppression. But the leap of thought is abstract and without basis. In fact, the breadth of material suggests there are more nuanced influences at play.
In fairness, Perlmutter himself writes in his copious liner notes of the "work-in-progress nature of documenting funk." This series has taken bold steps beyond Rickey Vincent’s seminal overview, Funk: The Music, The People, and the Rhythm of the One, in documenting this obscure history. Thematic or genre-specific compilations, like the widely celebrated Chains and Black Exhaust compilation of North American Black Rock, will likely present the next logical step in this conversation.