Let My People Go


    Recently, a friend told me he thinks dense orchestration will be the next big thing. Part of me hopes this is true, because he’s paying money out the ass for a degree in music composition and theory and I’d like to see him cop work when it’s all said and done. Another part of me actually agrees with him, considering the recent success of the Arcade Fire and their kitchen-sink approach. But the conspiracy theorist in me wonders if this is just a response to technology fanning the D.I.Y. flames (M.I.A., anyone?). Enter the historian in me to dig through the files and uncover a similar story of professional versus amateur, major league versus minor league, and the fluid relationship between the two.


    The music lover in me has never thought much of the “not ready for primetime” distinction – what was Motown but the greatest indie label? In fact, the digger in me has noticed that bargain bins are populated mostly by pros such as the Police, whereas no-names such as Eugene “Has Headless Hunters Cracked 100,000 Yet?” McDaniels regularly post up on dealers’ walls. The reasonable side of me thus concludes this: Neither label nor booster measures quality.


    Keeping this perspective may make diggin’ Darondo easier. A Bay Area legend among diggers, he defined his recording career in the early ’70s with just three seven-inches of peculiar funk. For these precise reasons – the rarity of his output and his rarefied personality – he was either lavished with praise or appraised hardly. In short, it’s another of these cases: rare, but any good? Now, with the widespread reissue of his work, Darondo no longer has to contend with one-half of that tag. But the question, as it should have always been, remains: Any good?


    Darondo lives up to the hype when he counters with his own hype. Shuffling between There’s a Riot-era Sly and pre-Hi Syl in a superficial tonal sense, he references familiar sounds while staking bold claims upon them. Like a musical pimp, Darondo struts with confidence through styles, unconcerned that Sly and Syl already run the block: Darondo readies the backhand for “Let My People Go,” though Johnson brought out the billy club for “Is It Because I’m Black”; Darondo pleads his point on “Didn’t I,” though Stone ‘fessed up on “Runnin’ Away.” Nevertheless, Darondo switches gears like a professional showman, acting silky on “Sure Know How to Love Me” then behaving lascivious on “Legs.” With ease, he conveys his love of playing himself (not in the colloquial sense). So, considering that Darondo knows where his music fits in, the only question that really matters: Do you have a li’l Darondo in you?


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