Nat Turner Rebellion: Laugh To Keep From Crying – album review

Nat Turner Rebellion Laugh To Keep From Crying Philly Groove Records 14 May 2021 A heady brew of funk, rock, soul and militant Black Power politics fuels the Nat Turner Rebellion’s long-lost debut album, finally coming out half a century after it was made. Buy from Sister Ray here High-energy funk rhythms, wah-wah guitar, exuberant […] The post Nat Turner Rebellion: Laugh To Keep From Crying – album review appeared first on Louder Than War.

Nat Turner Rebellion: Laugh To Keep From Crying – album review

Nat Turner Rebellion

Laugh To Keep From Crying

Philly Groove Records

14 May 2021

A heady brew of funk, rock, soul and militant Black Power politics fuels the Nat Turner Rebellion’s long-lost debut album, finally coming out half a century after it was made.

Buy from Sister Ray here

High-energy funk rhythms, wah-wah guitar, exuberant brass, tight vocal harmonies, politically charged lyrics rooted in black history… all the ingredients of classic soul are there. So why has it taken 50 years for the Nat Turner Rebellion to reach our ears?

The four-man band were pioneers of the Philly Soul sound but also – and perhaps fatally for their commercial prospects – pioneers of Black Power and the political protest music movement of the late Sixties and early Seventies.

None of them is called Nat Turner: that’s the name of the black slave who led a bloody uprising in Virginia in 1831, for which he was lynched and then skinned alive, making him a martyr for the Black Power movement. Topical today, but not exactly radio-friendly stuff in an America still a racial tinderbox after the assassinations of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King.

After forming the group in 1969, the vocal quartet of Joe Jefferson, Major Harris, Ron Harper and Bill Spratley wrote and recorded dozens of tracks during their time together at Philadelphia’s legendary Sigma Sound Studio. They released a couple of singles in the early Seventies – their black consciousness signature song Tribute To A Slave and the celebratory Love, Peace & Understanding – but failed to have a hit.

The group’s debut album, due for release in 1972, was shelved after disagreements with Stan Watson, the label head of Philly Groove Records at the time. It’s taken til now to be heard and, tragically, all four of the band members have since died, the last of them – Jefferson himself – in 2020.

At the time Watson wanted them to sound more like a classic Philly Soul vocal group like The Delfonics or The O’Jays, singing lavishly orchestrated romantic love songs, in tune with the successful brand created by producer Thom Bell and songwriters Gamble and Huff.

Jefferson and his bandmates, influenced by the more hardcore Sly & The Family Stone and The Temptations, as well as Jimi Hendrix and The Rolling Stones and inspired by Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, saw themselves as having a rougher, rootsier and more political edge. Their album, Laugh To Keep From Crying, shows why.

It’s easy to overpraise an archival re-release like this because we all love the romantic notion of the “lost classic,” but there’s a strong argument that if it had come out at the time we would still be celebrating it today. It’s equally easy to see why the label, concerned about its bottom line, might have preferred to play safe at a time of racial tension and a growing counter-culture movement fuelled by the Vietnam War.

 

Songs like Tribute To A Slave, celebrating Turner’s bloody rebellion against slavery, and Getting Higher Together, a very different celebration of recreational intoxication dating back to Cro-Magnon man, with a funky groove recalling Sly Stone, did not exactly fit the Philly Soul brand at the time, and were certain not to get radio play.

Not all the album is political or provocative. The lush ballads Care (disguising a controversial lyric), Can’t Go On Living and Never Too Late, with the soaring falsetto vocal of Major Harris to the fore, would fit neatly on any compilation of classic Philly Soul alongside The Stylistics and The Delfonics. By contrast, the euphoric Fruit Of The Land, a galloping Black Power anthem included on the UK release, could equally have been recorded by The Temptations in their pomp.

But the band’s image, with clenched fists and Afros, sent an unmistakeable message to their audience.

Jefferson, who identified so strongly with Nat Turner that he once posed for a publicity shot with the inflammatory image of a noose around his neck, had a gift for composing strong hooks, which he exhibited in his day job writing songs for The (Detroit) Spinners, Stylistics and Three Degrees, while Major Harris’s voice was not wasted when the band broke up in 1972 – he joined The Delfonics and went on to have a big solo hit with Love Won’t Let Me Wait.

The music they made together as the Nat Turner Rebellion went unheard for decades until the tape archive of Sigma Sound, where countless Philly Soul classics – and David Bowie’s soul album Young Americans – were recorded was donated to Philadelphia’s Drexel University.

In 2012 music publishers Reservoir acquired Philly Groove Records and their A&R chief Faith Newman discovered the tapes, along with several others gathering dust in a Florida storage facility. The following year, Newman tracked down Jefferson, the band’s sole surviving member at that time, on Facebook, and eventually met him, getting his blessing to release the unheard works and vowing to see the project through.

The 14-track collection, Laugh To Keep From Crying, made its US debut last year in a limited vinyl run via a partnership with Drexel University’s own label, Mad Dragon Records, and is now getting its long overdue UK release.

Jefferson was the only member of the group to be alive when the album finally came out, though he died in July 2020. He said of the belated release: “So here we are, paying tribute to ‘My Friend Nat’ 50 years later. My only wish is that the other members of the Rebellion could be here and witness this firsthand: Bill Spratley (Baritone), Ron Harper (First Tenor), Major Harris (Lead/First Guitar), Sam Jackson (Manager).”

~

All words by Tim Cooper. You can find more of Tim’s writing on Louder Than War at his author’s . He is also on Twitter as  with an extensive archive of journalism at Muck Rack.

~

Tim Cooper
http://www.eatsdrinksandleaves.com
 

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A look back at key moments...There are absolutely no words to sum up the sheer strangeness, the bizarre perversity of walking up to the O2 Arena for the first time in 12 months. After a year of barely emerging from my flat, scarcely interacting with other people, here I was – a negative COVID result from the NHS on my phone – with thousands of other individuals, no doubt sharing a similar vein of anxious excitement. Because make no bones about it: this was perhaps the most surreal ceremony in the history of the BRIT Awards. From host Jack Whitehall’s opening Zoom based skit – an amalgamation of Line Of Duty and Jackie Weaver’s authoritarian lust – to the bizarre Rag’n’Bone Man vs P!NK collaboration which closed the show, the BRIT Awards grappled with COVID limitations and emerged with something just about worked. Female artists were the big winners on the night. Dua Lipa took home two key awards, taking her career-long haul to five. Arlo Parks graced the evening with a subtle, moving performance, before claiming Breakthrough Artist. HAIM won Best International Group, while Best British Group went to female artists for the first time, in the form of a groundbreaking win for Little Mix. - - - - - - In terms of performances, Elton John and Olly Alexander’s dynamic version of ‘It’s A Sin’ was easily the stand out – a larger than life duet that saw the two living their best lives and taking LGBTQ+ representation into the nation’s prime time living rooms. For reasons unknown, though, it was a pre-record – if you were in the arena, all you saw was the huge screens. Coldplay’s somewhat awkward opener saw Chris Martin do the robot on a pontoon, while Dua Lipa’s dazzling medley underlined just how successful her year has been. Headie One led a celebration of UK rap talent, with his short set making room for AJ Tracey, and Young T & Bugsey - the young kings shelled it down, a demonstration of the raw power this generation of artists can conjure. - - - - - - It was a ceremony in which context meant everything. It’s been – and we put this mildly – a traumatic year for a great many people, with the BRITs opening their doors to key workers. The trimmed back audience – a mere 4000 people in the cavernous arena – was overwhelmingly slanted towards those doing such extraordinary work in the NHS. Dua Lipa made her thoughts explicit, dedicating her Best British Female award to healthcare pioneer and nurse Dame Elizabeth Anionwu, before urging the government to enact a pay rise for NHS workers. “It’s all very good to clap for them but we need to pay them,” she said. “I think what we should do is we should all give a massive, massive round of applause and give Boris a message that we all support a fair pay rise for our front line.” Critics online, however, immediately pointed out the Achille’s heel in Dua’s argument: she spent 2020 seemingly jetting from exotic location to exotic location, recently settling down in Mexico, a country that is struggling to contain the pandemic. It’s a layer to the debate that illustrates how profoundly odd and contradictory last night felt; ultimately, no one else thought to demand direct action from those often-hollow government promises. Later dedicating her Album Of The Year award to Folajimi Olubunmi-Adewole – the young man who gave his life attempting to save a woman who had fallen into the river Thames last month – it was pair of classy speeches from Dua, who wore her hair in a Winehouse-esque beehive. - - - - - - 2021 became a year of substantial change for the BRITs. After criticism for its male-heavy winner’s list, the ceremony responded by platforming an international array of female talent: from Taylor Swift to Arlo Parks via HAIM and Little Mix, whose powerful speech spoke of the struggles women face in the British music industry. - - - - - - From a personal perspective, though, what I’ll remember is how curiously bizarre tiny details in our daily lives have become. From struggling to remember how to do small-talk through to climbing an escalator for the first time in what feels like forever, last night seems to be covered in a strange, hallucinatory gauze. A celebration, for sure – but also a profoundly surreal one. - - - - - - Join us on the ad-free creative social network Vero, as we get under the skin of global cultural happenings. Follow Clash Magazine as we skip merrily between clubs, concerts, interviews and photo shoots. Get backstage sneak peeks, exclusive content and access to Clash Live events and a true view into our world as the fun and games unfold. Buy Clash Magazine

That Might Have Been The Most Surreal BRIT Awards Ceremony In Memory
A look back at key moments...

There are absolutely no words to sum up the sheer strangeness, the bizarre perversity of walking up to the O2 Arena for the first time in 12 months. After a year of barely emerging from my flat, scarcely interacting with other people, here I was – a negative COVID result from the NHS on my phone – with thousands of other individuals, no doubt sharing a similar vein of anxious excitement.

Because make no bones about it: this was perhaps the most surreal ceremony in the history of the BRIT Awards. From host Jack Whitehall’s opening – an amalgamation of Line Of Duty and Jackie Weaver’s authoritarian lust – to the bizarre Rag’n’Bone Man vs P!NK collaboration which closed the show, the BRIT Awards grappled with COVID limitations and emerged with something just about worked.

Female artists were the big winners on the night. Dua Lipa took home two key awards, taking her career-long haul to five. Arlo Parks graced the evening with a subtle, moving performance, before claiming Breakthrough Artist. HAIM won Best International Group, while Best British Group went to female artists for the first time, in the form of a groundbreaking win for Little Mix.

- - -

- - -

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Headie One led a celebration of UK rap talent, with his short set making room for AJ Tracey, and Young T & Bugsey - the young kings shelled it down, a demonstration of the raw power this generation of artists can conjure.

- - -

- - -

It was a ceremony in which context meant everything. It’s been – and we put this mildly – a traumatic year for a great many people, with the BRITs opening their doors to key workers. The trimmed back audience – a mere 4000 people in the cavernous arena – was overwhelmingly slanted towards those doing such extraordinary work in the NHS.

Dua Lipa made her thoughts explicit, dedicating her Best British Female award to healthcare pioneer and nurse , before urging the government to enact a pay rise for NHS workers. “It’s all very good to clap for them but we need to pay them,” she said. “I think what we should do is we should all give a massive, massive round of applause and give Boris a message that we all support a fair pay rise for our front line.”

Critics online, however, immediately pointed out the Achille’s heel in Dua’s argument: she spent 2020 seemingly , recently settling down in Mexico, a country that is struggling to contain the pandemic. It’s a layer to the debate that illustrates how profoundly odd and contradictory last night felt; ultimately, no one else thought to demand direct action from those often-hollow government promises.

Later dedicating her Album Of The Year award to Folajimi Olubunmi-Adewole – the young man who gave his life attempting to save a woman who had fallen into the river Thames last month – it was pair of classy speeches from Dua, who wore her hair in a Winehouse-esque beehive.

- - -

- - -

2021 became a year of substantial change for the BRITs. After criticism for , the ceremony responded by platforming an international array of female talent: from Taylor Swift to Arlo Parks via HAIM and Little Mix, whose powerful speech spoke of the struggles women face in the British music industry.

- - -

- - -

From a personal perspective, though, what I’ll remember is how curiously bizarre tiny details in our daily lives have become. From struggling to remember how to do small-talk through to climbing an escalator for the first time in what feels like forever, last night seems to be covered in a strange, hallucinatory gauze. A celebration, for sure – but also a profoundly surreal one.

- - -

- - -

Join us on the ad-free creative social network , as we get under the skin of global cultural happenings. Follow as we skip merrily between clubs, concerts, interviews and photo shoots.

Get backstage sneak peeks, exclusive content and access to Clash Live events and a true view into our world as the fun and games unfold.

Buy Clash Magazine

Source : Clash Music More   

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