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Various Artists

Date: 2009
Release: STRUT

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Of all the conversations I had with my then-fiancé, the most important one in my mind involved Christmas. We were raised in two different faiths, though neither of us are particularly religious as adults. But I had to be sure. Religion I can get by without, but the tradition of dead trees in the house and songs about reindeer–that’s important.

“Sure,” he said, “we can have a Hanukkah bush.”

“You’re not getting it. It’s a Christmas tree,” I replied. “And the music, I have to listen to the music.”

Fortunately my powers of persuasion are strong, and so every year we get our tree from the Boy Scouts up the street and put on the Vince Guaraldi or the Bing Crosby or the Frank Sinatra Christmas records until we can’t take it anymore. Last year’s discovery of the Ramsey Lewis Trio’s Christmas album infused some fresh music, but the cheese-ridden holiday selection remains appalling. No, I do NOT want to hear Andrea Bocelli or Christina Aguilera sing holiday classics. And don’t get me started on the “Very Special Christmas” series.

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Date: 2001
Release: Rounder #617665
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For almost four years I lived in an endless summer. I inhabited a tiny room in a ramshackle beach house built on pier pilings right on the sand in Malibu, California. "This is not a dream!" I reminded myself daily. Every weekend was spent in the warm surf, beach combing, or reclining with friends on my balcony overlooking the vast Pacific. Without fail, I’d drag out my hefty stereo speakers, douse myself in sunscreen, crack open a magazine or book, and put on some music. It didn’t take me long to realize that I had become a barely tolerated DJ to my neighbors. I guess they weren’t fans of the Buzzcocks and the Clash. My spinning habits were politely adjusted to include a more beach friendly cross section of my CD collection. The soulful Jamaican sounds of the Studio One label became an essential component of languid Saturdays basking in the grateful smiles of my friends and neighbors. I had found my weekend theme music. If I had all the money in the world to commission somebody to create the most perfect music for lounging seaside in the hot sun, they would be hard-pressed to come up with anything that could rival the classic recorded output of Studio One

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Date: 2001(release)
Release: Strut #013
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Today I went back to the Amoeba Music store in Hollywood and gushed my gratitude to Lance the clerk for strongly recommending that I pick up a copy of Nigeria 70: The Definitive Story of 1970s Funky Lagos. He smiled knowingly and gestured towards the sky: it just so happened that it was this very album that was blasting out from the speakers above. I gave him his props, then turned to survey the store. The African music section was thronged with the curious, ears ablaze, their eyes eagerly searching out the source of these throbbing grooves. The eternal music pusher, I handed a stranger this gem-packed two-disc anthology of funky Nigerian music from the 1970s, and pointed upwards. “Is THIS what they’re playing?” he asked excitedly, studying the eye-catching cover photo of an African funkster posing proudly in knee-high white platform boots. I nodded gravely. “Wow,” was all he could say. As I left the store, I noticed that only a few copies of Nigeria 70 remained on the shelves. Los Angeles record buyers are full of surprises.

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Date: 1999
Release: COMET RECORDS 009
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The Funk goes native on this heavy back-to-Africa collection of rare Afro-grooves from around the globe. Ouelele is an eclectic mixture of African and African-derived music from 12 different artists who deliver some of the heaviest rhythms known to man. Nothing hits harder than the hardcore Afrobeat of Smahila & The S.B’s epic “African Movement,” a 19-minute Fela Kuti derived groove that keeps you spellbound with its endless energy. Soul-jazz meets South Africa in Letta M’Bulu’s swinging cover of Hugh Masekela’s “What’s Wrong With Groovin’.” All the intensity of free-jazz is channeled into the percussion heavy groove of Philip Cohran & The African Heritage Ensemble’s “Unity,” a tribal-funk jam built around a hypnotically droning violin line and a wall of drums.

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Date: 1994
Release: HEARTBEAT
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A musical mish mash of 33 rocksteady, ska, and dancehall tracks of the highest order, all recorded at Clement “Coxsone” Dodd’s legendary Studio One. Dodd was the Berry Gordy of Jamaica, and like Motown, his label consistently cranked out hits which combined strong song-writing with catchy melodies and heavy rhythms to set you moving. For a while there in the 60s and 70s, this was the Jamaican studio that was hard to beat. This compilation reveals why. Featuring the absolute best from the Studio One vaults, it delivers a perfectly flowing mix capable of converting the most reggae-hating elements of Babylon to the Red, Gold, Black, and Green.

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Date: February 2, 1999 (release)
Release: Polygram #556074
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A heap of wrinkled laundry led me to discover Wes Anderson’s 1998 film, Rushmore, as well as its soundtrack. I had graduated high school a year earlier and was back at home after my first year in college, ironing in front of the television (what else to do in the ‘burbs on a viciously humid July afternoon? It seemed obvious at the time…), when I stumbled across a movie on cable that was visually and musically unlike anything I’d seen in all my young life. So there I stood for an hour and a half, transfixed and ironing as Rushmore transported me back to the weird time that was high school in songs and images.

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Date: 1998
Release: RHINO #R2 75209
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Eighteen sizzling Latin grooves with the power to put some spice back into your life. The tracks collected here were recorded between 1954 and 1972, and range from classic mambo and Latin-jazz to funk and salsa.

This collection contains only the hottest tracks from such major Latin artists as Willie Bobo, Mongo Santamaria, Cal Tjader, Machito, Tito Puente, Ray Barretto, and others. There are also a number of obscure and less-obvious selections, including songs by Ocho, Kako & His Orchestra, and the ever-funky Pucho & His Latin Soul Brothers, making it a well rounded and totally enjoyable introduction to this diverse genre.

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Date: 1983
Release: RHINO
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“Somebody… anybody… help me… scream!” insists Chief Rocker Busy Bee and you best believe the party people oblige. Recorded mostly in a dark and sweaty little rap club called the Dixie in the South Bronx, the soundtrack to the movie Wild Style may be the ultimate source for old school rap and hip-hop. It’s the original shit – slick, young rappers with the lyrical prowess boasting and bragging, badder than bad, all over the steadiest, funkiest beats and scratches. The film, the story of a legendary graffiti artist named Zoro who’s pursued by a reporter amidst the throbbing South Bronx rap scene, was made in 1982, predating what is considered the first rap album on CD, Run DMC’s 1984 debut. The music from the film sounds as fresh and visionary today as it did then, the rhythmic and rhyming skills of the rappers and DJs undeniable, flowing with finesse and rock solid confidence.

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