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Vinyl Cave: Dollar bin diving with Gary St. Clair, Arif Mardin, Uncle Jim's Music

Here's a couple recent, mostly unsung pickups (and a lend) that made the grade to my ears. These will be sticking around the Vinyl Cave rather than being sent back into the wilds.

Gary St. Clair:Gary St. Clair
St. Clair's one and only solo album is an excellent example of early '70s soul-influenced rock, sort of a cross of what Joe Cocker and Rod Stewart were up to at the time. While I was listening, his rough-edged voice sounded vaguely familiar for some reason, and it turns out I wasn't hallucinating: St. Clair was the singer of Flavor (the '68 Billboard Hot 100 scraper "Sally Had a Party"), and that band was previously name the Bad Boys ("Love" on Paula). The best info on those groups comes from a response to a blog posting the Bad Boys tracks by guitarist Demitri Callas, which reveals that St. Clair is still in the music industry in Los Angeles. Also worth noting is that the Flavor single was co-written by Tim O'Brien, who produced St. Clair's solo debut and co-wrote a few songs. Moreover, many years later, O'Brien and St. Clair were involved in co-producing the debut album of pop/R&B vocal group All-4-One. Considering how good Gary St. Clair is, it's somewhat of a surprise that about all that shows up on a quick Google search is some favorable notices from early 1972 in Billboard. If you see a copy, pick it up! (Paramount, 1972)

Arif Mardin: Glass Onion
Glass Onion is a disc that I probably would never have heard without some help -- I wouldn't have been likely to ever examine an Arif Mardin LP closely enough to read the credits on the back -- so thanks goes out to Jeff K. for lending me a copy. Let's just say I've already scouted around to find my own copy ASAP, since those aforementioned credits include a basic band of the Swampers (a.k.a., the original Muscle Shoals Sound Studio founders/players).

It only gets better from there, as that rhythm section is augmented by the great Eddie Hinton on lead guitar and harmonica for the entire disc. The horn section parts change up on various songs, and include various members of the Memphis Horns along with familiar soul and jazz names like King Curtis and Frank Wess. A couple Rascals (Mardin production clients) are involved on organ and backing vocals. I could go on, but I think you get the idea.

The question is, did all these heavyweight players make a good record? Yes, thanks to Mardin's inventively swamped-out instrumental re-arrangements of mostly familiar songs such as "Proud Mary," "Walk on By," "Strange Brew" and others. Particularly interesting is an elegiac take on "Sympathy for the Devil" that's near-unrecognizable at first unless one is paying attention. Mardin produced many million-selling records for others, but releases under his own name are few and far between. Judging by Glass Onion, that's a shame. (Atlantic, 1969)

Uncle Jim's Music: Uncle Jim's Music
A truly excellent early '70s rural rock effort with an emphasis on the rootsier side, Uncle Jim's Music is a case where I did look at the credits and get interested, despite the album being released by the unreliable Kapp label. The band includes legendary songwriter-producer Gary Nicholson; the disc's producer John Boylan and arranger Jim Ed Norman are familiar names from their work in the West Coast country rock and pop scene with Rick Nelson and the Stone Canyon Band, Linda Ronstadt, the Eagles and others. The album conjures a laid-back, storytelling vibe, often with a melancholy tinge imparting a bit of extra feeling in the songs of past times, lost loves and missed opportunities. Uncle Jim's Music also recorded a second album, which I'll be keeping an eye out for. (Kapp, 1971)

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