The latest release from the masterful crate-diggers at Numero Group unearths yet another set of nearly lost soul and funk from Chicago. The prime mover behind the Nickel and Penny labels was Richard Pegue, well known for decades as a disc jockey at various Windy City radio stations. Less well known is that he wrote countless local commercial jingles and for a time made more serious forays into songwriting and production, many of which are collected in this two-record (or one CD) set.
Each label is represented by one LP, musically a natural split since the name changed about the same time as the R&B mainstream's commercial focus morphed from "soul" to the alternately smoother or funkier tributaries of the early '70s. First up was Penny, and these sides follow the Chicago style of strong vocal group work over sparse, occasionally Latin-flavored backing. Even on the recordings credited to solo singer "Jerry Townes" - actually former Dutones singer Jerry Brown, channeling Jerry Butler - there's full vocal group backing. Highlights include several strong sides by Little Ben & the Cheers (who recorded many more singles after their stay at Penny) and a pair of tunes by Pegue's former group, the Norvells.
The LP of Nickel material features quite a few studio-only creations and is a bit more scattershot stylistically, with takes on Philly (think Delfonics/Stylistics) by the Halleluiah Chorus; the Family Stone-esque Brothers & Sisters; the psych-soul South Suburban Electric Strings; and others. The strongest track: South Shore Commission's "Shadows," which should have been a hit.
One minor complaint is a recurring one with Numero releases: The track listing is only on the LP labels, which is not the best practice for a various-artists compilation. That aside, this is another essential purchase for fans of Chicago soul, particularly any listeners who have already enjoyed Numero's phenomenal sets on the Twinight label and Syl Johnson. It would also be an entertaining entree into the genre for the uninitiated.