Strut is one of the labels I’ve been following pretty closely over the past couple of years. You’ve probably seen the Disco Not Disco compilations, or possibly the incredible Block Party Breaks compilation which beautifully packages the vibe of the pre-hip-hop soul and disco era, with its impeccable curation of tunes and precisely written liner notes (with lots of pics! Which always makes comps like those worth every penny.)
For a while Strut was a self contained label, releasing its own comps by DJ greats like Danny Krivit and Ashley Beedle, often releasing those comps of hard-to-find classics on freshly minted vinyl, a hat tip to the many DJ’s that collected their records, voraciously devouring them, ingesting them and playing them out for the masses. Strut was a big player behind the scene of the Disco resurgence in the last few years.
Unfortunately, Strut couldn’t figure out how to keep releasing great value comps in the diminishing record business. So with little fanfare they closed up shop in 2003. Sadness.
Thanks can be given to German label group K7! who recently revived the boutique collectors label with a flurry of fantastic new compilations. Word to the wise, though. These comps seem to fall out of print VERY quickly. In fact, the below Kid Creole comp is already out of print and unavailable, so if you see a copy in a local record store (they are scattered throughout the city, I’ve checked!), pick them up!
The best of the new bunch starts with Going Places: The August Darnell Years, 1975-1983. August Darnell’s checkered past has him starting out in Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band, where his brother Stoney Bowden, the bubbly band leader, vibe-man Andy Hernandez (aka Coati Mundi),and Cory Daye, the woman with the most effervescent singing voice in the late disco era, created some of the smartest most provacative music of the ‘70’s. Though the confines of the Big-Band/Disco group forced Darnell and Hernandez to search out ways of making bigger contributions to music history on their own.
With Michael Zilkha, owner of ZE records, Darnell began a string of productions that would be the foundation for much of what ZE became known for, including Kid Creole And The Coconuts.
This is not a “greatest hits” its more of a representation of the work that August Darnell put into these various artists, and the variety of sounds he got: from the post punk “Is That All There Is?” by Christina (which caused writers Leiber and Stoller no end of consternation), and the showtune disco of Don Armonado’s 2nd Ave. Rhumba Band and their hard-to-find cover of Irving Berlin’s “I’m An Indian Too”, to subversive Kid Creole classics like “He’s Not Such A Bad Guy After All”.
Full of great photos from the New York post-punk era, the only thing that bothers me about the compilation is the breathless essay by critic, Vivien Goldman, whose evocation of period throws actual history out the door, and makes Darnell’s past a flurry of confusing set points.
Outside that minor detail, this is a fantastic compilation. One every ex-punk who finds themselves tapping their feet to the sounds of M.I.A. or Ella Fitzgerald can get into.
Continuing with the newest compilation on Strut, Disco Italia: Essential Italo Disco Classics, 1977-1985. Compiled by Steve Kotey of Bear Entertainment (purveyors of Bear Funk Records) with sleeve notes by Bill Brewster of Djhistory.com this collection provides the opposite, a mixed bag of selections with killer sleeve notes.
Here we’re given gems, most for the first time available on CD - EVER! Claudio Simonnetti’s Kasso makes an appearance (although with the minor hit “Brazilian Dancer”) as does D.D. Sound (aka the Biondi Bros.) and Easy Going (another Simonnetti project, though once again, the less influential “Do It Again” is chosen). Even with those minor slips we’re given Five Letters “Tha Kee Tha Tha” for CD debut with the most incredible bass-line and brass fanfares. And what compilation of Italo Disco would be complete with out a track by Kano (my fave, “Now Baby Now”, which still is one of his lesser hits)?
A virtual goldmine, which could have been better with less obscure choices, but non the less gives you the essential feeling of “melody” that was so present in Italo Disco and what gave the genre its popularity in Europe as Disco started to wain here in the states. And with tracks like the Kano selection and “Tina Are You Ready” by Valentine, the connection to early house music is cemented in audio form.
One word about both these comps: iTunes.
Both are available on iTunes, but in edited formats. The Disco Italia is missing 5 tracks by the most influential names (so no Kasso, Easy Going, Kano or D.D. Sound or Firefly), but added on is the rare Gepy And Gepy track “African Love Song” (a favorite of TJ’s).
The Kid Creole download is missing Dr. Buzzard’s “Sunshower” and “There But For The Grace Of God Go I” by Machine.
One more thing: in a nod to its past Strut has released a limited 12” of 3 of the tracks on the Disco Italia compilation. It is already sold out and going for a premium in Europe, but there are at least four copies in Seattle. 3 at Easy Street on Queen Anne and 1 at Sonic Boom. So if you’re a fan of Italo, and a vinyl junky, invest today.