Old meets new in Chanti Darling’s debut album, RNB Vol. 1, as the Portland, Oregon based trio seamlessly blends the traditional sounds of disco, funk, and R&B with modern house music to create a sound that captivates listeners. While Chanti Darling may come off as a band that simply produces songs best-suited for the dancefloor, the group’s underlying goal is to bring back the sounds of ‘80s R&B that they were raised on. According to frontman and performance artist Chanticleer Trü, “RNB ain’t no joke,” and that attitude shows in their 10-track album.
Though Chanti Darling is passionate about reviving ‘80s R&B, they still capture the energy of electronic music and also feature contemporary messages in their lyrics. “Casual,” the second track on the album featuring fellow Portland native and hip-hop artist The Last Artful, Dodgr, speaks on the complicated dynamics of new relationships. Trü’s smooth vocals are layered on top of an entrancing electronic melody, a recurring theme for the rest of the tracks on the album.
If there’s one thing to be said about Chanti Darling, it’s that they are creating a sound all their own, and listeners are loving it. Voted Portland’s “Best New Band” by Willamette Week, the group is getting noticed for their blend of electronic beats and old school R&B vocals.
There is some irony in reviewing an album of disco from the Chicago area. This music, so often associated with New York, had its proverbial death in 1979 at Chicago’s Comiskey Park during a radio station’s “Disco Demolition” promotion. In spite of this event, The Real Sound of Chicago compilation is testament to the inability of a single act to destroy a cultural phenomenon; particularly one as pervasive as disco.
To create this album, Mike Grusane and Mike Cole, the owners of Mr. Peabody’s Records in Chicago, dug through their decades-old record collections to find the most representative, unique, and rare artifacts of Chicago’s dance music from 1976-1983. The result is a 23 track album that covers a wide territory from the funky to the soulful, to the gimmicky (“B.T. Boogie Terrestrial”) to the insightful (“School Days”). Following is the promotional video (courtesy of Mike Grusane):
For many, it may be initially difficult to understand what makes The Real Sound of Chicago different from the disco that emanated from other cities. Simply stated, the majority of the tracks on this compilation run a thin line between up-tempo R&B and the common disco sound of the period. A primary reason for this stems from the lack of major label backing, which helped develop the high-production East Coast sounds of the Salsoul Orchestra, The Village People, and K.C. & The Sunshine Band. Instead, the Chicago artists were often represented by small labels attempting to hop onto the disco bandwagon, resulting in a lack of strings and an emphasis on keyboard and percussion instruments. As a result, disco returns to its more soulful roots but with a funky twist, achieved by adding synthesizers to the mix for both the emulation of strings and organs.
All told, while the album succeeds in presenting the unique sound that draws strong lines between disco and Chicago house music, it falls short in certain respects. Firstly, the transfer quality of many of the tracks is, at times, poor. Particularly in the case of Carmen Amez’s “Never Gonna Fall In Love Again (Like I Fell In Love With You),” the high end of the track consistently distorts. While this is the case, it must be noted that the low budgets of these labels would result in the use of poor quality vinyl, which would produce albums that, with any extensive playing, would cause distortions of this type. In light of this, The Real Sound succeeds in presenting these tracks to a larger audience, who would have never heard them otherwise. Furthermore, it is also worth mentioning that The Moore Brothers’ “Bass Come Back” only existed in acetate form, making it a worthwhile gem in this set.
Secondly, a compilation of this sort demands extensive liner notes. Though I received this album as an MP3 download, I’ve discovered from other reviewers that the CD and LP versions also suffer from a lack of liner notes. While they are available on-line, I find this a poor substitute for readily available notes inserted in the packaging or as a file.
In spite of its sonic and packaging shortcomings, the tracks on The Real Sound of Chicago are generally excellent. As stated by the owners of Mr. Peabody’s Records, they have attempted to assemble a collection of above-average quality tracks that represent Chicago, and to that extent, they have succeeded. The tracks cover a wide range that will appeal to many tastes while still maintaining a cohesive sound and solid musical package. This compilation would best be suited for those who are curious about the gap between the “death” of disco and the birth of house, or those who simply want to hear some fun, uplifting disco tracks.
Title: House Music…The Real Story Author: Jesse Saunders (with James Cummins) Publisher: Publish America
House Music…The Real Story (172 p.) is equally an autobiography of Chicago house music pioneer Jesse Saunders and a history of the development of “house music,” the electronic dance music form that was first developed by club DJs in New York. Saunders was one of the first DJ’s to commercially release a house music single, and was largely responsible for the develop of the genre in Chicago. Over ten years ago, the City of Chicago recognized the contributions that Jesse and house music had made to the culture of the city by proclaiming July 17, 1997, as “Jesse Saunders and Pioneers of House Music Day” in Chicago.
Saunders’ “behind the music” tour through the early days of Chicago’s house music scene is especially important due to the current void of information on the genre (despite Mayor Richard M. Daley’s proclamation, nothing much seems to have happened since 1997 in terms of documenting or celebrating house music). For lovers of Chicago house music, Jesse’s memoir is an intriguing look at how this assorted and colorful cast of characters– including Ron Hardy and Frankie Knuckles, among others–fell into creating a new genre of music. Following is additional information from the official press release:
“Jesse Saunders’ story is one of the most important in the history of popular culture. From his hometown of Chicago, Jesse created the first original House music record and launched the House music movement across the land. Eventually, his style of music would come to sell millions of records and CDs, take over the popular consciousness of millions of kids across the earth and cement the electronic revolution in music. Written with author James Cummins, this autobiography tells the story of how it all happened. From the streets of Chicago to the biggest music labels in Los Angeles, California, it follows Jesse Saunders as he recreates the musical landscape of America. Touching on the celebrity culture of the 1980s and ’90s and into the twenty-first century, you will read many shocking things about some of your favorite artists. Jesse Saunders is an artist whose influence on modern music will never be forgotten.”
For those who aren’t as familiar with the formation of house music in the 1980s, Jesse’s account is a worthy introduction. House Music…The Real Story represents what the genre needs more of–pioneers willing to share their own stories.