Formats: CD, LP, MP3
Release date: June 17, 2016
From 2002-2014, listeners to Chicago’s WHPK could tune in once a week and hear songs from some of the most obscure and neglected corners of the region’s soul music legacy, courtesy of an eccentric and obsessed fan and record collector, Bob Abrahamian. Not only did Abrahamian spin singles from his collection of about 35,000 platters, he also regularly interviewed the artists who performed a style of vocal-harmony music known as Chicago Sweet Soul. Unfortunately, Abrahamian’s obsessive personality and declining mental health got the best of him, and he committed suicide in 2014.
In this anthology, Numero Records drew on Abrahamian’s record collection to produce a tribute both to the man and the music he so passionately championed. The physical media (LP and CD) releases contain an outstanding booklet, with a detailed biographical essay by Numero’s Rob Sevier and brief biographies of the performers, along with transcript excerpts from Abrahamian’s interviews. Sevier and Abrahamian’s sister, Jenny, picked the 16 tunes in this collection (12 selections on the LP version).
The music and audio quality vary, but overall the playing and singing range from competent to excellent. On one hand, it’s clear why some of these artists ended up confined to minor radio play and short turns in Chicago area jukeboxes, but then again, it’s surprising how many competent to excellent soul singers and musicians were working in a single geographic area in the period from the late 1960s to the early 1980s. The disc-to-digital transfers, by Jeff Lipton and Maria Rice at Peerless Mastering, are generally quite good, and the mastering engineers did not overuse digital restoration tools.
Abrahamian concentrated his collecting on something specific yet large-scale—acquiring all recordings by what he described as Chicagoland vocal-harmony soul groups. Judging by the size of his collection at the time of his death, it turned out to be a larger task than one would expect, or that he likely anticipated.
Stylistically, this music would be in line with 1970s mellow soul, not particularly funky and also not on the fringes of disco. It’s similar to the vocal-group output by more-mainstream artists of the time recording for Motown, Philadelphia International and Atlantic. There is an emphasis on the bass line, and strings are often used to augment the vocal harmonies.
Interestingly, Abrahamian’s radio show and interviews survive online, easily heard by any fan of Chicago Sweet Soul music (sittinginthepark.com). His legacy of loving, respecting and publicizing long-ago songs by obscure Chicagoland artists outlives him.
As is the case with most Numero anthologies, if you’re willing to tolerate a range of musical talent and performing competence, you will likely find some new favorites, and the informative booklet will teach you about the music of a place and time, and in this case the personal musical quest of an obsessive collector.
Reviewed by Tom Fine