Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Get on Down With Darondo!

Darondo - True

One of the major differences between the classic soul era and now is how much easier it was in those days to get a record released. Any urban area of some size would at least one record label and anyone who had the money to finance a recording session could make a record. When you couple this with the fact that R&B disc jockeys in those days had much larger discretion in what they played, a song could be recorded and be popular locally, although the record would not become nationally recognized.

California singer/guitarist William Darondo Pulliam was one of the figures of soul obscurity who fits within this profile. Already a man about town with a Rolls-Royce, flashy clothes, and some dubious connections (legend had it he consorted with the likes of Fillmore Slim), Darondo recorded three 45s in the early '70s (released under the name Darondo, Darondo Pulliam, and the misspelled "Dorando" and getting him enough local publicity to get him gigs opening for artists such as James Brown) and then never recorded anything else. Between then and 2005 he was a world traveler, massage therapist and 1980s cable access TV personality. When Gilles Peterson chose Darondo's "Didn't I" for his "Digs America" compilation, interest was renewed in the singer, leading to the Ubiquity Records release of Let My People Go, a comp featuring Darondo's three 45s and three unreleased demos that Darondo himself recorded new parts for. (The Ubiquity link above tells Darondo's story and includes both samples from the CD and video clips from Darondo's cable access shows, "Darondo's Penthouse" and "Doze Comedy Videos," which are funny both for their jokes and for their low production values.)

Like Roshell Anderson, Darondo's singing is very challenging to the listener. One iTunes reviewer described his vocals as "Al Green with a hangover." It's clear that Green's style is emulated here (and I detect a touch of Ron Isley also), but Darondo's no Al Green, and his falsetto mewling is sometimes jarring. (The title track of the CD, on which Darondo kept his falsetto under moderate control, is his strongest vocal performance.) When my wife first heard "True," she made me quit playing it after about a minute or so, claiming Darondo's vocals ruined the song. Hopefully readers of this blog won't think the same. "True," one of the three unreleased recordings, catches your attention right away with the groove, which starts with a great guitar lick onto which the drums and then bass follow before settling into a Hi Records kind of thing. Darondo and the background singers present an attractive melody, shifting seriously into Al Green mode about three-quarters of the way into the recording. Due to Darondo's vocal limitations (or lack of respect for them) the song isn't the best it could be, but it's a great example of how DYI classic soul could be. Truthfully, I would prefer Darondo any day over some of the completely-manufactured, focus group-tested, overly-marketed stuff that's released now.

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