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Thursday, August 11, 2011

KC AND THE SUNSHINE BAND - KC AND THE SUNSHINE BAND

TK Records (1975, July)
Original U.S. pressing TK 603

Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab (2011)
reissue MOFI 1-012

Rating: 8.5/ A 

Category: Disco / Sunshine Sound
Format: Vinyl (150g at 33 1/3 rpm)

Produced and Arranged by H.W. Casey and Richard Finch
Written by H.W. Casey and Richard Finch
Recorded at TK Studio and Criteria in Miami, Florida
Engineered by Richard Finch (most probably)
Remastered and Lacquer-Cutted by Paul Stubblebine for Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab
Pressed at RTI in California U.S.A.

Musicians:
  • Harry Wayne Casey – keyboards, vocal
  • Jerome Smith – guitar
  • Richard Finch – bass guitar, drum, percussion
  • Robert Johnson – drum
  • Oliver Brown – percussion
  • Fermin Goytisolo – percussion
  • Ken Faulk – trumpet
  • Vinnie Tanno – trumpet
  • Mike Lewis – tenor saxophone
  • Whit Sidener – baritone saxophone
  • Beverly Champion – background vocals
  • Margaret Reynolds – background vocals
  • Jeanette Williams – background vocals

Graphics design: Drago
Photography: Larry Warmoth
Album Coordinator: Sherry Smith


Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab, often called MoFi in audiophile circles is the premier quality vinyl reissue company that started the ball rolling as far back as 1977.  With its half-speed lacquer-cutting, headed by experienced 'guru' engineer Stan Ricker and pressed by JVC in Japan - all quite uncommom methods at the time - they slowly developed a devoted legend of worshippers.


Now let's just take a moment to really let that sink in our new hyper fast world. Remember - if your old enough - that 34 years ago, we might as well be living on another planet as far as record practices, purchases, delivery and the entire music industry is concerned. People actually bought either LP's, cassettes or 8-track tapes of their favorite artist in record stores and get this, actually took the time to listen at a side or two while holding the jacket and admiring the artwork. The Majors controlled all aspects of the show with A&R scouts signing 'up and coming' artist, providing expensive studio time and large-scale brick & mortar distribution in return for possible high profits and absolute label loyalty. What percentage was left for the group or songwriter after everybody 'took their cut' is debatable and in some cases lamentable.

How times have changed. To argue which times are better goes beyond the scope of this review; for there are too many plus and minuses, though interesting they may be, to simply side one way. The one certainty is that nearly every recording of that era up until the end of the decade was captured "all analog" and the majority followed the 'sound fashion' of the times which meant 16 to 48 (multi) track magnetic tape with moderate compression in real studios by real engineers who had some respect for sound physics and levels. Which sadly is not, if you been following my previous reviews, the case nowadays.  And to paraphrase a former marketing slogan "What was true in 1977... is still true today", i.e. despite declining CD sales, the market for quality LP reissues plus vinyl in general - after a gloomy lull in the late 1980s to early 1990s - has rebounded exponentially with a vast treasure of well mastered and pressed LP's; so much so, the choice is overwhelming. 

Fast forward to 2011 as MFSL introduces their 'Silver Label Series' to explore strange new worlds - oops sorry Gene - of music styles that others dare not touch such as New Wave, Synth Pop, World Music, Soul, Funk and yes, at last! Disco. To be more precise with this latest release we are talking about the funky, sunny sounds of Miami Florida circa 1975.

The Miami Sound or what we DJ's used to call back in the day, The Sunshine Sound was a particular blend of 'happy party' light upbeat funk - as opposed to the looser heavier funkadelic of George Clinton's Parliament 'menagerie' - and bare bones Disco, aka funky disco. The main independent label was TK Records (named after studio owner Terry Kane), created in 1973 at the dawn of Disco, by Henry Stone, whose past Alston and newly owned Glades label had just come off the charts with" Why Can't We Live Together" by soul singer Timmy Thomas.

Legendary record executive, music producer and TK founder Henry Stone


Harry Wayne Casey aka KC

Two of his employees engineer Richard Finch and record store assistant Harry Wayne Casey, the latter explaining the KC part of the equation began experimenting after hours in the studio; eventually providing TK as well as KC and the Sunshine Junkanoo Band, their first two singles with "Blow Your Whistle" in August followed closely by "Sound Your Funky Horn". The Sound of Sunshine would really come to life in the summer of 1974 with George McCrae lending his soulful falsetto voice to the chart topping "Rock your Baby" confirming that a new sound had arrived on the scene - Disco.


Contrary to perception, this self-titled album by the band was not their debut - Do It Good in 1974 was - but rather their follow up that catapulted them to the top of the charts in the summer of 1975. Containing three major hits -"Get Down Tonight"," That's the Way I Like It" and "Boogie Shoes" - MoFi's choice of going with this album is self-explanatory. 


Apart from the ubiquitous color band at the top of every MoFi reissue since day one, the jacket cover remains quite close to the original in look and feel save for a tad more emphasis in the reds. Inside the record is housed in their flexible anti-static rice paper 'Original Master Sleeves'.  In addition, a folded light carton with twelve album covers taken from the 'Silver Label Series' adorning one side and various products on the flip side, brings further record protection. The standard-weight LP - around 150 grams I presume - is pressed at RTI in California. It was flat and black with a few visual scuff marks mainly on Side 2; the latter common enough under good lighting conditions but rarely affecting the sound. As per usual with MoFi, the new label does not try to reproduce the original (in this case TK) but instead is plain black with the 'signature' KC logo adding a nice touch.


The groove spacing seems nearly identical to the original U.S. TK pressing, utilizing just over 3 inches of width modulation equally on both sides; the remaining 'dead wax' sufficient not to aggravate the usual high frequency loss. With roughly 15 to 16 min./side, equating to 5 min./inch of linear travel, there should not be too much compromise regarding adequate cutting level and bandwidth for the chosen speed.


As a refresher I took out my original U.S. TK 1rst pressing and gave it a spin to reacquaint myself with this 'old friend'. My general recollection - that it was fair sounding but below average compared to most disco recordings as well as below par for TK's usual high sound quality - remained true; in fact I have to admit that the original left me even more disappointed than I expected. The general 'sound sins' were: obvious compression - though not in the heavy brick wall limiting of current aesthetics - , some thinness in tonal balance, ascending and peaking in the upper mids-lower treble and definitely lacking bass bottom. This was pretty much consistent throughout the album but worse on side one. Having to rate it, the original TK would garner between 5 to 6 on 10.  In other words, nothing to crow about.


Fortunately for us the new reissue by MoFi addresses the above criticisms. Cut at a lower level by about four decibels, l had to turn up the volume to compensate. It was immediately obvious tha the tonal balance has been restored to a more linear and flattering equalization. Starting with "Let It Go (Part One)", you can hear more bottom and warmth so the groove is better felt. The top end treble is cleaner and thus better. Though still not a fat sound for sure, its remains appropriate in the context of a typical funky sound.

These sound improvements are all the more confirmed by the blockbuster dance floor hit "That's the Way I Like It".  Evident is the considerable reduction in overall distortion and 'dirt', leading to a better, cleaner, more extended 16 beat hi-hat rhythm pattern from the intro and omnipresent in the mix. Again much better bottom, good snap and the vocal track is lower and better integrated for Disco music as well as high decibel clubs. While warmer, the whole brass section sounds more natural, retaining bite but more integrated and less shouty than the original. The latter exhibiting brighter upper mids, exaggerated because of the compression.


Another classic track - "Get Down Tonight" - showcases the same improvements with better funky guitar in the intro and treble detail purity. Party on!

Surprisingly the biggest sound improvement was kept for "Boogie Shoes".  As the last song on side one, I always attributed the loss of high frequencies heard on the original pressing as normal due to the smaller groove radius. MoFi, no doubt advantaged by the lower chosen cutting level and superior custom mastering/cutting gear were able to transform this short low-fi track into something quite good. Much better groove, the bass guitar is warmer and more present in the mix. Gone is the compressed shouty mids. At last for the first time I'm hearing actual top end detail on the hi-hat plus brass harmonics.


Flipping sides, "Ain't Nothing Wrong" had indeed nothing wrong in particular. This has a mid tempo and light catchy melody hook, that surprisingly did not receive as much airplay than it merited. The original pressing was decent with less compression and cleaner sounding than the previous side but minor improvements could still be heard on the latest reissue. 

"I'm So Crazy ('Bout You)" is way warmer and better on the reissue. The fact that you want to turn up the volume, is always a good sign that there's no listener fatigue and you're getting more involved in the music and vibe.

"What Makes You Happy" stands out from the rest for not fitting in the disco nor Sunshine Sound mold. Instead this is definitely a harder, looser funk, tending a bit towards Bloodstone and Parliament. The soundstage is wider also on this track. At this point I stopped comparing, the improvements being too constant, I let the MoFi run its course.


"I Get Lifted" literally does just that; this is the best song and sound of the entire album. Originally written and recorded for George McCrae's 1974 Rock Your Baby [TK 501] LP, here it gets star treatment from M0Fi. Very impressive sound with power and weight in the lower registers. This aided by the slower groove; soulful and funky Sunshine Sound at its best. Notice the clean trebly guitar on the left plus tambourine and percussion counterpart.

Finally, "Let It Go (Part Two)" is the only track suffering from some lack of top end extension plus some mild distortion particularly evident when played immediately before or after the "Part One" - perhaps due to the natural 'end groove' disadvantage. At least the bass seems a bit stronger in the "Part Two", which is welcomed.  Globally mastering engineer Paul Stubblebine has got the EQ pretty nailed down and done a significant upgrading on this 'classic of the genre'.

Veteran Re-Mastering Engineer Stan Ricker 'hands over the reins' to Paul Stubblebine

As for the previously noted visual scuff marks, both sides played perfectly noise free, devoid of any ticks and pops; this despite the lower cutting level that could have been more precarious on this issue. Also this type of music being rather constant in level compared to other forms is somewhat less demanding in 'absolute' noise floor terms.


Summing up, by Shaking the Industry's Booty more than three decades ago, as well as in The Present with the first ever Disco reissue to get the royal treatment, Mobile Fidelity have once again demonstrated their musical openness to atypical Audiophile material. As an 'Audiophile DJ', I could only wish that a 'Chrome Label Series' would be reserved for quality 'discothèque classics' reissues. So spin that mirror ball and let's cross our fingers for some future Barry White, Love Unlimited, Philly Sound, Trammps, Gloria Gaynor, BT Express, Donna Summer and Giorgio reissues - just to name a few. 
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1 comment:

  1. nice ~ good info, photos ~ suggestion ~ label photos if you know band members names

    ReplyDelete