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Soul - Released September 14, 2018 | Rhino

Between their first and second albums, Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band taped a May 18, 1968 performance at the Haunted House night club in Hollywood for possible future use. Edited versions of a half-dozen of the songs appeared on their 1968 album Together, and an edited version of another ("Bottomless") was issued as a B-side. But this two-CD set, issued on Rhino Handmade a good 40 years later, has about two-and-a-half hours from the performance, with complete and uncut versions of the aforementioned songs. On the one hand, it's a valuable historical document; there aren't all that many live recordings of significant late-'60s soul-funk bands, and this one has both very good sound and very tight performances. On the other hand, it's not the group at their most interesting, since all but three of the songs are covers. Granted, they sound like one of the best cover bands you could have possibly heard at the time, playing with both guts and precision, and taking some liberties (some improvisational) with the source material, though not too drastic or lengthy ones. They're certainly versatile as well, taking on hits from Motown, Stax, James Brown, Sly Stone, the Impressions, Jackie Wilson, and others, as well as the occasional surprise or relatively obscure tune, like Willie Bobo's "Fried Neck Bones" and Otis Redding's "Sweet Lorene." Yet the hit-dominated set list just isn't the place to hear the outfit at their most original and innovative, though they offer fair original instrumentals in Wright's "The Joker" and Gabriel Flemings' "Bottomless." It does, however, also include the jam that grew out of "Funky Broadway," "Do Your Thing," that with some editing turned into their first hit. As usual, Rhino Handmade's packaging of this archival release is excellent, with lengthy historical liner notes. ~ Richie Unterberger
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Soul - Released February 25, 2002 | Warner Bros.

Express Yourself: The Best of Charles Wright collects 16 tracks by this underappreciated L.A. funk outfit. By this point, everyone recognizes the oft-sampled title track, but most of their other work is still mainly the province of specialists. That's too bad, because there's a lot for more general funk fans to discover here. Some members of the Rhythm Band had previously played on several Dyke & the Blazers sessions, and there's a definite parallel between those sides and the loose, messy, off-the-cuff brand of funk that Wright and his cohorts lay down. But even if both groups worked out most of their songs through jamming, there's a great deal more variety here. Wright led the band through laconic grooves like "Express Yourself," "Your Love (Means Everything to Me)," "Doin' What Comes Naturally," and the tripped-out "Ninety Day Cycle People"; hard-driving funkers like "The Joker (On a Trip Through the Jungle)" and "One Lie (Leads to Another)"; lean, spare grooves like "Do Your Thing" and "Till You Get Enough"; and mellower, soul-flavored offerings like "Keep Saying," "Tell Me What You Want Me to Do," "Comment (If All Men Are Truly Brothers)," and the hit ballad "Love Land." As a vocalist, Wright could play the soulful shouter or do a bit of crooning, but more often he'd just ride the groove, chanting along or throwing out hip interjections. This collection neglects the group's nuttier, druggier side a bit -- it might have been nice to have evocatively titled outings like "High As Apple Pie," "Fried Okra," or "Gimme That Sammich" on board. Still, it's hard to expect anything more generous than this, and there's more than enough here for the uninitiated. An intriguing and underrated listen. ~ Steve Huey
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Soul - Released March 21, 1997 | Warner Bros.

Released in 1997, this two-fer collects Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band's third and fourth records, 1969's In the Jungle, Babe and the following year's Express Yourself. A transitional work, In the Jungle, Babe captures a group struggling to find its own identity; for every superb workout like the shimmering "Love Land" or the propulsive "I'm a Midnight Mover," there's a redundant cover of the Doors' "Light My Fire" or Sly and the Family Stone's "Everyday People" which falls flat on its face. Express Yourself, on the other hand, is the group's masterpiece, a remarkable fusion of funk attitude and soul conviction. Highlighted by the classic title hit -- one of the most powerful declarations of independence in the canon, as well as one of the most sampled records of all time -- Express Yourself is a whirlwind tour through the spectrum of R&B; from the poignance of the Otis Redding-worthy ballad "Tell Me What You Want Me to Do" (arguably Wright's best vocal turn ever) to the supple funk-jazz jam session "High as Apple Pie, Slice I and II," the record is assured and muscular, a primal blast of soul power. ~ Jason Ankeny
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R&B - Released February 15, 2010 | Rhino - Warner Bros.