It’s impossible to overemphasize how much disco was produced during the genre’s golden era.  Everyone from the major labels down to the tiniest indie companies were cranking out disco albums and 12-inch singles by the truckload.   Thus, exploring the disco genre is not unlike disappearing down the rabbit hole in Alice In Wonderland.   Just when you think you’re done, there’s still more ahead – and it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer mass of what is available.

Thankfully, there are dedicated connoisseurs willing to do the exploration on behalf of the curious listener.  One of the best in recent memory is Mr. Pink, the gentleman behind the Disco Discharge compilation series.  For the last few years, he’s done a fantastic job of exploring disco in all its permutations and creating carefully-curated sets that dish up the tastiest in rare grooves for fans and neophytes alike.

The beginning of 2011 brings the third wave of releases in this series and it gets off to a rousing start with the first in the new series, a 2-disc set entitled Disco Fever U.S.A. Don’t let the subtitle fool you – this is no generic hits pack.  It focuses on lesser known disco produced and/or released by U.S.-based labels.  A few tracks stray into the early 1980’s but most come from the last few years of the 1970’s, thus allowing it to recreate the feel of what one might have heard when hitting the discotheques during those golden years.  All the tunes are presented in either album-length or original 12-inch mix versions and the booklet features an informative, witty set of liner notes from expert Alan Jones.

The first disc hits a nice blend of high-production glossiness and funky grit.  Highlights in the orchestral area include Dennis Parker’s “Like An Eagle,” a sleaze-disco masterpiece full of swirling strings and breathy, soaring vocals by a moonlighting porn star (his nom de porn was Wade Nichols), and THP Orchestra’s “Too Hot For Love,” an elegantly arranged piece that drifts between ethereal flights of fancy and earthier horn-driven parts.  On the funkier side, Fern Kinney’s synth-y redux of “Baby Let Me Kiss You” plays like Kraftwerk covering a Stax tune (look out for its surprising drum break) and Richard T. Bear’s “Sunshine Hotel” is accurately described in the liner notes as sounding like Dr. John doing a disco tune.

Things get even better on the second disc, which goes over the top in many wonderful ways.  In terms of straightforward dance fare, the best track here is Celi Bee & The Buzzy Bunch’s “One Love,” a relentless and fast-paced groover that offsets her sweet alto vocals with a squelchy synth hook and some killer Latin percussion breaks.  There is also some choice exotica in the form of Ultimate’s “Ritmo De Brazil” and a killer swing-jazz tribute in Area Code 212’s “Duke’s Train.”  However, it’s the high-camp stuff that steals the show: Johnny Mathis’ epic reworking of “Begin The Beguine” soars to impossibly grand heights on a lush Gene Page arrangement and the 12-inch mix of Linda Clifford’s cover of “If My Friends Could See Me Now” piles on all the bells and whistles, topped off with an operatic-intensity diva vocal from Clifford.

And those highlights just scratch the surface of what’s going on in this set.  The biggest and most pleasant surprise is the inclusion of two tracks from the Nocturna soundtrack, “Love Is Just A Heartbeat Away” by Gloria Gaynor and “Nighttime Fantasy” by Vicki Sue Robinson.  The movie is a notoriously lousy horror comedy that is famous for three things: star Nai Bonet’s nude scenes, Brother Theodore’s wild improvised monologues and an amazing score of original disco tunes.  The two songs included here are classic late-1970’s disco show-stoppers, with the Gaynor track offering a romantic plea perfect for her impassioned vocals and the Robinson track being a real get-down affair with a sing-along hook.

In short, Disco Discharge: Disco Fever U.S.A. is a great way for disco fans to begin the New Year and a fine way to kick off the latest wave of Disco Discharge albums.  If you’re wondering how you can begin exploring classic-era disco beyond the obvious hits, this set offers a good starting point.