You might not think of the British hinterlands of the 1970’s as a hotbed of soul and jazz… but you’d be wrong. There was a thriving circuit of working man’s clubs during this time, all ready to host bands that could play music with a soulful, danceable edge. Many groups rose to answer this calling and several recorded private-pressing albums of their repertoires to sell at gigs and send to radio stations. Most of these albums have disappeared into attics and thrift shops but the folks at Licorice Soul Records have done a heroic job of exhuming this subgenre with Working Man’s Soul.
As the title indicates, this CD offers a collection of dancefloor fillers recorded by working man’s club bands during its golden era. Each has been taken from the original vinyl and cleaned up as much as possible (there are some stray crackles but the overall sound is surprisingly good). It’s also a dazzlingly annotated set, with a booklet that offers an essay to set the context for the music and song-specific liners for every band included.
But what about the music? Your Humble Reviewer can assure that if you enjoy British sound library material from this era then you will love what you hear here. Working Man’s Soul has been carefully curated to deliver the ‘creme de la cabaret’ and most every cut is performed and arranged with a pro’s sense of polish. Good examples of this classy musicianship are Alan Randall’s rendition of “The Work Song,” which offers a classy, gently funky take on this Cannonball Adderly favorite anchored by Randall’s skillful vibes playing, and “Meadowbank,” an original from Sounds Bob Rogers, which is a mod-inflected midtempo groover with some dazzling organ work.
Most of Working Man’s Soul is instrumental but certain cuts use vocals to skillful effect: John O’Hara’s rendition of “Funky Nassau” offsets its relentless funk drive with a cool, soulful lead vocal and Carol Lee’s “Little Bit Of Love” is a fun bit of Vegas-style cabaret soul held together by Lee’s authoritative performance at the mic. The compilers generally avoid pure kitsch cuts but when they drop one in, it’s a doozy: the king of kitsch-cabaret on this set is Brian Sharp, who offers a delightfully tacky baseball-stadium organ take on “Aquarius” and a disco-ish version on “Light My Fire” that weaves in wild, honking analog synth leads alongside the expected organ riffing.
And that’s not all this disc has to offer: additional highlights include Northern Jazz Orchestra’s “Hip Flask,” which sounds like the Best Cop Show Theme Music You Never Heard, and a slick pair of tunes from The Peter Coe Big Band that offer a cosmopolitan yet energetic take on the jazz-pop instrumental. In short, Working Man’s Soul offers 1970’s R&B fans a fresh way to get their soulful fuel. Fresh, funky pastures like across the Pacific and this disc can act as your gateway.