After their first three albums, the Undisputed Truth experienced two key changes that would be reflected in their remaining albums for the Motown label. The first was the departure of original vocalists Billie Rae Calvin and Brenda Evans. Producer/svengali Norman Whitfield would replace them with a quartet of new singers drawn from the Detroit group the Magic Tones: Virginia McDonald, Tyrone “Lil Ty” Barkley, Tyrone “Big Ty” Douglas and Calvin Stephenson.

The other, bigger change was Whitfield altering the group’s style to fulfill a wilder, funkier aesthetic. The group would adopt an offbeat new image incorporating futuristic face paint and albino afro hairstyles as Whitfield brought in synthesizers, heavier guitars and lustier, spacier songwriting themes that reflected a distinct George Clinton/Funkadelic influence.  This Catalog Crawl digs into that trio of albums, revealing that plenty of interesting sounds emerged from this stylistic changing of the guard.

Members: Joe Harris, Billie Rae Calvin,  Brenda Evans, Virginia McDonald, Tyrone “Lil Ty” Barkley, Tyrone “Big Ty” Douglas, Calvin Stephenson (vocals)

DOWN TO EARTH (1974): This transitional affair mixes eight tracks recorded by the new quintet incarnation with two to four tracks by the original trio (depending on the version you buy).  It continues in the pop-soul direction of Law Of The Land, dispensing with experimental epics for tracks in the 3:00-4:30 range. However, the way those tracks are arranged reflects the transitional feel: covers of “Our Day Will Come” and “Brother Louie” are lavishly orchestrated pop soul, the latter sounding like a blaxploitation film theme, but uptempo groovers like R&B chart hit “Help Yourself” and “Big John Is My Name” incorporate synths and Sly Stone-influenced drum machines into their textures that hint at the funkadelic pastures just around the corner for the group. Faves here include “I’m A Fool For You,” a catchy pop soul item that meshes the album’s orchestral and synth-funk sides in a beguiling way, and a cover of Chicago’s “Just You ‘N Me,” a great solo spotlight for new singer Barkley that transforms the laid-back original into something with Philly soul grandeur.

COSMIC TRUTH (1975): the quintet version of Undisputed Truth shakes off any vestiges of early ’70s pop soul and dives headfirst into mid-’70s freaky funk here. Note the pronounced Funkadelic influence lurking around every corner: a psych-dazzled soul ballad take on Neil Young’s “Down By The River” offsets its dreamy vocal harmonies with lashings of fuzzed-out guitar a la Eddie Hazel, “UFOs” has Harris imitating Bootsy Collins to muse about extraterrestrials as Clinton-esque effects-drenched alien voices address us and “Spaced Out” is a shuffling groove built around a group-harmonized refrain repeated ad infinitum to achieve a blissed-out anthemic effect., Whitfield has a blast behind the console adding painterly touches with his session musicians, like the eerie mellotron coda on the otherwise uptempo “Earthquake Shake” and the way bass-synths make the bottom end of “Gotta Get My Hands On Some Lovin'” thicker than molasses.  It’s a groovy, tripped-out party from start to finish and you’ll feel like you’ve got a contact high when it’s over.

HIGHER THAN HIGH (1975): The group quickly knocked out a second album for ’75, backed by musicians who would later become the Whitfield-produced disco band Rose Royce. It’s essentially a second helping of the Cosmic Truth sound, with slightly less distinctive songs but a unified, guitar-driven future funk sound and an effective use of group vocals. Highlights include the title track, an amphetamine funkathon bursting with frenetic chants and horn blasts, and an eerie cover of David Ruffin’s “I Saw You When You Met Her” that transforms its cheater’s lament into a gothic soul haunted house filled with ominous echoed instrumentation, ghostly harmonies and thunderstorm sound effects.  It’s also notable how horny this album is: “Poontang” is an oral sex tribute with P-Funk group vocal asides, “I’m In The Red Zone” is about being consumed with lust and “Overload” presents the previous song’s opposite with a tale of being shagged out. If you dig this sound, you’ll have fun with this album. Unexpected surprise: “Life Ain’t So Easy,” a throwback to the Truth’s early ‘message soul’ style.


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