Sunday, November 6, 2011
Ural Thomas - Push Em Up/Deep Within My Heart and Fade Away/Smile 7"s - Mississippi Records
Sometimes given the distinguished title of "Whitest City North of the Mississippi," North Portland was actually the home to a vibrant, if small, African American community in the decades before and after the second World War. Ural Thomas is the most well-known singer to emerge from that scene, recording a few singles in the late '60s for the UNI label, which failed to bring him mainstream success at the time but in later years earned him cred from crate diggers who rediscovered his West Coast take on Northern Soul (check out "Pain Is The Name Of Your Game"). My ears tell me Push 'Em Up/Deep Within My Heart dates to earlier than his UNI records and sounds to have been recorded in a small -- Portland -- studio(Note: I'm told 1963 is the year). Gritty and upbeat, the two cuts here are absolute gems. Unlike his later studio work with open, hi-fi production, these songs are swampy and sweaty, all smeared organ and snappy drums. I was expecting a ballad from Deep Within My Heart and while the tempo drops a few notches this side has the same giddy energy as the flip. Fade Away/Smile is an oddity of a record; Thomas himself pressed it in 1968 in a run of less than 400, which in 1968 was a minuscule number. Fade Away is a rambling jam featuring a band consisting of children, some of them playing hollow metal bedposts as horns, with the vocals somewhere deep in the mix -- easily one of the stranger soul sides I've heard -- and Smile is a solid and straightforward ballad in a kind of Curtis Mayfield style. These are $5 each, I highly recommend Push 'Em Up. It will make you happy, for real.
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