Sunday, August 31, 2008

Darondo: A Lost Soul God Surfaces at Bumbershoot

The recent passing of the great Isaac Hayes really amplified one thing in my mind: There's nothing in the world like some sweet 60's and 70's soul music.

It's a style and era so well-represented and preserved--by major and indie-record labels, in books, on film, and on the web--that you'd think there was no such thing as great undiscovered vintage soul. Happily, Darondo was at Bumbershoot Saturday afternoon to knock that notion on its ass.

Long backstory short: Darondo cut three smoking soul singles in the early seventies, attained enough of a following in the Bay area at the time to wind up as an opening act for James Brown, then dropped off the face of the earth entirely for some twenty-five years. He'd been forgotten by everyone except for a few record-collecting obsessives, one of whom (British-based DJ Gilles Peterson) featured the singer's sublime "Didn't I" on the highly regarded Gilles Peterson Digs America CD compilation. Then at long last, independent label Luv n Haight collected those singles and a few unreleased demos, and put out Darondo's first-ever proper full-length, Let My People Go, in 2006.

I didn't know any of this when my pals (and fellow 2007 Bumbershooters) Bob Suh and Bob Bohan joined me in front of the Fisher Green Stage at Bumbershoot Saturday afternoon. I didn't need to.

Young San Francisco soul practitioner Nino Moschella and his backing band laid down a smoking set of throwdown old-school funk as a warm-up. Then Darondo--wiry and hyperkinetic in a flashy suit, gold sneakers, and white hat--hit the stage while Moschella and company backed him. The sexagenarian busted astonishing James Brown-cum-Michael Jackson moves, and belted out songs with a weathered tenor that suggested a cross between Al Green and The Spinners' Bobby Smith. He flat-out commanded the stage, delivering everything from moral indignation on "Let My People Go" to deliciously libidinous boudoir funk on "Legs". Dear God in a velour tuxedo, he was nothin' short of a revelation.

After that breathtaking live set, I scarfed up a copy of Let My People Go post-haste, and it does not disappoint. In some ways, it's as strong a testament to what could've been as it is to what actually was: The ragged grit of the recordings, the occasionally imprecise instrumentation, and Darondo's raw singing reveal a great talent just getting warmed up. But the nine tracks, rough diamonds all written or co-written by the man himself, still sparkle.

"Legs (Part 1)" positively presages Prince's "Kiss" with its weld of James Brown strut, falsetto, and driving pre-P-Funk grooving, and Darondo injects some booty-shaking groove into the plain-spoken familial love extolled in "My Momma and My Poppa." If you think you've heard every great tender soul ballad of the seventies, you won't be able to truly make that statement 'til you've spun Darondo's "Didn't I" and "Listen to My Song."

Great as the CD was, though, Darondo's Bumbershoot gig has me over the moon at the possibility of him writing and singing new material. He's arguably a more controlled singer, and that hard-earned mature vocal timbre sounded so phenomenal live that it'd be criminal for him not to get back in the saddle again--he's sure as hell got the chops. His MySpace page sports solid evidence for the defense in the form of a collaboration with Clutchy Hopkins, "Love of a Woman," and his delivery on it simmers like a slow-cooking pan of the best soul food.

Thanks to Bob Suh for the photos.

No comments: