Not only a solid collection of funky covers, but, given the times, kind of psychedelic.
Brazilian funk-jazz group Banda Black Rio formed in 1976, delivering a bright instrumental and horn-heavy soul music on their own and backing up artists such as Emilio Santiago and Caetano Veloso. Far Out Recordings digs deeper into the group’s history with a 1969 album by an earlier incarnation of the band called Cry Babies. If the name doesn’t exactly inspire confidence on the dancefloor, the self-titled debut turns out to be not only a solid collection of funky covers, but, given the times, kind of psychedelic.
At least, that’s how it begins. The album opens up with one of its few vocal tracks, a cover of “It’s My Thing,” Marva Whitney’s answer record to the Isley Brothers’ “It’s Your Thing.” Saxophonist Oberdan Magalhães, who handled arrangements for the album, makes this a showcase that effectively introduces everyone in the band. A beat from Luiź Carlos briefly sets it up for the rest of the band: organist Sérgio Carvalho plays a nervous riff over scratchy funk rhythm from guitarist Ovídio and a frantic walking bass from Oswaldo Damião; the foundation is dizzying enough, but what sends this into near-freakout territory is the heavily reverbed vocal from Rosana Fiengo. If Discogs is crediting the right artists, she was only 15 at the time, but all that echo makes her sound huge, and she’s not afraid to lean into the distortion, the ends of her lines hitting with a slapback that sounds like a demonic helium-fueled James Brown. Whoever is at the controls of that reverb is having a ball, and so is Fiengo. It might have become a gimmick over the whole album, but as her only feature here, it makes you want more. Imagine this lineup tackling “I Can’t Stand Myself (When You Touch Me)”—it would have anticipated the Contortions’ version by nearly a decade.
Nothing else here is that strange, but the pulse never lets up. A cover of “Kool and the Gang,” the funk band’s early self-titled theme song, is next up. The melody is perhaps taken a few bmps slower than the original, but the arrangement under it is just as furiously agitated as “It’s My Thing,” and that nervous rhythm section drops out for a horn chart that comes off even more soulfully than its predecessor. An instrumental cover of the Wallace Connection’s “Daydream” transforms the symphonic rock original into a slow soul jam that lets you catch your breath, and a stripped-down arrangement of Chicago’s “Questions 67 and 68” provides another breather, the organ taking the Peter Cetera role.
The album is cover-heavy, but producer Durval Ferreira, who wrote material for Deodato and Sergio Mendes, contributes “My Blood,” which is for the most part a terrific original, until it shifts into a smouldering down-tempo breakdown of “Sunshine of Your Love.” Cry Babies can do it all: ask for some Bacharach bossa nova and they’ll give you a smooth “I’ll Never fall in Love Again.” Requisition more twitchy funk and soul charts, and they’ll answer with “Blás, Blás, Blás Soul.” Their under-three-minute cover of “More Today Than Yesterday” sounds like a blueprint for Charles Earland’s expansive version on his essential Black Talk! released a year later. Cry Babies hits all its marks; with 11 songs in 36 minutes, the only thing you might cry for is more of it.