Secret Stash: Free Angela Review
Is there any way that the statement “I like the idea of this album more than the album itself” can be taken in something other than a negative fashion? More than any other album in the stellar Secret Stash back catalog, I love the heart and soul behind the Free Angela release, but what it brings to the table in blistering social commentary and rich historical value it seems to lack equally in songs that have me craving to put on repeat.
While the record is in no way un-listenable, the songs aren’t burning down my stereo. The front side of the record is material by Larry Saunders, a soul singer with a glassy falsetto and a clear passion for this issue. The title track, a low-key ballad that circles around lucid keys and Saunder’s brittle vocals, is direct in approach but doesn’t deliver much as far as a musical composition. Saunder’s other two tracks, “This World” and “Where Did Peace Go” are also both stripped down tracks that are carried by Saunder’s powerful vocals. I love the sentiment of the tracks, and they are good songs, but I can’t help but admit that if the lyrical content were more generic in focus I don’t think I would find myself rooting for them as much as I did.
The back of the record is more full of life, but seems separated from the cause of the LP. The songs were grabbed from the label Sound of Soul, which was run by Free Angela creator Alexander Randolph. ‘The Motown sounding “Nobody Knows” by Dickie Wonder is infectious, but why is it on this compilation? The same can be said for the horn punctuated love song “Baby Can’t You See” and the rich soul of “Paradise.” These songs offer a wider musical pallet than the Saunder’s dominated half, but seem more like random, albeit good, soul/R&B songs from the era than songs for an Free Angela Davis compilation.
So where does that leave the listener? The front half of the record is an excellent historical document. Imagine if artists created a Justice for Trayvon record and it was released by a label for national consumption. That would be a big deal. This was as well. It is cool to hear an artist immerse themselves in a worthy, hot-button issue, even if the songs aren’t going to be something that knock you out. The back half of the record, admittedly filler to flesh out the LP, are more lively, but lose the credibility that came with the specific material created by Saunders. As I said at the top, it is an album I root for and will have as a part of my collection, but maybe not for the same reason I always anticipate and collect releases from Secret Stash.
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