MJR & Bwank! Vol. 1 – The Rabbit Factory Soul Revue
What results when a Chicago-based label invests in a six-piece house band and four of the most undervalued soul singers the South has never seen? The Rabbit Factory Soul Revue.
On a lazy Sunday afternoon at McCarren Pool, four tremendously talented Southern soul singers exuded an over zealous nature through neglected masterpieces of the golden age. These stars lost their luster long ago yet, collectively, they embody the very spirit of the genre. And for that reason they are the unsung heroes of their era.
Clad in rather rakish, debonair looks, Herbert Wiley, Herman Hitson, Roscoe Robinson and Ralph “Soul” Jackson took turns preaching the good word like a rector. Each one was as authoritative and thoroughly convincing as the next, belting out notes as if they were still in their heyday. Everything, from Wiley’s striking cheshire cat-like grin to Roscoe Robinson’s dalmatian print suit to Ralph “Soul” Jackson’s gratuitous weave, seemed genuine in its way.
But the caliber of these heavily overlooked gospel-infused soul tunes merely magnified the absurdities at hand. These men had shared time with legendary acts, like Jimi Hendrix, the Isley Brothers, Spooner Oldham and the Blind Boys of Alabama. Each man had as much talent, if not more, than their hallowed predecessors and yet they had struggled to make it here even.
And, perhaps even more disconcerting, the majority, if not all, of the attendees had very little conception of who these skillful singers were. Channeling the soulful spirit of James Brown and Ronald Isley is one thing, but actually having been a part of that movement in its glory days is an entirely different story. Still, Wiley, Hitson, Robinson and Jackson took to the stage as if they had never been lost in the shuffle to begin with.
While most musicians’ prowess atrophies from lack of use, these fine Southern gentlemen seemed to be suspended in time and virtually unaffected by time passing them up. The fervency with which they sang forced onlookers to believe that they were classics unto themselves. And nothing could be closer to the truth.
Joshua Pressman for MJR, Photography by Matthew Craig
This is the first of many crossovers with bloggers we love.
Josh is a Brooklyn based music writer. www.bwank.com