For about a month, I've been repeatedly listening to Personal Space: Electronic Soul 1974-1984, a fantastic new compilation of old tracks by R&B and soul artists like Jeff Phelps (above), The Makers, and Albert Washington who were early adopters of then-new home recording technology and (relatively) inexpensive synthesizers that ultimately transformed the music industry. I was delighted that the compilation -- and the artists on it, many of whom are little-known -- received mainstream exposure yesterday on National Public Radio's All Things Considered. Personal Space is absolutely marvelous. And the packaging, with photography by astronaut Donald Pettit, is beautiful. Highly recommended on vinyl, of course, but also available digitally. From NPR:
The new anthology revisits an era when R&B producers and singers could tape songs at home, take them to a local record plant and press up a few hundred singles. That cohort included Starship Commander Woo Woo, the science-fiction-inspired nom de disc of Kansas City DJ Omer Coleman II, as well as the astrologically inspired duo from Grosse Pointe, Mich., called USAries.
Electronic soul wasn't just for amateurs: The home-studio era also empowered veteran artists to experiment outside the confines of label- and radio-approved guidelines. Cincinnati blues legend Albert Washington can be heard trying out an early drum machine in "Shortest Lady," a single he produced for his wife, Deborah, and her band, The Astros.