Release Date: Dec 3, 2013
Record label: Numero Group
Genre(s): R&B, Soul, Funk, Contemporary R&B
Purple Snow: Forecasting the Minneapolis Sound looks back to a forgotten generation of Minnesotan musicians—1970s purveyors of R&B, soul, and funk—who fuelled the trajectory, filled the ears and paved the way for a youthful Prince Nelson Rogers..
Regional funk and R&B compilations have been flooding the reissue market for ages now, and yet in all that time, it's taken until this year for even the deepest-digging reissue label in the business to get to the foundation of one of the most vital scenes in funk lore. The chart-topping, synth-heavy pulse that came out of the Twin Cities in the 80s still seems, even to most music fans short of the local veteran scenester, to be an abrupt fluke of auteurist proficiency and creativity, largely credited to the braintrusts of everything-man superstar Prince and the songwriting/production juggernaut of Jimmy Jam Harris and Terry Lewis. The groups these three names cut their chops with have been hinted at by music historians, and the peers they shared a scene with got some acknowledgment here and there.
On its 50th release, reissue label Numero Group is dipping into the pure waters of Lake Minnetonka. For Purple Snow, the label has unearthed overlooked and rare tracks from the Minneapolis soul, R&B and electro-funk scene of the late 70s and early 80s. (Top 40 listeners would know its super-tight, synth-led sound from Prince's Purple Rain and Janet Jackson's Control, produced by the Time's Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.) Although the compilation and accompanying 30,000-word book give deeper context to Prince's music, the Purple One is peripheral here, contributing guitar to 94 East's If You See Me and the Lewis Connection's Got To Be Something Here.
Purple Snow follows Secret Stash's Twin Cities Funk & Soul but, true to Numero Group form, it's a lavish package -- a major undertaking, even by the label's standard. Its two discs, stored in pouches within the front and back of a hardbound 140-page book filled with eye-popping images and information, contain over 70 minutes of music released on small labels. Another hour consists of previously unissued material.
The combination of America’s vast size and the relative insularity of its cities has long helped to create highly individual local music scenes: New Orleans funk, Detroit techno, Houston’s chopped and screwed hip-hop, Baltimore’s Bmore breakbeats. Minneapolis, America’s 48th largest city, is an exception to this rule, and its wider musical history is something of an unknown quantity despite once being home to both Prince and the famous R&B production team Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. ‘Purple Snow…’, an excellent 32-track compilation that comes with a comprehensive hardback book, is an attempt to redress this, rounding up tracks from 22 of the key artists who would help to create the Minneapolis sound of the late ’70s and early ’80s, producing what the accompanying book calls “radical manipulations of American dance music, coating their futuristic funk with the glamorous sheen of guitar rock”.
The hybrid of funk, pop, New Wave and guitar-rock Prince concocted in the early Eighties was briefly dubbed "The Minneapolis sound." This two-disc set tells the story of that sound, from the proto-disco Seventies to the synthed-up Eighties. You get a high school "Prince Nelson," in 1975, playing breezy guitar with his cousin's ex-husband's lite-funk band 94 East, and two unreleased 1979 tracks from future R&B superproducer Terry Lewis' band Flyte Tyme. As the Prince era dawns, fascinating strains of paisley abound – like Alexander O'Neal's "Borrowed Time," which puts Rick James in moon boots and hits like Kirby Puckett.
It's been said that jazz is the only original American art form but most days I'd almost be inclined to say funk instead. Maybe because I grew up at a closer distance to it as a 70s kid - I was never constantly surrounded by it, by any means, but you could hear it echoing through the TV shows, the commercials, it was always just there, and it meant more the deeper you went. For its fiftieth formal release in its main series, Numero brought its usual exhaustive, almost near exhausting eye to one place where it hit big among those there, then turned into something altogether unique and itself.