July 2000

Little Willie G. - Make Up for the Lost Time
HighTone HCD 8115
Released: 2000

by Marc Rigrodsky

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

[Reviewed on CD]Hey, kids! School may be out, but there’s always time for a history lesson. You graduates, don’t smirk; you probably need a refresher course.

Long before hip-hop, rap, disco, and funk, when dinosaurs ruled the earth, there was something called R&B, rhythm and blues, aka soul music. R&B was the confluence of the mighty rivers of gospel, blues, and rock and roll. The essence of R&B was a smooth, sensual (usually male) vocalist backed by a driving beat, a horn section, and glossy backing vocals. With a few exceptions, R&B was about love. No, actually it was music to make love to (paying attention now, kids?). Tune to your local jammin’ oldies station and listen for Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, Al Green, and Marvin Gaye, among others. You’ll hear what I mean.

Traditional R&B is as dead as the proverbial doornail, a musical museum piece (literally -- that place in Cleveland is chock full of R&B), grist for semi-pathetic oldies shows. Yes, there is still something called R&B around today, but it is a distant kin to the Real Thing. Genuine R&B is never synthesizer-driven (think about it -- how can computers have soul?). Today’s R&B basically is rap with singing and without the wucka-wucka sounds.

All of which makes Little Willie G.’s new release, Make Up for the Lost Time, a pleasant surprise. Willie G. (Garcia) is a veteran of the Golden Age of soul during the 1960s, having fronted East L.A.’s Three Midniters during that era. However, little has been heard from him since then. Having overcome drugs and become an ordained minister, Garcia is ready to get back in the action. He does so essentially by ignoring the last 30 years of music history (Disco? Give me a break.) and picks up where he left off (hence the album’s title). The selections are mostly covers of less famous songs by well-known soul men (and women) such as Bobby Womack, Smokey Robinson, Aretha Franklin and Bobby Blue Bland, or re-recordings of old Three Midniters tunes. There are also three new Garcia originals.

Garcia’s vocals are always smooth and suave, as they should be, with just the right amount of passion. The horn arrangements and backing vocals are playful and polished, the rhythm section tight and unintrusive. Indeed, the album is produced by Los Lobos singer/guitarist David Hidalgo, a man who knows a thing or two about roots music.

If you liked this kind of music back then, then you’ll like Make Up for the Lost Time now. Younger listeners either will be bored by the lack of flash or drawn in by the human spirit lacking in today’s "soul" music. For you kids who don’t think real R&B is exciting, please reread the second paragraph above and remember the following -- this stuff works!