When Poets of Rhythm founding members Jan and Max Whitefield traveled from their native Munich to New York to record their eponymous debut album, Sharon Jones was a name only known to the cult that bought her first, rare 45s, The Dap Kings didn’t exist and The El Michels Affair were teenagers gigging as the Mighty Imperials. Rough, raw, real funk music was decidedly out of vogue. Though the Poets had dutifully dozens of 45s and a few key LPs of their modern take on the funk sound over a decade, their recordings remained for a chosen few. Back then, “African influenced funk” meant “sounds like Fela.” The first American “real funk” label, Desco, had disappeared; Desco’s owner Phillipe Lehman searched for a new approach.
Thus, the idea that Jan and Max presented to him – to record an album chock full of funk music influenced by the African diaspora, an album as indebted to the Meters as to Mr. Kuti and his Africa 70, an album as psychedelic as those Ghanaian and Nigerian masterpieces by unknown psych-funk heroes such as Blo, Edazawa and the Psychedelic Aliens – sat perfectly with him. Desco co-founder Gabriel Roth (later the co-founder of Daptone Records and leader of The Dap Kings) brought his bass. Leon Michels, as in El Michels himself, wrote horn arrangements and played sax and flute. So did Daptone co-founder Neal Sugarman. Jan and Max’s compositions came to life and the record was mixed, mastered, packaged, and quickly released. A 7” and a 10” followed, with exclusive tracks not released on In The Raw.
And that was, basically, it. Soul Fire, the label that released In The Raw in 2001, sold a small number of vinyl LPs, and as many CDs as they could self-distribute. And the CD quickly went out of print. Soul-Fire soon folded. The Whitefield Brothers debut album, regarded as a masterpiece by those lucky enough to have heard it, languished as a “collectible” – eBay fodder for the cognoscenti.
Now Again has reissued In The Raw and we’ve closely with Jan and Max to assemble a follow up to their first, crucial slice of the funk spectrum. The Whitefield Brothers create wear-your-heart-on-your-sleeve, hypnotic, defiantly psychedelic funk music that is as modern as it is grounded in the great musical traditions from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.