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Pieces of Peace: A Chicago soul band makes a comeback

By Gary Moskowitzreviews
Aug 30, 2007 - 8:40 PM


 
Pieces of Peace sucker-punched me at first. Without knowing anything about the band or their music, or asking any questions, I threw their CD in and assumed it was a new band trying really hard to sound like a 70s funk band. By the time song two, “Pollution,” came on with its corny backup vocals, punchy horn licks, sweet keyboard lines, and lyrics void of any sort of irony, I knew I was dead wrong. Pieces of Peace fooled me for a minute.

Pieces of Peace is considered one of Chicago’s finest 60s-era soul ensembles that defined the Windy City’s soul sound. They first did session recordings under various names, and by 1968 were touring heavily and became the backup band for Gene Chandler, the guy with the 1962 hit song "Duke of Earl.” They backed Syl Johnson on “Is It Because I’m Black,” and played on and co-produced singles by Annette Poindexter, Elvin Spencer, Josephine Taylor, and the Dynamic Tints before finally taking the moniker Pieces of Peace. As Pieces of Peace, they embarked on a six-month tour of South Asia, but the loss of a drummer, problems with agents, and homesickness brought the tour to a quick stop. They broke up for good after that. Two of the band members went on to play for Earth, Wind, & Fire, and one – Rahm Lee – wound up playing for Phil Collins for 10 years and dropped solo records.

A June 10 Chicago Tribune article claims that a handful recent reissues and new discoveries of lesser known Chicago soul artists like Pieces of Peace prove that the city’s classic rhythm and blues scene featured more depth and inimitable characters than the Detroit and Memphis hit factories of the same era.

Quannum Records, “purveyors of hip hop since 1992,” obviously agree. The album is coming out on Quannum Projects/Cali-Tex, which is DJ Shadow's imprint under Quannum. Old soul’s influence on hip-hop is massive, and hardcore record collectors like Shadow know this. Procuring and releasing this album must have been a no-brainer.

Pieces of Peace rips. Some songs, like “Peace and Blessings,” funks so hard that it could be background music for a chase scene in a 70s Superfly movie. The CD gets wicked chill, too. “I Still Care” is a smooth, slow-dancing ballad, heavy on the cheese factor. The vocals, diminished horn lines and repetitive keyboards in the beginning of “Yesterday’s Visions” is haunting, and then the song segues into this kickass happy jam that initially makes you want to strap on a pair of skates and go nuts at the roller rink, and later descends into a full-on smoked-out jam.

The music reminds me of The Stylistics, but with much more oomph. It’s heavy, and it’s soft. It can be goofy, and it can be seriously funky. The band’s songs are earnest and real, as if they believed what they were doing was really important. I bet they put on one hell of a show back in the day.

With groups like the Quantic Soul Orchestra playing music that intentionally sounds like old funk and soul, and DJs like the Thievery Corporation releasing mixes of old jazzy, funky songs from the same era, it’s easy to get caught up in new versions of old songs. It’s easy to listen to songs that are more a pastiche of soul than the real deal. If you like the old stuff, get with the Pieces.

***

Gary Moskowitz writes for MotherJones.com and plays the trumpet for Oakland punk-soul band Damon & the Heathens. He is a regular contributor to Oh Dang! and WireTap. Check his blogsite, Blogowitz.

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