Eccentric Soul: The Prix Label
f Numero Group’s still-fresh Eccentric Soul series has provided any summed insight, it’s that eccentric soul music from the mid-to-late ‘60s proves more eccentric in geography and branding than actual sound. Perhaps it’s no surprise, but there were dozens of cities capable of producing funky, stringy house bands and full-throated singers mere inches away from toeing into the national spotlight. The Prix Label’s story is no different.
Prix is Numero’s second foray into Columbus, Ohio, after 2004’s Capsoul Label compilation, but it comes with a wrinkle: a yard-sale box marked “Best Offer” yielded not the long-lost Prix master tapes (as originally thought), but rather a grab-bag of unreleased tracks and demos from a label that never truly surfaced, even in Ohio’s mid-size capital.
Eddie Ray’s “Wait a Minute” is Prix’s long-lost hit. You know it’s their only one because no label, no matter how incompetent, under-funded, or shortsighted, could fail to land a single this good twice. It’s a small wonder that they managed to do it once, though the fact that the master for “Wait” ended up in a ragamuffin cardboard box is telling. Horn-charged and skittish, “Wait” rolls recklessly downhill, only pausing for a chorus that Ray thankfully executes with neither great style nor technique, choosing instead to just momentarily slow the sugar-rush.
“Wait” may be The Prix Label’s stickiest bubble-soul, but it’s hardly its most compelling moment. That belongs to Ray as well: A demo of “You Got Me” helps usher out the compilation, featuring Ray emoting loudly over a strummed electric guitar and, weirdly, some competent bongo work. Numero scored a similar coup with the Harmonic Sounds Band’s “Untitled Studio Moves,” a brief funk interlude that sounds like the theme music to an eighth rate spy flick. These, along with another stripped Ray cut and a doe-eyed, girl-soul rehearsal from the forgotten Penny & the Quarters belong in rarefied air, the type of momentary brilliance that rarely sees light.
The majority of Prix is a bit more polished, though similarly impressive. House saxophonist Chip Willis contributes the loving “I’m Gonna Gitcha,” which features a sly turn: “Diamond rings / Diamond rings / Oh baby / All these things / Mean nothing / Unless I’m gonna gitcha.” Marion Black’s creeping, socially conscious “Listen Black Brother” breaks up Prix’s strong run of smooth pop and Xerox’d funk, but its psychedelic flute points it firmly toward art-soul.
It’s Ray, though, who carries Prix—his five songs are among the seven or eight best on the compilation. It might not mean much to be the never-made-it heart of a never-made-it label, but Ray qualifies, and he’s good enough to keep Prix from turning into a what-if exercise; instead, air out Ray and his underheard contemporaries in the same muggy Midwestern air they’ve been stored in for the last three decades.