We’ve seen this story in music time and time again. Al Kent – the ambitious producer who spent his life’s earnings making his dream project. The project was the Million Dollar Orchestra, an army of musicians whose sole mission was to complete a fully orchestrated Disco LP born in Al’s mind and inspired by the lost sounds of classic ’70s material much in the vein of the Salsoul Orchestra or MFSB. The MDO LP achieved just that. The music was rich with lush strings, thick brass sections and filled out with arrangements of epic Disco proportions. The LP was magnificent, however much like history has also shown us time and time again; this ambitious project left the producer completely spent, both emotionally and financially.
As we all know any producer worth his salt rises from the ashes and always comes back, usually with a newer stripped down sound and condensed studio budget. This is Al Kent’s rise from the ashes that sees him coming at us full throttle even with his bruises and broken bones. This is part of the natural cycle we’ve seen before in Disco history. Private press Disco records sell for hundreds of dollars on ebay because of the mixture of raw energy that is harnessed in one studio take and the underfunding involved creates a distinct sound on those vinyl platters that can’t be replicated. That is unless of course like Al Kent, you record much of your new secretive LP in your bedroom hence using a lot less musicians than you did last time around and then complete the rest of the project in a fully analog studio called “The Barn”.
Al dug out some old tracks he’d been working on previously. Some were half finished, others were little more than ideas, and a few were demos he’d put together for the Million Dollar Orchestra. He got some musicians back together to record a few bits and put these nine new tracks together. It didn’t take as long as MDO, but then he didn’t record a brass or string section this time. However the tunes do focus on neck snapping drum breaks, heavy boogie bass lines, the bottom heavy aspects of Disco, or as I like to think of it – the underbelly of real independent Disco. It was all mixed at The Barn again, “because that desk and reel to reel tape is just too nice.”
On the technical side, the difference between digital and analog especially in the right hands is night and day. When it goes through a proper desk where all the effects and all the reverbs etc, are real, it makes a massive difference. It throws up all sorts of challenges which on a computer would be fixed in seconds with some preset. It takes a lot of time and thought to do this using more traditional methods but it’s worth it when it works out.
The finished mixes were bounced to tape – i.e. played back through the mixing desk to a reel to reel machine then recorded back to the computer via valve compressors and other gizmos. That process just pulls everything together and the tape adds a certain something – a warmth that’s totally missing in digital recording.
On the creative side Al thought that an album of all up tempo tracks that were primarily DJ friendly didn’t make for a particularly interesting album, except to DJs. He wanted to find a way to make it more interesting for the general public to listen to as well. The LP starts off with a banger and track tempos vary from fired up dancers to mid tempo hustles and down tempo steppers, all the while woven through recordings of lost DJ interviews, commercial advertisements for old Discos, and even revisits the Disco Sucks riot in Chicago’s Comiskey ball park over the course of the LP. Al expropriates the Disco Sucks chants and even including it in one of the tunes. The phrase “Disco’s Revenge” immediately comes to mind. Don’t forget Al got his start as a soul boy and the star tune of this LP may even just be the vocal anthem “Come Back Home” featuring Tyrone Taylor on vocals. This is a welcome addition to Al’s discography and brings his sounds full circle.
This independent Disco LP is woven from the mind of a true Disco aficionado (some may even say Disco obsessive) using both real history and new sounds to create a modern disco fantasy for all to enjoy on their headphones or on the dance floors. It is with great honor that I introduce Al Kent’s latest burner of a Disco LP: SECRET SOUNDS – So turn up that stereo or put on your best outfit for the discothèque, and get down-get down…