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Mixed Sugar - The Complete Works (1970-1987)

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Album Review

Flint, Michigan producer, arranger, and songwriter Regional Garland lingered in regional obscurity for the majority of his life, recording various slept-on funk, soul and disco sides throughout the '70s and '80s. Regional's story was full of hardships and setbacks; band breakups, lost master tapes, and even an album-halting collapsed lung that threatened to end his singing career. Despite these debilitating factors, Garland soldiered on seemingly unfettered, driven by a love of music and a need to push his writing ever forward. Working at an even more low-key pace through the '80s and '90s, Garland had moved into working on extremely localized gospel records by the time Sean "Diddy" Combes came knocking in 2006 wanting to sample Garland's dusty '70s singles. Shortly thereafter, negotiations about reissuing his entire catalog began with Stones Throw and later, Now Again Records. Mixed Sugar: The Complete Works 1970-1987 finally gathers the collected singles and many unreleased recordings of Garland's various bands, studio compositions, and every notable example of his unique production style. The collection begins with the bustling funk of vocal group 21st Generations on the electric 1970 single "I Need Love" and its doo wop-touched B-side "Hey James." Acting as primary songwriter and lead vocalist, Garland's vocals soar over the group's falsetto harmonies and frantic wah-wah guitars. Garland's subsequent groups of this era are much the same; spirited hard-edged soul from the Perfections and instrumental deep funk featuring Garland on guitar from the Hunt's Determination Band. The sound on all of these early tracks is hungry and excited, and the arrangements stray from cookie-cutter conventions with interestingly off quirks, or unexpected changes in rhythm and key. These unexpected oddities are a mainstay of Garland's songs. With his band Mixed Sugar, Garland and company shift from updated girl group soul ("Fifteen Ain't Young No More") to Curtis Mayfield-esque cautionary soundtrack funk ("Gangster Girl") to freaked cosmic disco ("The Disco Jam Bam Bam"), all with a unifying character patented to Garland's songwriting and production touch. The compositions get progressively weirder as the years go on, as does the production. By the time of Garland's '80s singles under his own name, or with Brilliance, his low-rent experiments with the drum machines and MIDI keyboards of the era's smooth funk sound were muted and otherworldly. 1987's single "Chillin' Out," an ahead-of-its-time anthem to taking it easy combines Garland's open-hearted approach to songwriting with a dreamily busted fidelity. A lot of these songs are seeing the light of day for the first time ever, but almost all of Garland's output is so obscure it's only gotten its due in the most ravenous circles of funk collectors. Mixed Sugar: Complete Works 1970-1987 expertly highlights the artist's gift for putting his fingerprint on any and everything he touched, and shares these long-hidden gems with new generations of fans.

Mixed Sugar - The Complete Works (1970-1987), Regional Garland
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