Being respected by the international music underground while being barely acknowledged by your home town isn’t just for indie rockers anymore! Witness the constant creative strivings of St Louis conscious Hip Hop/Neo-Soul/Lounge-Tronica artist Black Spade. For years now, Black Spade has been crafting deep & interesting music, attracting clued in heads the world over, but never going out of his way to call too much attention to himself. Even the packaging of his latest 45, released by long-running underground tastemakers F5, is minimal to the point of non-existence. Only one of the three tracks is even listed on the label. This is white-label promo DJ-only need to know info, I guess. Whatever. The music is what matters, & the music matters. Lead off track After is based on an intricate guitar line worthy of Django Reinhardt. Lyrically, it seems to be a post-relationship lament, but delivered in an admirably vague manner, as if to admit that these kinds of things are too complicated to wrap up neatly in a three minute song. The unlisted second track on side one is a short bouncy “Stay up, stay woke” call to positivity on top of a lounge-y Jazz/Hip-Hop bed that would have been right at home on one of Guru’s mid 90’s albums. Side two is an unlisted instrumental, possibly a deeply remixed & extended version of that second song on side one? Who can tell? Nice handclaps & a Bernie Worrel-lite keyboard solo make it worth repeated visits. I almost feel like this record isn’t for mass consumption, like it just slipped off the truck while some French House DJ was loading in for his secret late night set, but if you want to get deep into this city’s belly, dig yourself up a copy.
St Louis is awash in mysterious one-off Soul 45’s, & it’s a little surprising that some re-issue label hasn’t put together a comprehensive set yet. One of the most mysterious I’ve come across is the song Spellbound, which, despite what I just said about one-off singles, was actually released THREE times over ten years. In 1977, Frank Everett released a version on Big Smoky Records. It’s pleasant enough lo-fi Soul, the recording is pretty flat, but the vocals are solid enough. Also in 1977, Frank E Moore released a much more crisply recorded & harder hitting version on ExoChronos Records, which frankly wins on label name alone. Were Frank Everett & Frank E Moore the same person? Both records credit songwriters FE Moore & GE Patterson II, so yeah, probably? Are either of them Frankie Moore, who ran the Cherokee St Record Exchange? No, I confidently say that they are not. Weirdly, the song was then released a third time, in 1987, this time by female vocalist Monica Lockett & with the slightly altered title of Got Me Spellbound. It’s a way-too-slick, way-too-80’s take that would tarnish the song’s legacy, if the song had any legacy to tarnish. And, this time around, FE Smith’s name was removed from the credits. What does any of this mean? I have no idea. Welcome to the world of mystery underground Soul 45’s! I hope some dork stumbles across Black Spade’s record in thirty years & is similarly led down the rabbit hole.
Here’s Black Spade’s After
Here’s Frank E Moore’s Spellbound, easily the best of the three recordings