Review: The Best of Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band

by Roger Wink, VVN Music

Charles Wright deserves to be a much more recognized name in the history of soul music.

I first heard Wright and his Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band in early-1970 with their beautiful track "Love Land" (1970 / #16 Pop / #23 R&B). The previous, and bigger, hit, "Do Your Thing" (1969 / #11 Pop / #12 R&B) didn't get much airplay in my area so it was "Love Land" that introduced me to the band with the voice of James Gadson hitting the sweet spot of my music taste at the time.

What I didn't know was that Charles Wright & His 103rd Street Rhythm Band was not really well represented by that single.  They were, in fact, a great funk band as they proved just a few months later with "ExpressYourself" (1970 / #12 Pop / #3 R&B).

Varese Sarabande, in conjunction with Rhino and Warner Brothers, has just released a single disc compilation of some of the band's best music, including their five main hits and a number of album tracks, from 1967 to their breakup in 1972.

The album opens with "Spreadin' Honey" (1967 / #73 Pop / #44 R&B), the first official single for the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band.  Wright had been in the business for awhile, including joining the Shields shortly after they hit with "You Cheated" in 1958 and eventually becoming an in-demand studio guitarist, playing around L.A. with his band The Wright Sounds. "Spreadin' Honey" was actually recorded as the theme song for KGFJ's Magnificent Montague and has an almost Ramsey Lewis sound.  

Over the five years under the band's name, Wright fronted a number of distinct versions of the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band with music from all three of the band's official albums included on the set. What is shown is that, while their true forte was funk, there were other sides to the band that covered a wide swath of the various early-70's soul subgenres. 

Rounding out the set are two brand new tracks recorded recently by Wright which fit perfectly into the album as if they were recorded during the heyday of the band.  It was a great surprise to hear that Wright hasn't lost his touch at all. 

The package is also a great throwback with a cover straight out of the 70's and the CD having the familiar green Warner Brother label from that era. An eight-page booklet with an essay on the group by Bill Dahl rounds out the package.  

For fans of 60's and 70's soul and funk, this is a great way to get familiar or reacquaint yourself with the music of a classic band of the era. 


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