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coverpic flag Czech Republic - Luna Kafé - Full Moon 17 - 03/13/98

Michal Prokop/Framus Five
Blues In Soul (+ 9x Bonus)

Back in the heady days of the "Prague Spring" in 1968, soul music then sweeping the world culminated in Czechoslovakia with the legendary Supraphone release Framus Five. But just like soul music itself, this band was doomed to an early extinction. The unfortunate musical demise of Framus Five and their front man Michal Prokop was due to political changes brought about by the Russian-led invasion in August of that year. Luckily, 30 years later, Bonton Records released these recordings under a new title and included nine bonus tracks from the same session.

Drawing mostly from the Atlantic Records catalog, this CD contains remakes of hits made famous by Ray Charles, Salomon Burke, Wilson Pickett, Chuck Berry and Aretha Franklin. However what sets them apart are the heart-felt performances of keyboardist Ivan Trnka and the vocalist Michal Prokop. Starting together in a high school blues band in the early sixties, they quickly developed into a solid group that featured what was probably the first rhythm & blues horn section in the country. By the time Michal Prokop won the Best Male Vocalist award at the First Czechoslovak Beat festival in December of 1967, Framus 5 had a reputation as the leading Czech soul music ensemble.

After the James Brown influenced I Got My Mojo Working, Prokop with the bass player Ladislav Elias, sings a slow swaying version of Why Am I Treated So Bad penned by the gospel veteran Pops Staples. The ostinato bass line, the liquid piano fills and Jiri Burda's growling sax solo all contribute to the authentic vocal performance. The jazzy Round & Round by Chuck Berry is followed by the gospel anthem Nobody Knows When You're Down and Out. Here, Trnka's piano and Elias' bass are the true stars - Prokop's vocals are marred by his attempts at what was considered to be a politically correct pronunciation. (He redeems himself with his own Blues in Soul.) The following couple of cuts, Ray Charles' hits Some Day, Baby and I Believe (To) My Soul feature excellent performances (especially Trnka's in the latter) that are hindered by uncredited female vocalists consistently mispronouncing the word 'believe.'

The remake of Solomon Burke's 1967 hit Keep a Light In the Window however offers Prokop's best vocal performance and an arrangement that builds from a simple drums-and-organ opening to a hymn-like gospel horn climax. Prokop's own guitar playing is right on the money, too. (This also happens to be a better take than the faster and more mechanical sounding alternate version added with the re-release.) And finally in the following cuts, If You Need Me (Pickett's first single) and What'd I Say, Trnka's piano performance in the best Ray Charles tradition and Petr Klarfeld's accurate drumming deserve a mention.

The original Supraphone release closed with a feverish version of Sam & Dave's Hold On, I'm Comin'. The nine tracks added by Bonton offer only historical significance - there are good reasons why these recordings were left out in the the first place... But I did like the producers Prostejovsky and Tuma's decision to use studio techniques to simulate a performance in front of an audience.

Shortly after the original release of these recordings, the political climate in Czechoslovakia changed. Most of the musicians managed to finish their college studies and to go on surviving the Communist oppression with dignity. And whatever became of that eager 20-year old student of Economics on the cover? Michal Prokop found his way back to the exciting days of 1968 twenty years later, when together with a fellow rocker Michael Kocab, he became one of the top representatives of the Chamber of Deputies in the new and democratic Czech Parliament.

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