Mixed Sugar, The Complete Works 1970-1987
When watching Soul Train, I revel in the flamboyance of the ‘70s and ‘80s soul scene: the camp, the choreography, the orchestral flourishes taken in stride, as though the fabulous was commonplace. Regional Garland’s Complete Works makes the case that it was. Stones Throw re-issue imprint Now-Again has gathered the work of this Don Cornelius lookalike and little-known auteur with notes that tell his story: starting as a teenager in Flint, Michigan, Garland played in groups that opened for James Brown and Ike & Tina until members left for Vietnam or beauty school. He co-founded a label that suffered a factory fire; his group Mixed Sugar piqued industry interest until his lung collapsed. Garland kept at it with various area musicians for years before acknowledging that he couldn’t compete with the slick sounds of big city studios. He still sings gospel in Flint. But Garland’s collected recordings chronicle ‘70s and ‘80s R&B styles: four-part harmonies, funk, disco, quiet storm, synth pop. There are wistful teen narratives, lusty duets and even a Blaxploitation fantasy with an ass-kicking female protagonist (highlight “Gangster Girl”). His 7” sleeve shots were of the Buick plant where he worked and of neighbors pushing a car through snow down an unplowed road. One might wonder why Garland didn’t leave for Detroit or Chicago, but his tenacious musical career fed on local loyalty. When the fabulous was commonplace, pimp suits and ominous horns didn’t just belong to Mayfield or Hayes in Harlem or Watts. Flint had its own.