The story of Teakwood’s A Distant Star is as intriguing as it is ambiguous. Originally recorded in the mid-70s, this album that sees the marrying of various different styles, such as funk, soul, jazz and disco, never saw the light of day until the 3rd of February 2017. The reasons as to why this record was not released upon its initial completion are vague and hard to dig up any dirt on, but what matters is that the reel-to-reels of these recordings were preserved and found their way to Tramp Records early last year. Now, with the recordings mastered and ready for release, Teakwood’s A Distant Star has finally surfaced and one thing that came as quite a surprise was how forward-thinking this record must have been in 1977, given that it sounds fresh even released in 2017. The recording is the quality one would expect from an underground soul album recorded and then forgotten about until it was finally released four decades later, but once the listener gets past how old-school the audio value is, an array of interesting, individual and unusual sounds and stylings become evident in the record’s finer details. The result is a record that stands out not just because of its obscure backstory, but also because the music contained on it is incredibly impressive on its own merits.
Before Teakwood’s full long-playing record was released after sitting in purgatory for 40 years, the group’s only 7″ single was released, Can You Dig It?. Written by the band’s trombonist Berry Wilson, this cut features a creative meeting of various styles, with a funky piano lick accompanied by some jazzy countermelodies from the horn section, all of which is topped off with some soulful group vocals. This sole 45rpm record from Teakwood alludes to some of the material on A Distant Star, but yet more dynamic and interesting ideas are brought to the table by the six-piece on their LP. In this sense, Teakwood Jesse is a fitting opener for the record, in that it establishes some of the more conventional soul and funk elements whilst also setting apart Teakwood with their appropriation of a myriad of other musical stylings. The funky drum and bass groove that opens this cut and provides it foundation, whilst nothing ground-breaking for the idiom in which Teakwood are working, is fantastic, particularly thanks to the smooth embellishments from the bass. What sets this piece apart, however, is the futuristic use of shimmering guitars and keyboards that have a distinct psychedelic tinge to them. The psych guitar works particularly well as it weaves between the punctuated horn lines, creating a complex texture that is nonetheless accessible and highly enjoyable to listen to. Being entirely instrumental, the horn section seems to assume the role that the vocals would take at some points on this track, particularly during the bridge, as the swooping held notes sound like they were perhaps envisaged as a vocal melody of sorts.
The second track, Powerplay, advances Teakwood’s sound further, incorporating a powerful disco style that is worked within a soul and funk paradigm. The steady drumbeat with its syncopated open hi-hats, along with the simple tunes provided by the keys and guitar, are all incredibly typical of 70s disco music, but the group vocals that carry this piece retain a psych-tinted soul vibe reminiscent of the likes of Sly & The Family Stone. The result is an undeniably danceable song that nevertheless possesses an impassioned soulful atmosphere, particularly with the typical R&B lyrics of “Sisters and brothers, join together, help one another” that recollect artists such as Marvin Gaye and Edwin Starr. The following track, Anything and Everything, sees A Distant Star take another turn, as a beautiful, warm keyboard melody reveals the song to be a smooth soul ballad. Whilst the bass and drums are very disciplined on this track, and the vocals adopt a rather typical R&B hue, this cut features some of the weirdest, but ultimately most effective, use of keys on the entire record. The higher melodies played by the keyboards, both as an accompaniment for the vocals and when they take centre-stage, sound like something pulled from a modern space rock tune, and yet they are harmonised absolutely gorgeously as to make their inclusion in the mix feel completely natural. What’s more, the instrumental bridge that boasts some more smooth and accented keyboard lines highlights some of the progressive rock sensibilities that appear every now and then across this record’s runtime. Despite being structured as a rather ordinary soul ballad, the song’s length and the dazzling keys make it come off as one of the most ambitious cuts here, and it is a really outstanding feature in the tracklisting. Then again, every song on here is distinctively individual in its own way, as a result of a plethora of fine and well-worked details that come together to form intricate and multi-faceted soul tracks that can’t quite be pinned down to a particular musical persuasion.
A Distant Star sees Teakwood accumulate a fantastically unique and innovative sound as a result of their ambitious and masterful meeting of so many different musical stylings. Despite being clearly rooted in a soul and disco idiom, the inclusion of aspects from genres ranging from Afrobeat to jazz to boogaloo creates an immensely progressive sound that feels far from dated, even being released forty years after it was recorded. In spite of the seemingly ceaseless waves of new musical movements and ever-increasing diversity in the industry, A Distant Star has managed to preserve its fresh sound along with it in the storage cupboard where it was kept gathering dust for four decades. The fact that this album is so incredible and has a such an air of mystery surrounding why it was never released and forgotten about until now has a certain legendary quality to it. Although this release has slipped under the radar of the majority of music fans and critics, I can’t help but feel that Teakwood’s story is akin to that of the likes of Rodriguez or William Onyeabor with regards to the level of ambiguity surrounding them and the extent to which they have been unjustly ignored. For these reasons, I have to recommend this record more than I have recommended any previous album I have reviewed on this website, as it seems to me that the more people who discover this intriguing and amazing record, the closer we may come to unlocking all the secrets surrounding Teakwood and A Distant Star.
The Vinyl Verdict: 8/10