Last year's R&B rarities compilation Gilles Peterson Digs America jumped from highlight to highlight, beginning with the first song, "Didn't I," by little-remembered Bay Area player Darondo. A colorful character with a shady past, Darondo released three 45s in the early '70s, working essentially as an amateur. Aside from a brief stint as a local cable-TV personality more than 25 years ago, Darondo has shied away from show business, but his legend endures in large part because of the curious magic of those three singles. Their unforced synthesis of the era's dominant soul and funk styles helped measure the magnitude of artists like Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, Isaac Hayes, and James Brown, just by standing in their shadows.
The nine-song compilation Let My People Go assembles the A and B sides of Darondo's three 45s along with three recently unearthed demos, and it's a surprisingly diverse collection, given the short amount of time Darondo was a working musician. Between the title track's politicized Afrobeat, the lascivious funk grinder "Legs," and the Latin-tinged confessional "How I Got Over," Let My People Go practically catalogs the sounds of the inner city circa 1972. But Darondo wasn't just an opportunistic copycat (though his lush string hangings and cooing background singers echoed the commercial trends of the day), and he wasn't kitschy (though his songs sometimes lurch out of tune, goaded by his wrenching falsetto). The x-factor in all of these tracks is Darondo's idle, jazzy guitar, which has the intimate quality of a man sitting on the edge of his bed. If anything gives Darondo's songs their feeling of off-the-cuff R&B homage, it's the sense that he slapped them together just so he could pick a while.