Eccentric Soul: Twinight’s Lunar Rotation
t was a happy coincidence that I threw on Numero Group’s Eccentric Soul: Twinight’s Lunar Rotation crawling to Chicago with $1.27 of McDonald’s coffee and my pops a quarter mile behind in a U-Haul, in one of those subconscious driving depressions where you never pay particular attention to the fact that you’ve smoothly been passing 18-wheelers for the last 40 miles. Soul music’s automation is aptly suited to this kind of blind hurtling, though it’s merely good luck that I was hearing the scattered productions of Chicago’s Twinight label as they were most regularly heard.
The “lunar rotation” is DJ lingo for middle-of-the-night airtime that goes mostly ignored, a time for “favors” to be returned to local producers and friends. Twinight’s proprietors, Howard Bedno and Peter Wright, were local industry graybeards who had a rep for developing solid airplay and jukebox spins for local acts amidst Chicago’s more prominent national artists with their Bedno-Wright Associates promotion company; industry guys with stacks of IOU’s piled in the basement and with their own debts to pay as well. Twinight, so named because the duo didn’t incorporate the preferred Twilight moniker swift enough, existed essentially to launder favors owed into favors paid: the gurus housed all of the daughters and cousins and pets under Twinight name and had enough swing to slip these oddities into radio’s deepest hours.
Twinight, then, has all the makings of a medium-great HBO drama series, replete with Bedno and Wright’s music industry game of spy vs. spy but also featuring the following: a star in Sly Johnson, Twinight’s lone cash cow who tracked eight of their nine charting singles and later served as its production guru and talent scout; a great house band with a better house band name—the Pieces of Peace—who went woefully uncredited in their time and still have an instrumental jazz-funk album lost in the vaults somewhere; and a rotating cast of would-be’s and favor scavengers, including John “The Devastator” Colley and the prodigious Renaldo Domino.
For the massive 40-track, double-disc Lunar Rotation, Numero eschews Johnson’s noted chart appearances and instead saddles up to the rest of the roster. Twinight, possibly because it was under the direction of professionals, retained a fairly consistent, if somewhat indistinct, sound between 1967 and 1972. Johnson was a handsome blues guitarist who shucked alongside some of the Chicago greats before Twinight, and he’s probably at least partially responsible for the smooth blues and gospel that pops up throughout Lunar Rotation. Still, Twinight is not unlike many of its Eccentric Soul brethren in that its size and idiosyncratic setup led to all manner and class of soul, so the odd flights are aplenty: the sheets of wavy guitar on Sidney Pinchback & Schiller Street Gang’s “Soul Strokes,” the ghost of girl-group pop on the Perfections’ “Which One Am I,” or effusive, rhythmic pop on Annette Poindexter’s awesome “Mama.”
With the exception of nascent Sly Stone fetishism and some amateur hour vocal miscues, Twilight is refreshingly devoid of grasping productions. The label’s most ornate arrangements are its most restrained and rewarding: check the slow, enveloping horns of the Krystal Generation’s “It Is Meant to Be” or Domino’s orchestra in miniature “Nevermore.” Those arrangements stray in subtle, measured doses, and the vast majority of Lunar Rotation is in-the-wheelhouse Chicago soul, a little bit silly and a tiny bit swinging, but robustly melodic and deeply felt all the way through. That these songs only saw the airwaves in small doses as late-night payola and favors gives them a warm, local feel. Twinight’s artists clung to small kernels of hope, spun late at night for a few curious, desperate, or drugged ears, and there’s no reason to remove them from their element.