Lou Ragland – Is The Conveyor
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The last chapter of Lou Ragland’s Cleveland career was perhaps the most monumental. By its completion, Understand Each Other—more often referred to as The ConVeyor, with that uppercase V intentional but unexplained—featured generations of Cleveland luminaries, and representation from most scenes, both sexes, and several ethnicities. The album’s credits read like the guest list for a Lou Ragland episode of This Is Your Life. Kathy Grant was brought in to arrange the massive Cleveland Orchestra, inviting her father Frank in as first chair cello. A pre-O’Jays Dunn Pearson handled keys, and Richard Shann, the man who Pearson would replace in the O’Jays, got an arranger’s credit as well. The horn section was rounded out by Mother Brain Tree trombonist Ulysses Young, Bell Telefunk trumpeter Watson Vaughn, and future Dazz Band trumpeter Pierre Demudd. Lou’s live-in girlfriend Elaine Hines and her First Light singing mate Joyce Jenkins, both on break from stints with Terry Knight’s Grand Funk Railroad project, contributed backing vocals. One-time Co-Co co-owner Leonard Jackson brought his Temps knock-off the True Movement in as a male counter to First Light. In the middle of his stumbling career on the Miystic Insight label, Sonny Lovall adds another voice. Hot Chocolateers past and Seven Miles Highers present Tony Roberson, Herbert Pruitt, R. C. Johnson, Tom Tichar, James Johnson III, Joe Jenkins, and Pam Hamilton are all accounted for.
Understand Each Other opens with the socially conscious title track, gutting out a second place finish to Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?” in both its mission and its mix. Like Gaye’s own conceptual title track, there is not a dull moment in Ragland’s, as strings, horns, percussion, and vocal motifs rise and fall organically through the monumental piece. Lou testifies throughout, matching the complicated terrain of the dynamic opener. Two songs later, “Since You Said You’d Be Mine” gets its 30-second intro back and looks all the stronger for it. On Side B, Ragland revisits Love For Dollars And Cents’ “Into The Next World”—issued on Co-Co in 1972—stretching the song out toward the five-minute mark but truncating its title. The album closes with an instrumental “Understand Each Other,” reminding the listener to flip the record over and begin again.
The album’s jacket must be the most curious element of the package. The cover drawing, from the pen of Remus Peterson, depicts Lou Ragland as peacemaker, standing between a sabre-toothed tiger and a dove, asking them literally to “Understand Each Other.” On the reverse, that message is taken to the spiritual extreme. Sometime in 1977, Lou had taken on Lateef Mahmud as his spiritual guru in a brief flirtation with Islam (the Arabic on the sleeve translates to “God Is The Greatest”). Mahmud somehow snagged a producer credit, but he was also called on to pen an album preface. His notes conceive of music as a cosmic language, with this very LP itself compiled as a tribute to the “ghetto masters—those who master the ghetto and have become among those who help shape the destiny of this land.” Lou Ragland is deemed The Conveyor: “…the conveyor of harmony thru the ethers manifested in words, songs, and deeds to bring into focus the universal, educational, and inspirational plane of consciousness.” So Mahmud wasn’t all that far off, it turns out.
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