In the 1950s and '60s, folk revivalists rediscovered old records, interviewed the musicians who made them, and wove a textured, diverse, and mythic vision of the past. That spirit is alive today at such labels as the Chicago-based Numero Group.
Numero is best known for its Eccentric Soul series, which explores the lost treasures found on forgotten small-time R&B labels. But these pop archeologists' catalog covers many genres, some innately cool (the psychedelic country of Cosmic American Music, the Central American funk of Belize City Boil Up), some so relentlessly uncool that they attain an anti-hip cachet (the mellow '70s sounds of Private Yacht).
Much of the music is best described as "accidentally unique." None of the acts on The 123s of Kid Soul managed to become the Jackson 5—but did the world really need another Jackson 5? Better to have this ground-view glimpse at the children who wanted to be Jacksons but couldn't help sounding like themselves.
In other Numero releases, the performers' uniqueness doesn't slip out accidentally: The artists are too fiercely individual even to try to be anyone else. So it is with Jackie Shane, the transgender '60s soul singer showcased on the recent Any Other Way. The 79-page liner notes relay a life story that starts with a crossdressing kid singing in a Nashville church and then goes on to include a multitude of perhaps-apocryphal sights: carnival shows, Canadian mobsters, a con-man minister, the Holy Ghost manifesting in a nightclub, a chimpanzee trained to pick pockets. As mythic pasts go, this one is irresistible.