Rotary Connection – "Peace"
Formed in Chicago in the mid-1960s, Rotary Connection was the brainchild of Marshall Chess, son of Chess Records founder Leonard Chess, and Charles Stepney, later a key advisor to Earth, Wind & Fire. Armed with a pre-fame Minnie Riperton on vocals, Rotary Connection entered the market at a time when just about every soul act was casually going psych for at least an album or two (see the Temptations’ Cloud Nine, the Four Tops’ Soul Spin or James Brown’s Sho’ Is Funky Down Here as examples) to sell to the then-expanding hippie audience. Amid this rush to cash-in, Rotary Connection projected an air of sincerity – here was a psychedelic soul band that had flown its freak flag from the get-go.
So it makes sense that for its third album, the Connection busted out a sublimely strange Christmas album called Peace. Seamlessly mixing psych and soul influences with traditional Christmas melodies, drawing on instrumentation ranging from a crack rhythm section to full-on orchestration, piercing electric guitar, church bells and everything else in between, the album is a compelling listen any time of year that deepens during the holidays. “Last Call For Peace” and “Shopping Bag Menagerie” use Christmas as a backdrop for stirring social commentaries, while Peace’s four interpretations of “Silent Night” give it the feeling of a song cycle. This is the rare Christmas album that merits being considered as a real record.