The Numero Group takes record-collecting to the level of archaeology, digging up everything from primo post-hardcore to obscure soul and trailblazing punk and reissuing it in smartly researched, beautifully packaged compilations. The Chicago label’s catalog is dizzyingly diverse, but the focus is always on unearthing a great story along with a worthy sonic artifact. In terms of both music and narrative, the Edge of Daybreak’s Eyes of Love, out October 15th, is one of the label’s most compelling finds. We’re offering an exclusive premiere of the title track.
Originally released as a private-press LP in 1979, Eyes of Love was recorded in jail. And unlike the performers on Johnny Cash’s At Folsom Prison and other similar albums, the musicians were actually inmates: residents of the Powhatan Correctional Center, located 30 miles west of Richmond, incarcerated for crimes ranging from armed robbery to a dubious assault charge. (All of the participants were released shortly after the album came out.)
The Edge of Daybreak grew out of Cosmic Conception, an earlier group that took advantage of Powhatan’s policy of allowing its inmates access to musical instruments. Singing drummer Jamal Jaha Nubi took the lead, and Cornelius Cade, James Carrington and Harry Coleman filled out the sound with guitar, keyboard and vocals, respectively. Along with bassist McEvoy Robinson, the group honed its chops covering material by soul fixtures the Isley Brothers, Slave, and Earth Wind and Fire.
In tribute to their shared hope of changing their circumstance, the members settled on a new name, the Edge of Daybreak. “Our bodies are in prison, but we want our hearts and minds to be with the free world,” read a note printed on the original LP jacket. “The Edge of Daybreak symbolizes the morning when each of the band members will be free.”
The group’s music made it out into the world before they did. Carrington had previously struck up a mail correspondence with Milton Hogue, owner of Bohannon’s Records and Tapes in Richmond, and he reached out in the hopes of securing financing for an Edge of Daybreak recording. Hogue came out to a rehearsal at Powhatan, liked what he heard and arranged for a visit by a mobile recording unit on September 14th, 1979. Prison supervisors granted the group just five hours for the eight-song session, forcing the band to play and sing everything live. As a result, Eyes of Love consists entirely of first takes.
The album isn’t likely to unseat any classics in the Seventies-soul canon, but as you’ll hear from the title track, it’s a high-quality session, filled with hooky writing, danceable grooves, nuanced lyrics and an overall air of care-free positivity that flies in the face of its behind-bars origin story.
Copies of Eyes of Love hit Bohannon’s, and the record received a healthy amount of local media attention in 1980. But the buzz died down, the Edge of Daybreak disbanded as the members in turn made parole, and sadly, all remaining copies of the 1,000 originally pressed were destroyed in a flood.
Enter the Numero Group, 35 years later. “With talented vocalists, writers, and arrangers among their ranks, the Edge Of Daybreak were able to conceive of and execute one of the era’s finest soul recordings, from the confines of Virginia’s worst penitentiary,” says label researcher Jon Kirby, who contributed liner notes to the new reissue. “Aside from a few Edge Of Daybreak newspaper articles, Eyes of Love was born into obscurity. And unless you happened upon Bohannon’s Records in downtown Richmond during the early Eighties, it’s unlikely you would’ve had the opportunity to purchase the self-produced masterpiece. We consider it a privilege to be able to give Eyes of Love the debut it deserves.”