The 1980s were huge for music in Minneapolis, especially the soul and funk scenes. Prince — and later the Time, Andre Cymone, and the dynamic duo Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis — catapulted into the mainstream and defined pop music for the better part of the decade. Purple Snow, however, is not that story. It is the prologue, covering the period during the late 1970s when local musicians were only just beginning to define the elements of what would eventually become the Minneapolis sound.
Fostered in a highly competitive market, where the number of acts greatly outnumbered the number of available gigs, groups like the Lewis Connection, Mind & Matter, Haze and the Girls developed a sleek, streamlined aesthetic driven by tight, motoric beats, sharp guitar licks, and a giddy embrace of new technology. Songs like Haze’s “Waiting for the Moment” and Steven’s “Quick” bubble over with synths and drum machines, celebrating the suddenly boundless possibilities of the machinery.
Purple Snow, the 50th release from Chicago-based reissue wizards the Numero Group, collects 32 tracks from this lively era. Many of the names will be familiar: Alexander O’Neal had a handful of hits during the ’80s, but his two tracks here are gritty New Wave funk, while Cymone’s “Somebody Said” hints at his collaborations with Prince and the supremely slinky hits he would eventually write for Jody Watley and Lalah Hathaway. Jam and Lewis appear as members of various bands, ensuring the prominence of the synthesizer in the Minneapolis Sound, and that’s Prince Rogers Nelson himself playing guitar on 94 East’s “If You See Me.” As with most Numero releases, however, the real discoveries are more obscure: On “Contagious,” Rockie Robbins proves a remarkably versatile slow-jam vocalist, while Sue Ann Carwell’s “Should I Or Should I Not?” presages both Apollonia and Vanity 6. All the big names make Purple Snow an important historical document, but that sense of musical invention and delirious celebration is timeless.