Thursday, 28 March 2019

Ready Steady Go: The Number One Sixties Album Volume Two

First and foremost, here is the TRACK LISTING -


1. Do You Love Me- The Dave Clark Five
2. Go Now - The Moody Blues
3. I Heard It Through The Grapevine- Marvin Gaye
4. In The Midnight Hour- Wilson Pickett
5. Keep On Running- Spencer Davis Group
6. You Really Got Me - The Kinks
7. Just One Look - The Hollies
8. Monday, Monday - The Mamas & The Papas
9. All I Really Want To Do - The Byrds
10. Happy Together - The Turtles
11. Baby Come Back - The Equals
12. Wonderful World, Beautiful People - Jimmy Cliff
13. Knock On Wood - Eddie Floyd
14. I Want You - Bob Dylan
15. Baby Please Don't Go - Them
16. Everybody's Talkin' - Harry Nilsson
17. Stop! In The Name Of Love - Diana Ross & The Supremes
18. Only The Lonely - Roy Orbison
19. Save The Last Dance For Me - The Drifters
20. The Mighty Quinn - Manfred Mann
21. Hole In My Shoe - Traffic
22. I Get Around - The Beach Boys
23. The Tears Of A Clown - Smokey Robinson & The Miracles
24.  Spanish Harlem - Aretha Franklin
25. With A Little Help From My Friends - Joe Cocker


1. Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday - Stevie Wonder
2. Because - The Dave Clark Five
3. Alfie - Dionne Warwick
4. Let It Be Me - The Everly Brothers
5. Raining In My Heart - Buddy Holly
6. When The Girl In Your Arms Is The Girl In Your Heart - Cliff Richard
7. Unchained Melody - The Righteous Brothers
8. Half Way To Paradise - Billy Fury
9. Let The Heartaches Begin - Long John Baldry
10. Green, Green Grass Of Home - Tom Jones
11. When A Man Loves A Woman - Percy Sledge
12. Stand By Me - Ben E. King
13. (Sitting on the) Dock Of The Bay - Otis Redding
14. My Girl - The Temptations
15. Losing You - Dusty Springfield
16. Make It Easy On Yourself - The Walker Brothers
17. Je T'Aime, Moi Non Plus - Jane Birkin & Serge Gainsbourg
18. Albatross - Fleetwood Mac
19. Love Is All Around - The Troggs
20. True Love Ways - Peter & Gordon
21. Bring It On Home To Me - The Animals
22. As Usual - Brenda Lee
23. I'm Gonna Be Strong - Gene Pitney
24. What A Wonderful World - Louis Armstrong
25. First Of May - The Bee Gees

Now, we all know what great tracks most of these are. Nevertheless, it is the SOUND that I wish to review here though, as it is simply the best remastering of sixties singles that I have ever heard, far better, for example that "The Best Sixties Album..." series. This collection is not quite as good as the first CD in this series (white cover) however, but it ain't half bad.

The sound is clear, warm, bassy and in great separated stereo on most tracks. I cannot emphasise enough how good the sound is on these tracks. However, I am a huge fan of bassy remasters, so if you prefer your music trebly and tinny, this is not for you.

Ready Steady Go: The Number One Sixties Album

Firstly, and most importantly, here is the track listing:-


1. 5-4-3-2-1 - Manfred Mann
2. Glad All Over - Dave Clark Five
3. My Generation - The Who
4. Dancing In The Street - Martha & The Vandellas
5. For Once In My Life - Stevie Wonder
6. You Don't Have To Say You Love Me - Dusty Springfield
7. You'll Never Walk Alone - Gerry & The Pacemakers
8. Gimme Some Lovin' - The Spencer Davis Group
9. Tired Of Waiting For You - The Kinks
10. Baby Love - Diana Ross & The Supremes
11. The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore - The Walker Brothers
12. All Or Nothing - The Small Faces
13. Wild Thing - The Troggs
14. There's A Kind Of Hush
15. Carrie-Anne - The Hollies
16. The Onion Song - Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell
17. Mr. Tambourine Man - The Byrds
18. Oh Pretty Woman - Roy Orbison
19. I Got You Babe - Sonny & Cher
20. Respect - Aretha Franklin
21. My Girl - Otis Redding
22. The House Of The Rising Sun - The Animals
23. Nights In white Satin - The Moody Blues
24. Good Vibrations - The Beach Boys
25. A Whiter Shade Of Pale - Procol Harum


1. Papa's Got A Brand New Bag - James Brown
2. Reach Out I'll Be There - The Four Tops
3. Walk On By - Dionne Warwick
4. Yeh, Yeh - Georgie Fame
5. Shout - Lulu
6. Bend Me, Shape Me - Amen Corner
7. Jesamine - The Casuals
8. There's Always Something There To Remind Me - Sandie Shaw
9. The Twelfth Of Never - Cliff Richard
10. A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You - The Monkees
11. Blackberry Way - The Move
12. Groovin' - The Rascals
13. Catch The Wind - Donovan
14. This Old Heart Of Mine - The Isley Brothers
15. Will You Love Me Tomorrow - The Shirelles
16. Israelites - Desmond Dekker
17. You've Got Your Troubles - The Fortunes
18. Concrete And Clay - Unit Four Plus Two
19. Needles And Pins - The Searchers
20. Twenty Four Hours From Tulsa - Gene Pitney
21. I Will - Billy Fury
22. Here Comes The Night - Them
23. It's My Party - Lesley Gore
24. Melting Pot - Blue Mink
25. I've Gotta Get A Message To You - The Bee Gees

Now, we all know what great tracks most of these are, and a very good selection it is too. It is the SOUND that I wish to review here though, as it is simply the best remastering of sixties singles that I have ever heard, far better, for example that "The Best Sixties Album..." series. It contains the best remastering of Procol Harum's A Whiter Shade Of Pale that I have heard thus far. Similarly Blackberry Way, The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore and Gimme Some Lovin'.

The sound is clear, warm, bassy and in great separated stereo on most tracks. I cannot emphasise enough how good the sound is on these tracks. However, I am a huge fan of bassy remasters, so if you prefer your music trebly and tinny, this is not for you.

Before you ask, yes, these are ALL the original recordings, which sometimes is not the case with sixties material.

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Third World

Reggae, disco, funk and soul merge here....

Third World (1976)

It is a shame that Third World, a mid-late seventies reggae band but one influenced not only by the reggae of their native Jamaica, but also by disco, soul and funk, were often not given the respect or credibility they deserved from reggae "purists". Many such people accused them of "selling out" both to other types of music and also commercially. as I said, this was a real pity, because they were a excellent band, producing three great albums - this one, 1977's 96º In The Shade and 1978's Journey To Addis. They recorded many more after that, but you can't go far wrong with their first three as an example of a genuine reggae fusion band at their very best. Also, the artwork on the covers of these albums is wonderful too. The criticisms are off the mark, particularly on this excellent debut album. Roots reggae is all over it. From the rumbling bass and conga potency and roots power of the opener, Satta Amasa Gana to the roots consciousness of Slavery Days, roots ideologies are right at the centre of much of this album. They have taken these tracks, from The Abyssnians and Burning Spear, kept their roots essence but put their own stamp on them and they should be praised for it.

Satta Amasa Gana has great percussion, wonderful keyboard swirls, intoxicating conga rhythms, skanking guitar and that instantly recognisable light, airy vocal from Milton "Prilly" Hamilton, later replaced by the late Bunny Rugs, who sang in virtually the same style. Great guitar solo at the end too. Just as Bob Marley and Chris Blackwell did on 1973's Catch A Fire, by using a rock guitar sound, Third World have captured the same vibe, as indeed did mid seventies London band, Cymande.

Kumina is a brief interlude of tribal-Rastafarian-style drumming before we are led by a throbbing bass and a lilting lead guitar into the cover of Burning Spear's 1975 classic Slavery Days. Third World turn it to a seven minute reggae meets jazz meets funk cooking, atmospheric triumph. It has a most unexpected jazzy ending too. Brand New Beggar is a pulsating number, with a soulful vocal and backing organ-percussion feel to it. It was these soul stylings that were used so successfully on the band's two huge hits, Now That We've Found Love and You've Got Me Dancing on The Floor.

Cross Reference is another Rasta-chant interlude, this time with some searing rock guitar licks at the end. Roots, Rock, Reggae, for sure. Then we get a sublime, laid-back, summery reggae-jazz-soul ballad in Got To Get Along. Beautiful. It could almost be Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes. Again, another stonking piece of guitar at the end. Third World's fusion is always interesting and alluring. It should never be unfairly criticized. Nobody else was really doing full albums of this sort of musical variation within the reggae genre. Some blues harmonica introduces Sun Won't Shine and some stabbing, spacey synthesiser sounds before some skanking reggae kicks in. Freedom Song has what sounds like a horn solo, but is probably a keyboard, another track where traditional Rasta philosophy is given a musical boost by the integration of other styles.

** The non-album extra track, the band's first single, Don't Cry On The Railroad Track, has a conventional reggae backing, but an O'Jays style soulful vocal.

96˚ In The Shade (1977)

After an impressive, inventive and often inspirational debut album, the intriguing Third World returned in 1977 with this equally notable album. 
Theirs was a mesmerising mix of roots reggae, soulful vocals, disco stylings on occasions and many “world music” sounds. The opening track, Jah Glory, is a perfect example of this - great, airy, tuneful vocals and all sorts of tropical sounds in the backing. Just perfect music for a hot summer’s day. There is, of course, a rasta consciousness to the band’s lyrics but it never overwhelms the music, that washes over you like a cool Caribbean breeze.

Tribal War is a Rasta-drum rhythm backed intoxicating groover, backed by some seriously “crucial” lead guitar and some deep, urgent lyrics. This is one of the most “roots” tracks on the album, suitable for any “punky reggae party” playlist. 
The mood changes now for the truly beautiful Dreamland, a cover of Bunny Wailer’s track from his Blackheart Man album of the previous year. This is a light, airy version that sweeps into your room like opening the window on a sunny day. Feel A Little Better has that thumping disco groove that the band used so successfully on their hit single Now That We’ve Found Love - harmonious vocals, rhythmic drums and some cutting, razor-sharp guitar interjections. The beat is hypnotic on cuts like this. Third World at their very best.

Human Market Place is the most melodic condemnation of slavery there is. The song has a tragic, serious message over an insistent, solid, dubby rhythm, with a great vibes solo bit in the middle and some excellent bongos. It also features some sampled “sound effects” market place hubbub noises that add to the atmosphere. Great bass on it too. Third World Man features some top class vocals and some almost electronic backing in places. Some stunning guitar in the middle passage. Like Peter Tosh, Third World were afraid to utilise rock guitar. 96˚ In The Shade just exudes heat. It is simply one of the best hot day songs ever. An exhilarating backing, one used so much by UB40 on their Signing Off album three years later. Some Spanish guitar adds even more to the hot, summery feel. This is not an album to play in the winter. Rhythm Of Life has an almost rock-style drum intro and is a potent but incredibly catchy number, with a singalong chorus refrain. It also has a sort of jazzy drum solo piece in the middle. It is a positive, upbeat end to a highly pleasurable album. The band’s debut album was good, but this one is even better. As always, an excellent cover, too.

Journey To Addis (1978)

This was Third World's third studio album, and, following on from the appealing 96º In The Shade is further cemented the switch from pure, rootsy reggae to a fusion of reggae and soul. That said, there was still a solid roots vibe and message to the band's material. As always with the early Third World albums, it had a great cover.
One Cold Vibe (Couldn't Stop Dis Ya Boogie) begins with a little bit of prog rock-style keyboards before it kicks into an airy, breezy, crystal clear percussive easy reggae groove. Lead vocalist Bunny Rugs had a great, laid-back and melodious voice. It was perfect for this type of soulful, almost jazzy reggae. There was still a bit of Rasta message, however, spiritual matters were never far from the surface in Third World's music, but it was never hard-core roots. The rhythms, though, are incredibly intoxicating.

Cold Sweat gets into that effortless groove that just makes you want to be in the Caribbean under the sun. The percussion is just so good. So clear and sharp. Mix that with a big, rumbling bass and you have a great sound. 
Cool Meditation, as the title would suggest, ploughs the same furrow. Rugs's voice is higher-pitched on this one, but wonderfully delivered. It also features some Stevie Wonder-style harmonica, unusual for a reggae track.

African Woman is a slow burner with an almost funky bass line and a deep, thumping rhythm. Some lovely guitar swirls around this track. 
Now That We've Found Love was, of course, their massive "fusion" hit - combining easy skanking reggae, soul vocals and disco vibes, it appealed to a wide variety of record buyers. This wasn't surprising, it is a great track with an infectious summery feel and an instantly memorable, singalong hook. Journey To Addis is a sumptuous instrumental, with some funky wah-wah guitar, killer lead guitar and big rubber band bass. This a great stuff, that bass line is superb, as indeed are the horns. UB40 surely took a lot of influence from this. Fret Not Thyself is the album's first true Rasta devotional, with "trust in Jah Lord..." lyrics. Rejoice is a socially conscious, soulful number also with Rasta sentiments to finish what was a positive, feel-good album. Recommended.

If you like Third World, you may also enjoy :-
Gregory Isaacs
Peter Tosh

Monday, 25 March 2019

Isaac Hayes

Composer, musician, producer, songwriter, singer and chain-kini wearer....

Presenting Isaac Hayes (1968)

This was Isaac Hayes' first album and was recorded, apparently, to appease the head of Stax Records. Hayes had previously been a major songwriter for the label. I am not sure why he was put under pressure to record the album, but he was, and, together with three members of Booker T. & The MGs, they cobbled together an album. In doing so, Hayes almost inadvertently developed the style of recording extended, slow soul versions of existing songs, upon which he would base his solo career over the next ten years or so. It was a five track album, again something that would become the norm for Hayes. Stylistically, though, this was very much a jazz album, as opposed to a soul one. Jazz piano is the dominant sound.
Precious, Precious was initially recorded as a nineteen-minute piano-driven jazzy jam and was dramatically edited down to two minutes forty-two seconds for the album. It is basically some jazzy piano lines and some grunting, groaning vocal improvisations from Hayes. He sounds a bit like one of the Muppets. To be honest, it is one of the least impressive cuts he ever recorded. Up next is a dead slow, late night version of Nat King Cole's When I Fall In Love. Hayes' voice really hasn't developed well at this point. It is nowhere near the soulful weapon it was two or three years later. In fact on this track it is decidedly unimpressive. Isaac is certainly no Nat King Cole on this one. Now we get three lengthy numbers. Medley: I Just Want To Make Love To You/Rock Me Baby is done in a laid-back jazzy style. As opposed to Hayes' subsequent extended grooves, which were orchestrated soul with funky influences, this is very jazzy. I have to say, though, that the vocal is often a bit slurred, and it sounds a bit as if Isaac has been on the Bourbon and is doing it as a big mickey-take. The story is that Hayes and the band were considerably "under the influence" after a party when they recorded this. That does not surprise me. Maybe some would disagree and claim it as a piece of classic soul improvisation. I can certainly say that for any of Hayes' following albums, but, unfortunately not for this one. The speeded-up bit at the end, though, is an improvement. 

Going To Chicago/Misty is musically excellent, but once more the slurred vocals lets it down. Every now and again Hayes hits a good vocal line, but then the quality dips again. He attempts to "rap" in the way he would develop in his later albums, but it doesn't quite work. The bass and piano interplay on this is sublime, however. You Don't Know Like I Know is a jaunty piece of piano jazz that is a pleasant listen (probably because there are no vocals). Sorry Isaac, you were great on all the albums that came along after 1969's iconic Hot Buttered Soul, but this one just doesn't do it for me. As I said before, though, musically, it is very impressive. Actually, a couple of listens in and it starts to grow on you, but it clearly is an inferior piece of work to all his later, superb offerings.

Hot Buttered Soul (1969)

This was Isaac Hayes' second album. His first, Presenting Isaac Hayes had not been much of a success and, apparently, he demanded free reign from Stax Records to do what he wanted on this album. He sure did that. In 1969, albums featuring only four tracks of lengthy soul workouts were not exactly de riguer. In so many ways, this album blazed a new trail. Barry White was still four years away from doing similar  material. The album showed that soul could be coal-mine deep, drawn-out, dramatic, funky and passionate. Hayes suddenly had a new persona - the cool, growling-voiced but sensuous loverman. Soul music changed with this release, not as obviously as with What's Going On or Curtis - maybe, in that it carried no social message - but certainly stylistically.
Walk On By is Isaac's take on the song made famous by Dionne Warwick. This ain't nothin' like that, brother. It is a slow burning, slow building, smoocher of a groove that features, as well as Hayes' deep, late night vocal, some searing guitar. It really crashes in at the end of its twelve minutes and the only downside is the slightly disconcerting bit where the volume goes up and down and you think there is something wrong with your system. 

Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic. This tongue-twisting titled number is superbly funky - full to the brim with big, fatback bass, thumping drums, clunking piano, seductive backing vocals and Isaac grunting here and there. It gets into its groove and just keeps going, marvellously. It also, clearly, qualifies as one of the longest song titles and one of the most non-sensical. One Woman is a delicious slice of "come over here honey" soul. The original recording always had a scratchy bit at about 2:50 seconds. Even the remastered version I now have has not failed to eliminate this. No real matter though, when Isaac and his backing singers trade off vocal pyrotechnics  as the song reaches its glorious denouement.

By The Time We Get To Phoenix was written by Jimmy Webb, made famous by Glen Campbell, this is the album's tour de force. It is over eighteen minutes long and features an extended preacher-style spoken introduction from Hayes telling us all about the song's protagonist's back story to the song. A subtle bass rumbles as Hayes narrates until over the eight and a half minute mark. At that point he soulfully and effortlessly leads into the song. The song reaches a climax with some excellent horn backing and the band gets louder and louder. There is, of course, a case for it being just too damn long. That applies to many tracks on many Hayes albums. I can accept that to an extent, but on the other hand, those bloated, extended workouts were the albums' selling points. Anyway, this is a highly recommended and unique album.

The Isaac Hayes Movement (1970)

Coming not long after the unique, ground-breaking four-track album that was Hot Buttered SoulIsaac Hayes released another one. It was similarly impressive. He had really hit on something here. He was taking soul music to another level.
I Stand Accused has a long, spoken intro before Hayes eventually breaks out into the song. Keen listeners will recognise some of the spoken lyrics as those used by UB40 on Guilty on their 1983 Labour Of Love album. When the song arrives, Hayes's soulful vocal lifts it so high. Beautiful stuff. Classic soul right there. You better believe it, brother. The cynically-titled One Big Unhappy Family is a big, Stax-y soul number with a yearning, heart-broken vocal from Hayes. Dusty Springfield's I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself is a dignified, soulful rendition. Again, the vocal is excellent, as, of course, is the backing from The Bar-Kays

George Harrison's Something is given a quirky makeover, with some nice electric violin, but a lot of the beauty of the song is lost beneath all the orchestration and backing vocals. This one doesn't quite work for me. It does end with some almost prog-rock inventive instrumentation, however, that makes it a most unusual offering. Some of these experimental covers come off better than others, it has to be said. This one sounds like a bit of a mess to me, despite is obvious ingenuity. I know that sounds bad, but there is a lack of cohesion, in my opinion. Overall, I prefer Hot Buttered Soul, but this is not without is good points, particularly the first two tracks.

...To Be Continued (1970)

This was Isaac Hayes's fourth studio album It followed again what was now a familiar path of lengthy soul workouts over sumptuous backing provided by the immaculate Bar-Kays. It was now the thing to do for Isaac Hayes - to issue soul albums with just a few long tracks on them. It really was ground-breaking. Nobody else was doing such a thing. Even The Undisputed Truth had a few shorter tracks alongside their epic numbers.

Ike's Rap 1/Our Day Will Come is a low-key spoken "rap", in which Isaac talks quietly over a subtle keyboard, bass, strings and drum backing. It merges into the slow grace of Our Day Will Come. It is a slow-paced, smooth soul ballad with a deep, intense vocal. It finishes with a lovely bass-driven instrumental part. The eleven minute cover of Bacharach-David's The Look Of Love is just glorious. Backed with wonderful strings and horns, it is packed with classic soul atmosphere. Once more, Hayes's vocal is seriously underrated. He was rarely spoken of as a great vocalist, but he shows great versatility on all these early seventies albums. The track also has a winning funky-ish instrumental break half way through, with delicious percussion, guitar and organ. Some punchy brass is joined by a funky wah-wah guitar before we get some blaxploitation soundtrack evocative parts to end with.

Monologue: Ike's Mood/You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling is a fifteen-minute masterpiece that builds up slowly with some seductive orchestration and backing vocals. It is a long time before Hayes sings. Over six minutes before he launches into the well-known opening lines of The Righteous Brothers' anthem. Hayes's delivery suits the drama of the song. Runnin' Out Of Fools is another slow burner with Isaac soulfully singing over a gospelly backing vocal. This is not as essential an album as Hot Buttered Soul or Black Moses, but a ground-breaking and enjoyable album all the same.

Shaft (1971)

This is the best known of several "Blaxploitation" movie soundtracks from the early-mid seventies and, despite its emphasis, particularly at the beginning of the album, on some mainly short-ish instrumental interludes from the movie, they are very good ones. So much so that they never really feel like background music. The instrumentation and musicianship from The Bar-Kays, under the direction of Hayes, is top notch and the sound quality excellent. The good thing about this album is that whereas some soundtrack albums are often not an easy listen without the movie to watch at the same time, this one has the music standing alone. You find that you can listen to it quite easily, treating it as an instrumental album. It was initially released as a double album and despite its lack of vocal tracks, proved a good seller. Listening to it, you can understand why. It is a truly excellent piece of work.                               

Everyone surely knows the opening Theme From Shaft by now, full of funk, that killer wah-wah riff, the trumpet lines and those "cool" vocal interjections we love so much. "He's a complicated man, and nobody understands him but his woman...". I always loved that line, indulgently applying it to myself at times (!). Yes, I know, I know. Walk From Regio's, although short, has some excellent percussion as does Bumpy's Lament, while the sweeping strings of Ellie's Love Theme, enhanced by vibes, provide a jazzy, romantic piece. Shaft's Cab Ride has some nice funky wah-wah and a punchy brass backing. There are some extended tracks as well, and the jazzy, brassy funk of Cafe Regio's is one of those, very redolent of seventies New YorkEarly Sunday Morning is a delicious, slow, sleepy number, absolutely dripping with atmosphere. It is beautiful at times. This is quality stuff, you don't actually miss the vocals. 

Be Yourself is a chugging, soulful groove with some superb saxophone. Once again, one is pleasantly surprised at just how good it is. A Friend's Place is sumptuous as well, with more impressive saxophone soloing. We eventually get a vocal number in the glorious soul of Soulsville, with Hayes contributing a lovely, warm, deep vocal. It is simply a wonderful track. No Name Bar is a flute and brass dominated number with some funky drumming too. That saxophone is back near the end too, or is a trumpet? Maybe the latter on closer listen. Bumpy's Blues is very much what you would imagine when thinking of soundtrack music, but it has to be said that the drums lift it higher than that and the guitar is intoxicating as is the sax, again!  Shaft Strikes Again is a sweet, melodic Bacharach-style trumpet-driven smoocher. "Now lay down on that couch, honey....".

The album's tour de force is a vocal number, the gargantuan, nineteen-minute Do Your Thing. Isaac Hayes at his very best. Some of the funky, brassy breaks on here are addictive, particularly when they merge with that searing guitar. Yes, it probably goes on a bit too long, but the interplay around twelve and a half minutes is magnificent. The last couple of minutes are unfortunately made up of unnecessary guitar feedback. The End Theme reprises that classic riff from the opener. This is one of the best soundtrack albums of all time, maybe the best. It never, ever gets tiresome and is instrumentally perfect. I love it and I am not any sort of soundtracks aficionado. It is so evocative of seventies New York. Highly recommended.

Tough Guys (1974)

A brief shout out here for another fine Hayes movie soundtrack album - this one from 1974. If anything, in places it is deeper and funkier than Shaft. Its highlights are the funky Title Theme, Hung Up On My Baby, Randolph & Dearborn and Run Fay Run. It is certainly worth the occasional listen, but it is not essential. 

Black Moses (1971)

After the extended soul grooves, often of easy listening or other soul standards, on Hot Buttered Soul and ...To Be Continued, and the iconic movie soundtrack ShaftIsaac Hayes gave us this, his first double album. Basically, it was more of the same - lengthy, seductive soulful workouts immaculately played by The Bar-Kays and topped off with Hayes's deep, but honeyed vocals. The album is full of serious soul and funk. It doesn't have the social message of Marvin Gaye or Curtis Mayfield's material, or that of The Temptations or The Undisputed Truth, for that matter. What it has is love - big, late-night love. Without this as an inspiration, would there have been any Barry White sensual, semi-spoken "lay down on the couch, honey" numbers? Hayes wrote the book of "loverman" cliches with this. That is not to say that it is not seriously soulful, though. It is chock full of deep soul. Regarding its cultural effect - this was a soul artist putting out a very credible, uncommercial double album. Stuff like this really provided a landmark in the development of soul-black music.                            
Never Say Goodbye is a deep, resonant version of the upbeat song made famous by The Jackson 5 and later by Gloria Gaynor. This ain't no disco number. It is a sultry slow burner. The cover of The Carpenters'  (They Long To Be) Close To You doesn't really work for me and, for once, the accusation that it goes on too long holds some weight. It seems to lose the beauty of the original melody somewhat. Nothing Takes The Place Of You is a sumptuous, deep soul ballad with an almost slow rock 'n' roll-style piano backing. Man's Temptation is an organ and backing vocal driven groover, with a rumbling bass line and some funky wah-wah guitar. Hayes' vocal is supremely deep and warm. The beat on this is magnificently grinding, in an insistent, bassy fashion. It is addictive soul music of the highest quality.

Part-Time Love is so deliciously funky. It has an almost reggae-like intro and some infectious percussion. It is another eight minute groove. This album was also notable for its three spoken "raps", which featured Hayes speaking a long, yearning intro over a subtle bass-keyboard backing before eventually launching into the song that is linked with each rap. The intros are very much in the style of the songs Barry White would specialise in just a few years later. His songs were more string orchestrated, though. Hayes's are more purely soulful in their bass, piano and drum backing. Strings are used, and brass too, but it that slow seductive bass rhythm that underpins the material. Going in Circles has that distinctive orchestration and guitar interjection sound that so characterised Walk On By on Hot Buttered Soul
Never Gonna Give You Up is not the song that Barry White would later write. Strange that they both wrote songs with similar titles and the same sentiments and ambience. It is more of a smooth soul number than a gritty, funky one, actually in the Barry White mode. 

Need To Belong To Someone is a wonderful piece of melodic but grand soul. Hayes's vocals are simply superb here. He is not always given the credit he deserves for his vocals. Good Love 6-9-9-6-9 is an upbeat, pounding slice of soul-rock that offers a different feel to much of the album. Great guitar on it too. For The Good Times is the easy-listening Perry Como song, and is done in suitably crooning fashion, but with a solid soul backing. I'll Never Fall In Love Again is the Bacharach-David song made famous by Bobbie Gentry and Dionne Warwick. Hayes's version is suitably evocative. There is no doubt that this is a special album, although you only need to dip into a few tracks at a time to appreciate them as a whole sitting of the entire double album is just a little bit like eating too much sticky toffee pudding. Having said that, it does make you want to keep coming back for more.

Joy (1973)

Isaac Hayes stared the early seventies trend for lengthy, smoochy, late-night soul workouts that was continued by Barry White. Hayes often took established classics, either soul songs or easy-listening Burt Bacharach-Hal David numbers, slowing them down and giving them the whole orchestrated soul  treatment. By 1973, he had released four albums in this style (not counting his debut or the Shaft soundtrack). This would be the last one specifically like this (only five tracks). Later ones would see a few more tracks per album and lengths of around six minutes as opposed to twelve, fifteen or eighteen. By 1977, Hayes had caught on to the disco thang, man. So, this is the sort of end of a mini-era. Notably, there are no covers on here, they are all Hayes originals. Deep, seductive soul is the order of the day, too, as opposed to dramatic, orchestrated numbers. Special mention goes out for the gold chain string vest as modelled on the rear cover. Did he really think that was a cool look? Maybe he did.
Joy is, dare I say, a joy. From the opening percussion, bass, funky guitar and strings, it has that deep dramatic feel. Then the horns gently ease their way in and you get that typical mid-seventies soundtrack sound. This wasn't a soundtrack piece, but it sho'nuff sounds like it, brother. Isaac arrives soon after with a deep, resonant, soulful late-night vocal. The sound on this is gloriously deep, warm and bassy. Soul/funk perfection. Isaac out-Barrys Barry White here. Fifteen minutes long. The track never strays from its seductive groove throughout. Isaac finds that point and keeps it.

I Love You That's All
 starts with a cheesy spoken bit between Isaac and a female lover as he pours her some champagne, complete with bubbles and slurpuing noises. Two minutes it lasts. When the music arrives it is unsurprisingly, full of growled, whispering spoken vocals over a gentle beat and romantic strings. All good turn down the lights fare. A few orgasmic noises arrive to see the track to its climax, so to speak. Job done, Isaac. It was quite de rigeur to have female pleasure in the background in mid-seventies soul records. 
Major Harris's Love Won't Let Me Wait and Donna Summer's Love To Love You Baby spring to mind. I sort of miss those shameless seduction numbers. 
A Man Will Be A Man is another in the deep, sensual soul mode. It is a slow pace, warm ballad. The Feeling Keeps Coming is a sublime piece of intense funky soul with a captivating, slow bassy beat. I'm Gonna Make It (Without You) may as well be Barry White - the spoken intro, the backing, it could all have come from Stone 'Gon. At nearly ten minute it is probably a tiny bit too long, but I'm not really complaining, it just washes over you like a warm bath. Overall, this is probably my favourite of the great early seventies Isaac Hayes "stretched-out soul" albums.
Branded (1995)

A ”comeback” album some twenty-five years or so after his recording peak, this is a nice mix of funk and "let’s get it on baby" seduction fare. Life’s Mood is a delicious funk ‘n’ strings instrumental - bass, brass, wah-wah and sweeping strings. It merges seamlessly into a sublime, soulful cover of Sting’s Fragile. The rhythmic instrumental vibe continues into Life’s Mood II. All sumptuous, classy stuff. It is the best passage of tracks on the album.

Summer In The City is a typically funky Hayes cover of The Lovin’ Spoonful’s sixties song. Wah-wahs to the fore. Time to head for the bedroom, maybe? Let Me Love You does the lurrvin’ business, Barry White-style, complete with loverman spoken vocal. In fact it never gets above whispering pace throughout the song. “Let me traverse your peaks and valleys” growls Isaac. “Let me give you the ride of your life”. Indeed. Slow funk is back on the tough grind but still seductive I’ll Do Anything To Turn You On. Thanks To The Fool is another Barry White-esque semi-spoken growler of a confessional track. 

It is time Isaac upped the beat a bit and he does it on the attractively funky Branded. The track acts as a bit of an antidote to all that breathy bedroom fare. It features a great bit of wah-wah, drum and saxophone interplay in the middle too. The last two tracks are re-workings of  old tracks - the gospelly Soulsville and the extended, bassy funk of Hyper.... which adds a contemporary rap but is as good as it ever was. Check out the break in the middle, great stuff. A good funk ‘n’ smooch album, this one.

Check out the Wattstax album as well - on which Hayes briefly features - here :-

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Joanne Shaw Taylor

Joanne Shaw Taylor is from Wednesbury in the West Midlands, not from the Mississippi Delta, would you believe....

White Sugar (2009)

This, her assured debut album from 2009, is certainly an impressive offering of earthy blues rock. Compared to 2014’s comparatively “in your face” all out, bombastic blues rock guitar and throaty voice attack, this is a slightly more subtle affair. The bass is certainly more inventive and melodious and some of Joanne’s guitar work is stunning, such as the outstanding solo on White Sugar, and on Time Has Come for that matter. 

Tracks like Kiss The Ground Goodbye and Just Another Word have the requisite blues power but they also have a warm, appealing melodiousness that is lost in the more edgy, more outright “rockier” material of the afore-mentioned later album. Even an all out slow burning rocker like Watch 'Em Burn has a tuneful bass underpin to it. Everything is pretty much perfect on this breathtaking debut.

Pretty much every track has a killer solo from Joanne on it. The drums are clear and powerful and the bass is as I said before. The musical set up is a basic one - guitar, bass and drums - but it is perfect here. Listen to the deep, rumbling intro to Heavy Heart and then Joanne’s deep, rich blues voice kicks in. This is a great track. Excellent guitar and bass interplay at the end of this one. Blackest Day, the album’s closer, is seven minutes of slowed-down, sexy, soulful blues rock heaven. Wonderful. As with most blues rock material, there is not a huge amount of variation, either musically or lyrically. You don’t suddenly get a funk number or a piano ballad or some vaudeville, (as on a Queen or Paul McCartney album). What you get is honest, straight down the middle blues rock.

Diamonds In The Dirt (2010)

After her stunning debut album 2009’s White Sugar, West Midlands blues girl Joanne relocated to the USA (which would obviously suit her music) and produced this album in 2010.

Just listen to the opener, Can't Keep Living Like This. A slow, acoustic beginning and some ethereal, late night lyrics for a while and you are lulled into a false sense of security and think “Joanne’s changed her style and gone all reflective” and then BOOM! The drums, bass and her searing guitar kick in and we get four or five minutes of full on, gravel-voiced earthy blues rock heaven. The quality continues with the rich, warm power of the cooking Dead And Gone. Lordy, this girl can play the blues! The cleverly-titled Same As It Never Was has a nice, tuneful, more subtle opening, with a great bass line underpinning. Joanne’s voice is lovely on this one too, showing she can vary the tone when required.

As on White Sugar, there is a killer guitar solo on literally every track. Jump That Train is a Southern-style blues Gregg Allman would have been proud of. Who Do You Love continues the high standard, with more great guitar and a good slow bit in the middle and the title track, Diamonds In The Dirt, has a knockout soulful vocal over an intoxicating backing. Look, I could go on, track after track. This is simply a great album. It blows you away. Another reviewer somewhere has said it is “the mutt’s nuts”. They are dead right. And some.

The Dirty Truth (2014)

As I have said in the previous reviews - would you believe this girl is from Wednesbury in the West Midlands? She sounds like she could be from the backwoods of Kentucky or the Mississippi Delta. With a voice like she gargles on Jack Daniels and razor blades she plays a dirty, mean blues guitar.

Released in 2014, Joanne admitted she was aiming for a more full on, denser, edgier, rockier feel to this album. Some fans have not liked this so much, but there again, many have. This is a kick posterior copper-bottomed quality hard blues rock album. Recorded, apparently and suitably, in Memphis.
Kicking off with the storming guitar rocker, Mud Honey, the tone is set for the whole album. Although the album is studio recorded, there is an almost "live" feel to it, as if everything has been recorded in one take. Whether that is the truth or not, it certainly sounds like it. The Dirty Truth, the title track, is a rumbling, slow burner with just magnificent blues guitar on it and, of course, Joanne's voice is just incredible. She is the real deal. There a lot of these female blues rockers around at the moment - Susan TedeschiJoanna ConnorGrace Potter and, of course, the grand old lady of the blues, Bonnie Raitt. While somebody like Bonnie certainly had her soft moments, Joanne Shaw Taylor ain't no soft, fluffy lady, even when singing of love, such as on the slow, emotional but tough Wicked Soul. Her throaty fire always burns hot. She doesn't let up. Not her style. Great guitar on this one too, as indeed on most of them. 

Fool In Love has a nice, less "in your face", slightly more melodic vibe to it and Joanne shows she can soften the tone just a little bit. The song still rocks though. Another impressive guitar part half way through.

Wrecking Ball (not the Bruce Springsteen song of the same name) has a sort of funky drum rhythm to it and Tried, Tested And True is another comfortable, slow sad one with Joanne giving it her best Janis Joplin. 
Outlaw Angel sees a return to upbeat, rocking blues. Shiver And Sigh has a great bass and drum intro before Joanne's guitar joins in and then her soulful vocal. Struck Down has a riff from somewhere that I can't quite place, a punk song from way back, maybe, The Vibrators, possibly. No matter. Feels Like Home is a bit staccato like Wrecking Ball. Personally, I prefer the slightly subtler, more melodious tones of her 2009 debut, White Sugar, but that is just my opinion. This is still a good album. The live cuts are delivered pretty true to the studio versions. The sound quality is good on them too.What you don't get with quite a lot of blues rock material is too much lyrical (or often musical) variation and I have to admit that is true here but a bit like with, say, roots reggae, it doesn't really matter. Play this and it is an invigorating 45 minutes or so.

Reckless Heart (2019)

Joanne Shaw Taylor’s output is usually steeped in blues rock. This album, however, is far more pure rock in nature. It is crammed full of sledgehammer drums, rocking guitar riffs and Joanne showing just how her remarkable voice can really rock. It is a most enjoyable album from a very talented, underrated artist.
In The Mood is a superb, pounding bar-room guitar-driven rocker to open the album with that doesn’t let up from beginning to end, with Joanne’s voice in magnificent form. All My Love has an infectious, slightly funky bass line and it is a more rhythmic number than the previous all-out rocker. The guitar solo just slashes through the atmosphere, though. Despite that, however, there is a fair amount of soul on this one. The Best Thing is just wonderful. Joanne’s voice is once more incredibly soulful on this one. So unique yet at the same time really reminds me me of someone but I can’t put my finger on who, which is frustrating. Either way, she is great in her own right on this. Actually, maybe it’s Grace Potter

Bad Love is powerful, riffy and with a sumptuous organ backing too. The pace is so strong and solid on tracks like this. Proper rockCreepin' is a slow-paced. muscular bluesy rock number. I've Been Loving You Too Long is even more laid-back, in its pace, anyway. The sound is still full and strong, with an impressive guitar intro before Joanne's smoky voice arrives, seductively. Reckless Heart is a throaty, husky slow burner. Break My Heart Anyway is a relatively quieter, slower pace, acoustic-backed ballad. 

New 89 has some catchy guitar backing and another appealing, gritty vocal. Jake's Boogie is not, as you might imagine a bit of piano-driven bar-room rock, but a bluesy, acoustic guitar-powered somewhat understated song with a bit of a slurred vocal from Joanne, which is unusual. It does grow on you, though, and provides a change from the full-on rock of the rest of the album. Strangely enough, after such an upbeat, powerful album, the final track, I'm Only Lonely, is also a slowie, being a sleepy rock ballad. It has some sumptuous guitar-bass interplay near the end. Apart from these two tracks the album does not vary much, being pretty relentless. Therein lies its strength - you know what to expect. None of the tracks particularly stick in the mind, but, listened to as a whole, the album has an energetic, no nonsense and soulful vibe to it. As I said earlier, for me, it is not as bluesy as her other albums, but it is not without its rocky appeal.

Related posts :-
Joanna Connor
Susan Tedeschi
Grace Potter