Tuesday, 4 June 2019

Chairmen Of The Board




Bittersweet (1972)


Men Are Getting Scarce/So Glad You're Mine/Working On A Building Of Love/I'm A Sign Of Changing Times/Elmo James/I'm On My Way To A Better Place/Bittersweet/Saginaw County Line/Weary Traveller        

Chairmen Of The Board, that most under-rated of seventies soul groups, became a trio (General JohnsonDanny Woods and Harrison Kennedy) for this album after the departure of Eddie Custis and moved away from the slightly restricting habit of including middle-of-the-road ballad covers on their albums. The nine tracks on here are all written by impressive singer General Johnson with the exception of one Holland/Dozier offering. It was their most credible and cohesive album to date.

Like The Temptations in the same period, a lot of the songs were lyrically "aware" of contemporary issues as well as being appealingly funky and soulful. The group also had deep gospel roots and this is apparent in much of the material.
                                 
The first issue they take on is the anti-war movement, and Men Are Getting Scarce confronts the endless loss of young men in Vietnam. Johnson beseeches the help of the burgeoning women's liberation movement to help out in their protests, unless they want to run out of men. It has echoes of Edwin Starr's War in its lyrics, strong vocal and solid, funky backing.

 

So Glad You're Mine is a classic piece of Chairmen Of The Board powerful, punchy soul. It is full of great vocals from Johnson and excellent backing, particularly the brass, bass and percussion. The interplay between those, the keyboards and the vocals near the end is superb.

The afore-mentioned Lamont Dozier/Brian Holland song is the wonderful, vibrant gospel glory of Working On A Building Of Love. I never tire of this song, it is one of my favourites of all time. A truly uplifting slice of soul and one of the true great examples of seventies soul.

I'm A Sign Of Changing Times is a thumping attack on prejudices and a call to look forward over an intoxicating wah-wah guitar and saxophone backing. It is a sort of psychedelic soul meets Southern soul.

Elmo James is a similar tale to the Patches story, featuring a poor, backwoods but honest character working hard against a heap of disadvantages. Johnson's vocal is immense once more and the song's sentiments are hard-hitting and moving. Good stuff.

I'm On My Way To A Better Place sees the group exploring their religious side. It brings back such memories for me of 1972. A most atmospheric, evocative song. Even in the midst of my beloved glam rock as a thirteen year-old, I still loved this.

Bittersweet is a soaring piece of sweet soul balladry that, for some reason, bursts into a shot of lively jazzy soul half way through, before returning to the late-night feel of the song.

Saginaw County Line has a lot of the gritty soul feel of Elmo James but with a deeper, bluesier beat to it. Weary Traveller is a muscular blues/soul ballad to end this impressive, highly credible seventies soul album on. Chairmen Of The Board, as indeed the already had done, showed themselves to be more than just a "soul singles" group with this release.



Everything's Tuesday: The Best Of Chairmen Of The Board


Give Me Just A Little More Time/Everything's Tuesday/Hanging On To A Memory/Elmo James/Bless You/I'm On My Way To A Better Place/Since The Days Of Pigtails/Chairman Of The Board/Men Are Getting Scarce/Bittersweet/Working On A Building Of Love/Try On My Love For Size/Finders Keepers/Tricked And Trapped/Everybody's Got A Song To Sing/When Will She Tell Me She Needs Me/Patches/Everybody Party All Night/I'll Come Crawling/Pay To The Piper/You Got Me Dangling On A String

Chairmen Of The Board, the main soul band of the Invictus label in the early seventies were, along with The Detroit Spinners, one of the great “forgotten” soul groups and lead singer General Johnson certainly had the great forgotten soul voice. Full of character, instantly recognisable, soulful and with a plaintive, heartbreaking tone to it, and those strange “brrrr” affectations used on two  of the group’s greatest hits, the incredibly catchy You've Got Me Dangling On A String and Give Me Just A Little More Time both of which were just perfect early seventies soul singles. Secondary vocalist Danny Woods was not at all bad either.

This “best of” compilation really is a treasure. The highlights are many from this wonderful Southern States soul group. The two singles already mentioned; Johnson’s magnificent soulful voice on Everything's Tuesday; the evocative, sad tales of Patches and Elmo James; the yearning soul of Bless You; the devotional soul of I'm On My Way To A Better Place; the addictive Pay To The Piper; the heartbreaking ballad of Bittersweet and the social comment of Men Are Getting Scarce. All truly wonderful, uplifting stuff.

That is not to forget my two personal favourites - the rousing, inspirational Working On A Building Of Love and the incredibly moving Everybody's Got A Song To Sing with a great Danny Woods vocal.

There are still several great tracks I haven’t mentioned, such as the funky hit from 1973, Finders Keepers. Playing this album is just a pleasure from beginning to end. It was a shame this great soul group never quite got the credit they deserved. Soul of the highest quality.



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