Friday, 26 July 2019

Dusty Springfield

Looking to get her career back on track, Dusty Springfield decided to turn to soul music.... 

Dusty In Memphis (1969)       

She signed to Atlantic Records and the album was produced by Jerry Wexler, Tom Dowd and Arif Mardin. Wexler said that Springfield was quite difficult to work with and rejected all of the songs except Just A Little Lovin' and Son Of A Preacher Man. He found her surprisingly unconfident. You wouldn't really tell on what sounds an excellent album.

It is one of those albums that has achieved classic status in later years. At the time it was a commercial flop, something that is often overlooked. Another misconception is that the album is wall-to-wall soul. It certainly isn't. In fact it is far more of a soulful easy-listening offering, for me, featuring songs from Goffin-King, Bacharach-David, Barry-Weil and Randy Newman as opposed to Isaac Hayes or Floyd-Cropper. That said, it is still a wonderful album. Springfield's voice is stunning throughout, as indeed is the backing from the Atlantic Records musicians. The sound quality is crystal clear too.

By the summer of the same year, 1969, Elvis Presley had also recorded the similarly impressive From Elvis In Memphis.

Just A Little Lovin'
 begins with the message that the activity of the tile is better than a cup of coffee in the morning. It sounds like a Burt Bacharach number, particularly with its strings, but in fact is a Barry Mann-Cynthia Weil song. 

My personal favourite on the album is the very Memphis soul-Stax-esque So Much Love. The backing is sumptuous - uplifting, dramatic and with lovely bass and percussion too. Not to forget Dusty's smoky, sensual voice lifting it higher, sounding very like P.P. Arnold. Son Of A Preacher Man needs no introduction. It is, rightly, a classic - packed full of soul and characterisation. It is musically perfect too - those horns, the bass, the percussion, the "wooh-ohh" backing vocals. I Don't Want To Hear It Anymore is a laid-back Randy Newman song about domestic disharmony. Don't Forget About Me is a marvellous bass and brass piece of soul. It has some swamp blues-sounding guitar too. It is one of the album's most authentic-sounding soul numbers.

Breakfast In Bed, later covered by UB40-Chrissie Hynde, is delivered as a slow-paced country ballad with added punchy brass sections. Just One Smile is another Randy Newman song and is again sung as a ballad, with a big, dramatic chorus. Windmills Of Your Mind is given an appealing, Samba-style backing. It breaks out at the end into an upbeat, orchestrated fast number. Bacharach-David's In The Land Of Make Believe is a syncopated, slow and rhythmic Carpenters-style easy listening ballad with Dusty giving us a more high-pitched vocal than usual. No Easy Way Down is a fetching big soulful ballad. I Can't Make It Alone is another P.P. Arnold-influenced big number. I love this track too. The whole album is a little gem, really. Shame it only gave Dusty such huge credibility largely posthumously.

Wednesday, 24 July 2019

Johnny Nash

Johnny Nash, from Houston, Texas, did as much as anyone to bring reggae to the masses in the early 70s. This is an archetypal reggae "crossover" album....

I Can See Clearly Now (1972)

Along with hits like Dave And Ansel Collins' Double Barrel, Bob And Marcia's Young, Gifted And Black and Nicky Thomas's Love Of The Common People from 1971, by 1972, it was the voice of Johnny Nash and his singalong, commercial reggae played by Jamaican musicians that were all over the airwaves. Two of these tracks - Stir It Up and Guava Jelly were written by Bob Marley and, for many, including my thirteen year-old self who bought all Nash's singles, this was the first time they had come across the name of Bob Marley. As far as I was concerned, in 1972, reggae was Johnny Nash.

Funnily enough, this album is split between Nash's authentic brand of reggae and seventies, brassy soul. For that reason it sort of sits on two stools and Nash always remained that sort of "crossover" artist.

This album is the best one to use to dip into what made Nash so appealing. It begins with his cover of Marley's seductive Stir It Up, sung by Nash as "steer it up". I loved the vibe of it when I first heard it - Nash's voice is flawless and the reggae beat intoxicating. I loved the bass line, those "one drop" reggae drums and the infectious flute parts. Nash could also do soul too, and as I said, not all this album is reggae - That's The Way We Get By is a lively, brassy, almost Northern Soul number surprisingly written by keyboardist John "Rabbit" Bundrick (who worked with Free and The Who and appeared on Bob Marley's Catch A Fire album the following year). 

Marley's Guava Jelly caught my attention back then, not only for its deliciously laid-back summer reggae groove, but for the line "come rub upon my belly like guava jelly..." which I found mightily amusing at the time. What was guava jelly? It sounded like something exotic and Caribbean which suited the whole vibe.

It Was So Nice While It Lasted is another sumptuous soul offering, with Nash's voice crystal clear. Oooh BabyYou've Been Good To Me is an upbeat piece of funky soul with more excellent brass backing. You Poured Sugar On Me is a sort of easy listening meets soft, poppy reggae. It is a Sam Cooke-style ballad with a typically early-seventies gentle reggae beat. Nash co-wrote it with Bob Marley. 

Up next is perhaps Nash's most famous song, his self-penned uplifting classic I Can See Clearly Now. Its beat is vaguely reggae mixed with brassy soul. It has been covered by many, and rightly so, it's great. Comma Comma is a Marley number, written in a shuffling Rastafarian drum style. It doesn't refer to a punctuation mark, but "come-a back here to me". Despite its poppiness, it is probably the deepest reggae groove on the album. We're All Alike is a slow, gospelly ballad, How Good It Is is a pleasant mid-pace reggae song from Nash's pen and the bizarrely-titled The Fish And The Alley Of Destruction is another piece of inspiration gospel soul. Cream Puff is an endearing pop reggae song fitting in very much with that early seventies reggae feel.

There Are More Questions Than Answers was a great hit single, an impressive, singalong slice of early seventies reggae. I always loved the steel guitar solo and drum "taradiddle" in the middle of the song. Overall, this is an excellent summer's day listen. Harmless, enjoyable accessible reggae and soul.

Related posts :-
Bob Marley
Zap Pow

Wednesday, 17 July 2019

The Proclaimers

Da-da-da-daah, da-da-da-daah....

Sunshine On Leith (1988)

This was the second album from Edinburgh from geeky-looking Scottish twin brothers Craig and Charlie Reid. They became famous for their distinct vocals, sung in a strong Scottish accent. At the time, it was not particularly successful, but became more so as I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles) became a surprise hit a few years later. The album has gained a considerable amount of retrospective kudos and is now considered a bit of a classic.

I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles) needs no introduction to anyone. It has become an iconic song, full of tub-thumping Caledonian rousing fervour with Craig Reid's rasping, deep Scottish brogue leading the singalong anthem enthusiastically. The infectious refrain overlooks what great backing it has too. Cap In Hand is an appealing slice of country-ish Celtic folk while Then I Met You is a great song, full of great vocal harmonies from Craig and Charlie and a solid rock backing with a quirky bit of funky wah-wah guitar in places.

My Old Friend The Blues is a country ballad and is a cover of a Steve Earle song. It is full of country twangy guitar and the brothers turn it into a Scottish lament as opposed to a Nashville tear-jerker. 
Sean is another incredibly appealing, addictive bit of Celtic folky fun. Sunshine On Leith is a slow, reflective but moving ballad that has been adopted by Hibernian FC. For a football anthem, however, it is surprisingly low-key. Come On Nature is an accordion-backed jaunty, folky upbeat number. I'm On My Way is another energetic, bubbly song packed full of youthful, studenty optimism and hope.

What Do You Do slows down the tempo on a gentle, acoustic country ballad, featuring a very Nashville-esque steel guitar backing. There is often a bit of cynicism in many of the brothers' songs and the effervescent beat of It's Saturday Night is full of reflective sadness about playing lottery scratchcards amongst other things. 

Teardrops is a bit of a grating mess, though, I have to say. Sorry lads. Unfortunately, Oh Jean becomes more cacophonous as it progresses as well. After a very promising main bulk, the last two tracks let the album down a tiny bit. It is unique, however, and you simply can't help but enjoy I'm Gonna Be or Then I Met You. They are both irresistible. Oh, and the bonus cover of Roger Miller's King Of The Road is similarly lovable.