Wednesday, 28 August 2019

Chairmen Of The Board - Bittersweet (1972)

I read a book the other day....

  

Released in March 1972

Running time 35.50

Chairmen Of The Board, that most under-rated of seventies soul groups, became a trio (General Johnson, Danny 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.

TRACK LISTING

1. Men Are Getting Scarce
2. So Glad You're Mine
3. Working On A Building Of Love
4. I'm A Sign Of Changing Times
5. Elmo James
6. I'm On My Way To A Better Place
7. Bittersweet
8. Saginaw County Line
9. Weary Traveller                                         

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.

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