Tuesday, 31 December 2019

Johnnie Taylor



Stax Classics


Who’s Making Love/Jody’s Got Your Girl And Gone/I Believe In You (You Believe In Me)/Steal Away/Somebody’s Sleeping In My Bed/Testify (I Wanna)/Take Care Of Your Homework/Cheaper To Keep Her/I Got To Love Somebody’s Baby/We’re Getting Careless With Our Love/Love Bones/I Am Somebody   
                                                                                                      
This is another in the excellent series of Stax Classics - short bite-size servings of quality sixties and seventies soul. While you only get twelve tracks, the fact that the sound quality is so impressive sort of makes up for that.

Southern soul man Johnnie Taylor produced many excellent tracks, many more of them, (along with the twelve on here), can be found on the Complete Stax Singles collections. The twelve that are included here are all excellent, featuring Taylor’s gritty but soulful James Brown meets Otis Redding vocals and typical Stax punchy horns and funky guitars. The musicians are the usual Stax ones - Steve Cropper, Donald “Duck” Dunn and The Memphis Horns.

Many of the songs follow a familiar theme - marital infidelity. None more so than on one of Taylor’s biggest hits, Who’s Making Love, with its “who’s making love you your old lady, while you’re out making love...” refrain. A recurring character in some of the songs is that of “Jody” - a mythical figure in African-American folklore who specialises in seducing wives behind their unknowing husbands’ backs. He appears most obviously in the catchy soul of Jody’s Got Your Girl And Gone but the idea of him (and paranoia about him) re-appears in several others. Rather than let your girl go to Jody, or be unfaithful to her, though, another alternative is offered in the cynical Cheaper To Keep Her. Take Care Of Your Homework beseeches guys to get their romantic house in order or else Jody will take advantage. We’re Getting Careless With Our Love sees a couple in an affair getting worried about being caught over a sublime soulful backing.”We don’t wanna be like Mrs. Jones ...” sings Taylor, acknowledging Billy Paul’s hit.

These tracks are the male equivalent of the material put out by Shirley Brown, Betty Wright, Laura Lee and Millie Jackson, they are nearly all tales of love gone wrong and no good, untrustworthy women. Sung against an irresistible, earthy Stax backing full of hooks and melody the songs are all very infectious, despite some of the amusingly dodgy sentiments.

 

There are also some genuinely sensitive love songs too, like the evocative soul of I Believe In You (You Believe In Me). It is an immaculately delivered number, both vocally and instrumentally. Steal Away is a smoky, bluesy number with a lot of atmosphere to it. It is also a lyrically sincere song and I have to say it is seriously quality soul. Once again, the backing is great. I Got To Love Somebody’s Baby shows that Taylor could sing the blues on a perfect slice of late night heartache, backed by some sumptuous brass. The blues feeling is also to be found on Somebody’s Sleeping In My Bed.

Taylor could also get funky and duly does so on the intoxicating, cookin’ Testify (I Wanna). Check out that wah-wah guitar. Funky pop can also be found on the appealing Love Bones. There is a nice bass line on this one. I Am Somebody is a stomping “message” song. The quality really doesn’t let up throughout the album.

 

Johnnie Taylor is rarely mentioned in lists of the great soul singers, which is somewhat unfair on him, because he has a voice that crackles with soul. It is strong, expressive and characterful. There is not one of these songs, or indeed any of the others in his Stax canon that are not eminently listenable. I recently listened to thirty-five of his songs on random and there wasn’t a duff track among them.

A couple of fine Taylor tracks worth mentioning that don’t appear on any of the Stax collections are the disco hit, Disco Lady (not recorded on Stax), and the addictive, bassy and powerful Northern Soul cult hit Blues In The Night. Don’t forget Jody’s return in Standing In For Jody or the earthy soul of Hijackin’ Love either. Neither appear on here but are well worth checking out.



Saturday, 28 December 2019

Jr. Walker & The All Stars



"I never will forget playing a saxophone riff with Junior Walker. It was a great thing. And I always loved that" - Bill Clinton

Shotgun (1965)


Cleo's Mood/Do The Boomerang/Shotgun/(I'm A) Road Runner/Shake And Fingerpop/Shoot Your Shot/Tune Up/Hot Cha/Monkey Jump/Tally Ho!/Cleo's Back/Ain't That The Truth

This was the debut album for Motown saxophonist Jr. Walker (born Autry Dewait) and his excellent band. Or so you might think. However, on many of Walker's Motown recordings, The All Stars are not used - Motown session musicians are. 

Either way, they can play, and the album, a mixture of instrumentals, semi-instrumentals and vocal tracks is a pretty intoxicating, explosive piece of work. First of all, I have to say that the sound quality is superb, particularly considering it dates from 1965 - a full, thumping and bassy backing behind Walker's trademark wailing saxophone. It was on of the first really credible Motown Albums and it bristles with unbridled enthusiasm from beginning to end. It is full of infectious rhythm and a general joie de vivre that makes it irresistible. The saxophone, the bass, the organ, the drums, the vocals - all combine superbly  to provide a wonderful, addictive cornucopia of sixties Motown heaven. 

Both Cleo's Mood and Cleo's Back are funky, jazz-influenced instrumental workouts. Who Cleo was is not known. Hot Cha has seductive Latin rhythmic influences that no doubt contributed to the "cha" (as in cha cha cha) of the title (check out Walker's extended solo too), while Monkey Jump and the superbly bopping Tune Up are upbeat stomps. The lively Do The Boomerang requests that we all do whatever dance the boomerang was. There are vocals on this, handled by Willie Woods as opposed to Walker.

Full song vocals can be found on the unsurprisingly rat-a-tat saxophone/organ/drum funky attack of Shotgun, the now iconic saxophone-driven joy of (I'm A) Road Runner and the "my woman done gone left me" bluesy angst of Ain't That The Truth. Shake And Fingerpop is also a poppy, good-time vocal track that sees Walker telling his lady to "put on your wig, woman, we're goin' out to shake and fingerpop...". That line has always amused me. 

A truly screaming saxophone introduces the pounding beat of Shoot Your Shot, together with a grinding, soulful vocal invocation to shoot your shot. Tally Ho! has an exaggerated upper-class English vocal intro and, like all the tracks, features some marvellous free-flowing, expressive saxophone. You really can't go wrong with any of these tracks. 

This album is virtually like a "greatest hits" of Jr. Walker's mid-sixties output. Indeed, all the tracks are of such a high standard, and so appealing, that it could almost function as a "Greatest Hits, Part One". Just listen to Shotgun once more. It cooks - to boiling point.


Soul Session (1966)


Good Rockin'/Hewbie Steps Out/Shake Everything/Everybody Get Together/Mark Anthony (Speaks)/US/Moonlight In Vermont/Decidedly/Eight Hour Drag/Brainwasher/Three Four Three/Satan's Blues 
                                           
When I listen to this album, my initial reaction is that the material is older and far more raw than that which appeared on the previous year's Shotgun, the group's debut offering. I would be right, because this is a collection of early, all instrumental workouts of from Walker and his All Stars, with no replacement Motown session musicians involved. Without wishing to sound unfair on The All Stars, I have to say that the Motown musicians' sound is probably better, fuller. The sound on Shotgun is slightly superior to this album, both in production and delivery and the vocals add something more to the overall more expansive feel of that album. There is still some fine material on here, though, all the same. Just as their Motown counterparts could play, so could The All Stars. 

There is a rock 'n' roll style beat to the opening Good Rockin', a sort of Shakin' All Over groove. Walker's wailing saxophone soars all over it as well. It is a good track. Hewbie Steps Out features some sublime jazzy guitar soloing. Shake Everything is a sax-driven, lively toe-tapper, with a few sights hints of The Champs' Tequila in places. Everybody Get Together is packed full of rhythm and excellent, crystal-clear percussion.

Mark Anthony (Speaks) (an odd title) is a more laid-back, jazzy groove with some superb Walker saxophone. US rocks, big time, in a rock 'n' roll/swing way, the saxophone merrily driving it along. Moonlight In Vermont finds Walker going all late night jazz on a track that sounds far more beginning of the sixties than 1966. Decidedly is a bit lo-fi, compared to some of the others, but it chugs along pleasantly enough, sounding very much like a backing track, however. Eight Hour Drag is a nice piece of the blues and is one of the album's best cuts. The lively Brainwasher was a double "A" side single but Cleo's Mood was the one that got played, probably correctly. 

Three Four Three has some soulful sax throughout, while Satan's Blues is one of those that often appears on Jr. Walker compilations. That does not surprise me, it is the album's longest track at over four minutes, and it is an impressive slow-burning, atmospheric blues. The best track on the album finishes it. Jr. Walker & The All Stars were at their best, though, when they interspersed vocal cuts with the instrumental ones. They would do just that on their next offering.


Road Runner (1966)


(I'm A) Road Runner/How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)/Pucker Up Buttercup/Money (That's What I Want)/Last Call/Anyway You Wannta/Baby You Know You Ain't Right/Ame' Cherie/Twist Lackawanna/San-Ho-Zay/Mutiny    
                                                      
This was, in effect, Jr. Walker & The All Stars' second album (the previous one was a collection of earlier instrumentals). This one saw them return to the attractive mix of killer vocal tracks and very enjoyable instrumentals. As often happened on early Motown Albums, the group's big hit from their debut Shotgun album, the irrepressible (I'm A) Road Runner was included again. It was probably not surprising because it was an absolute 24-carat nugget of a song, with its booming bass, funky guitar foundation, squealing sax, pounding Motown tambourine and gritty soul vocal. Any all-time Motown classic playlist should include it. Could it be bettered, though? Amazingly, probably yes - on the very next track - How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You). Of course, Marvin Gaye had a huge hit with it the previous year, but Walker's was an equally big smash, and benefitted from a grittier, more raw-edged approach in comparison to Gaye's smoother, slicker version.

Incidentally, The All Stars featured as the backing on this album, apart from the legendary Motown session man James Jameson on bass.

The catchy, poppy Pucker Up Buttercup was also a single. Walker's take on Barrett Strong's Money (That's What I Want) is jazzily lively with tagged-on enthusiastic audience noises. Four corkers have begun this album.

Now it is time for mainly instrumentals. The instrumental Last Call has a classic blues/soul riff but suffers from a bit of a scratchy, hissy sound. Despite that, it still has real beaty oomph to it. Anyway You Wannta sees Junior going a bit James Brown on a solid piece of mostly instrumental funk pop, which a few Brown-esque vocal exhortations. Baby You Know You Ain't Right is a stopping vocal track with more Brown-styled vocals and a bit of a Papa's Got A Brand New Bag feel. The instrumental Ame' Cherie features some fine Booker T-style organ and muscular drumming. Walker's sax on Twist Lackawanna is at virtuous level, great stuff, as is the rest of the backing. San-Ho-Zay continues the sax-laden instrumental groove, again superbly. Mutiny has a great, rhythmic sound to it that you simply can't keep still to. So, some great vocal tracks started the album and similar quality instrumentals ended it. Check out Jamerson's bass solo on Mutiny.

The sound is a little bit rough-edged on this album, in places, but it is in nice, separated stereo, with warm bass and for 1966, has its good points.


Home Cookin' (1969)


Come See About Me/What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)/Home Cookin'/Sweet Soul/Hip City (Pt. 1)/Hip City (Pt. 2)/Sweet Daddy Deacon/Fanny Mae/The Things I Do For You/Baby Ain't You Shame    
                              
We are entering the finest phase of Jr. Walker & The All Stars' career here, the 1969-1972 period, despite (I'm A) Road Runner. It yielded some excellent hit singles and some truly underrated albums too. Furthermore, the sound quality was improving by the year. The sound is great on this album - stereo and full of killer bass, just as I like it.

Come See About Me is a deliciously bassy take on the Diana Ross & The Supremes number. I presume it is James Jamerson on bass. Either way, it is big, deep rumbling boom of a bass line. Up next is a timeless classic Jr. Walker hit, the peerless What Does It Take (To Win Your Love) - overflowing with gorgeous sax, great vocals and great hooks throughout. It is an undisputed top notch Motown number.  Home Cookin' is another solid, vocal funk/pop number in a James Brown style and once again treating us to a magnificent, rubber band bass. After three fine vocal cuts some sweet saxophone is to be found on the upbeat, but sumptuously smooth Sweet Soul. It is an apt title. Vocal soul is back, though, on the fast funk of Hip City (Pt. 1). Again it is delivered in a James Brown fashion, and even namecheck him at one point. (Pt. 2) of the same song continues the instrumental vibe, with occasional vocals. To be honest, it should have just been one track, but I guess it was separated to form a "A" and "B" side of a single.

Sweet Daddy Deacon is a fun, rhythmic groover in a sort of Here Come The Judge style. Once more, the saxophone is mind-glowingly good. Fanny Mae is a blues stomper also covered by Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes on their 1976 I Don't Want To Go Home album. The Things I Do For You is a great vocal track with a grinding blues/soul sound. Check that funky organ and excellent percussion. The album ends with the bassy, lively Baby Ain't You Shame - another impressive vocal number. Apart from Sweet Soul, all this album had vocals, which was a bit of a diversification.


A Gasssssss (1970)


Do You See My Love (For You Growing)/And When I Die/I Was Made To Love Her/Carry Your Own Load/Shut Up, Don't Interrupt Me/Groove And Move/Holly Holy/Honey Come Back/Riding High On Love/Hey Jude/At A Saturday Matinee                             

This was and album when Jr. Walker & The All Stars became more of a soul group as opposed to (an admittedly hot) Motown pop/funk outfit. Walker's trademark saxophone was still there, but there was something more polished, more gospelly, more soulful about the material this time out, as we moved into the seventies. The emphasis, once again, is more on vocal tracks, there being only two instrumentals on the album.

Do You See My Love (For You Growing) is a fine slice of uplifting soul with a slightly different sound to that we had become used to, with female backing vocals and a more slow and soulful lead vocal. Jr. Walker's saxophone is still instantly recognisable when it squeals in, however. The sombre but strangely inspiring Laura Nyro song And When I Die is glorious - full of gospel vocals and sentiments. Stevie Wonder's I Was Made To Love Her is given the sax-drenched Walker treatment, highly effectively too. The vocals actually become more of an accompaniment for the saxophone. Carry Your Own Load is an effervescent serving of gospel-influenced inspirational soul. It is totally catchy from beginning to end. The forthrightly-titled Shut Up, Don't Interrupt Me is another corker of a cut that cooks and crackles with soul throughout.

It was time for an instrumental now, however, with the magnificent funky, jazzy, upbeat vibes of Groove And More. Walker's saxophone soars on this one. The group's cover of Neil Diamond's Holly Holy brings out the gospel essence of the song beautifully. Its dramatic rising chorus is perfect for the backing vocalists. All of the group do a great job on this. They turn it into a real tour de force.

Honey Come Back is a slower pace, perfect piece of gospelly soul. The effervescent Riding High On Love is typical early seventies Motown fare - upbeat and poppy. All Motown acts from the mid-sixties onwards, it seemed, had to cover a Beatles track somewhere along the line, and Walker's group duly did so on here with a spirited version of Hey Jude. Once more, the gospel potential of the song is fully realised. I actually quite like it. Iconic songs like this are not easy to cover. At A Saturday Matinee you would expect to be a Saturday Night At The Movies-style pop song, but it is a lively, saxophone-driven instrumental. Some funky wah-wah guitar arrives right at the very end, but just as it does, the track ends, unfortunately.

Overall, this had been Jr. Walker's most polished and slick-sounding album thus far, one that was packed full of soul.


Rainbow Funk (1971)


Way Back Home (Instrumental)/Take Me Girl, I'm Ready/Feelin' Alright/Right On Brothers And Sisters/Teach Them To Pray/Something/Psychedelic Shack/Pieces Of A Man/These Things Will Keep Me Loving You   
                  
The soulful quality continues unabated, this time with more added funk, on another excellent offering. It begins with an instrumental version of the hit single Way Back Home (the vocal version would appear on the next album). It just sounds great - the saxophone and the general vibe is just sublime. I am running out of superlatives in writing these reviews! Up next is another stone cold Jr. Walker corker in the stonking sax-laden soul/pop of Take Me Girl I'm Ready - the first Jr. Walker single I ever bought. It is a wonderful tune. Classic Motown. However, it doesn't always make "best of" Motown lists and it should make every single one.

The group's cover of Traffic's Feelin' Alright is bluesy and funky, as you would expect. There really isn't much that they can't cope with. This was 1971 and it was the beginning of the era of funky "message" protest songs from artists like Marvin Gaye, The Temptations and The Undisputed Truth. Walker and his mates get in on the thing with the delicious piano, drums and sax groove of Right On Brothers And Sisters. The song carries a message of racial harmony consistent which much of the period's soul output. Teach Them To Pray is, not surprisingly, a spirit-lifting, euphoric gospelly number, full of rousing backing vocals.

 

What was I saying about Beatles covers? Here comes another one, George Harrison's Something, done mainly instrumentally at the beginning, with Walker's sumptuous sax sweeping over some female backing vocals until half way through when we get some funkier rhythms and an equally funky vocal. Listen to that crystal clear, razor sharp percussion too. The album's funkiest moment is on a great cover of The Temptations' Psychedelic Shack. The nice thing about Motown acts covering each other's material was that they never let you down - there were so many great covers that further enhanced the original track. You can listen to the same song done by two or three different artists and enjoy all the versions.

Just revel in that deep bass intro to Pieces Of A Man and then Jr.'s sax comes blowing in, followed by a seriously gritty true soul vocal. Solid stuff indeed. This is seriously quality soul music. These Things Will Keep Me Loving You is soulfully energising. It has also been covered by Diana Ross and The Velvelettes. The later is a Northern Soul favourite and more of a stomper than Walker's more soulful version. Ross's version is closer to Walker's and is most appealing too. A classic example of multi-artist covers.

The sound was superb on this album too. Wonderful and warm and in killer seventies stereo. This was a criminally underrated, little-mentioned album. I read a review recently that praised Jr. Walker's work, but added that he was not Marvin or Aretha. Well, you know what, he was up there with them. Yes sir.


Moody Jr. (1971)


Way Back Home/I Don't Want To Do Wrong/Bristol's Way/Don't Blame The Children/Me And My Family/Groove Thang/Still Water Medley/Never Can Say Goodbye/Walk In The Night/Moody Junior     
                                            
Now, on this next album we get the marvellous vocal version of Way Back Home, with Jr. sounding like a revivalist preacher addressing a congregation as he waxes lyrical about the old days home in the South. I Don’t Want To Do Wrong is a smoky, late night slice of sweet soul. The track, however, is basically an instrumental with layered backing vocals but somehow you don’t really notice. It works anyway. The same vibe continues on the catchy Bristol’s Way, which has Walker going at it unbridled on his saxophone over more repeated backing vocals. It is a bit like Barry White’s Love Unlimited Orchestra - extended backing vocals enhancing an instrumental tune.

Don’t Blame The Children sees Walker back on gritty, funky vocals as we return to a social message song. Me And My Family is an evocative, slow and nostalgic “we had it bad” look back at poorer days growing up. It goes without saying that the saxophone is immense. Groove Thang is a couple of minutes of Blaxploitation-style sax-driven funk. Still Water Medley takes the melody from The Four TopsStill Water and gives Walker carte blanche to produce some fantastic saxophone.


Never Can Say Goodbye is done in the soulful Isaac Hayes style, but obviously centreing on Walker’s saxophone. Again, the backing singers take the vocal duties. Walk In The Night, a beautiful, catchy instrumental was a huge hit, and deservedly so. Once again, it is a successful partnership of saxophone and backing singers. That really is the essence of this album.

After two albums which saw Walker singing on the greater percentage of the songs, this one was a return to a higher amount of instrumentals, with the backing vocalists handling most of the vocals, leaving Walker free to roam free on his saxophone. After a soul album in A Gassss, followed by more of a funk album in Rainbow Funk, we now had one very much concentrating on instrumental skills. The album ends with the salivatingly sexy, bassy and intoxicating free-form funk of Moody Junior. This had been a run of three really impressive albums. Once more, it really should have been given far more credit than it ever got at the time or indeed retrospectively.



Peace And Understanding Is Hard To Find (1973)


I Ain't Going Nowhere/I Don't Need No Reason/It's Alright, Do What You Gotta Do/It's To Late/Soul Clappin'/I Can See Clearly Now/Gimme That Beat (Pt. 1)/Gimme That Beat (Pt. 2)/Country Boy/Peace And Understanding (Is Hard To Find)                 

After nearly two years since releasing an album, by 1973, unfortunately, all of a sudden Jr. Walker's best days seemed to have passed, commercially at least, something that was mirrored in the fortunes of the Motown label too. The previous four albums had all been really impressive and had yielded several hits. Not so for this one, but that doesn't mean that it was not a good album. The fact that it was his poorest-selling album to date does it a disservice.

I Ain't Going Nowhere is a stomping, finger-poppin' number with a loose poppy, jazzy feel to it. I Don't Need No Reason is a fine piece of typically 1973 soul and the same can be said of the more upbeat, Philly Soul-influenced Willie Hutch song It's Alright, Do What You Gotta Do. Walker's cover of Carole King's It's Too Late is as sumptuous as you would expect it to be - the song always had a groovy, syncopated rhythm and his version exploits that, with some excellent percussion.

Soul Clappin' is an infectious instrumental that renders one's feet impossible to keep still. Walker was still the master of his saxophone and you also get a mini-drum solo on here too. Johnny Nash's reggae crossover hit I Can See Clearly Now is covered minus vocals and is pleasant enough, but you get the impression that Walker had gone a bit easy listening here, despite the track's melodic appeal. It would have sounded great in the sixties but as struggling for relevance in 1973. That was a shame but it was just the way things go.

Gimme That Beat (Pts 1 & 2) is a return to the gritty James Brown-inflenced down 'n' dirty funk of Hip City from 1969's Home Cookin'. Walker's vocal is once more very Brown. Country Boy is a typically funk/soul Walker song about the old times in the South livin' on cornbread. Yes. he's been here before, on Way Back Home, but they are always evocative songs. Peace And Understanding (Is Hard To Find) is a shuffling, lively and funky closer with a bit of a contemporary message. It ends a bit to soon, though.

As with all these albums, particularly as we moved through the seventies, the sound quality is really good.


Jr. Walker & The All-Stars (1973)


You Are The Sunshine Of My Life/All In Love Is Fair/Killing Me Softly With This Song/My Love/Boogie Down/I Ain't That Easy To Loose/Dancing' Like They Do On Soul Train/Break Down And Sing/Until You Come Back To Me (That's What I'm Gonna Do)              

The album begins with four instrumental covers which show off Walker’s virtuosity, but are lacking slightly in ebullience, soul and funk.

Stevie Wonder’s You Are The Sunshine Of My Life is covered instrumentally, with the instantly recognisable Walker sax dealing effortlessly with the sumptuous melody. The harmonica solo sounds suspiciously like Wonder himself, although I am not able to find out whether it is indeed him.  The next track is also a Stevie Wonder song,  All In Love Is Fair. Once again it is covered instrumentally, with another harmonica solo featuring. It has a laid-back jazzy vibe.

Roberta Flack’s Killing Me Softly With His Song is given an initial funky non-vocal work out. It then almost goes bossa nova in its rhythm in places and by the end it is full-on late night jazz. Next up for the laid-back saxophone treatment is Paul McCartney’s My Love, a hit from the time. Eddie Kendricks’ gritty, brassy funker Boogie Down gets the pulse going and we get vocals for the first time too. This is the first truly earthy cooker on the album. Good as the rest of it has been in its implementation, it has sounded a tad wine-bar in its relaxed “background” ambience.


I Ain’t That Easy To Loose is another vocal number, and is full of slow-burning sax-laden soul. It is also an excellent cut. More funk arrives in the strains of Dancin’ Like They Do On Soul Train. Some seriously funky clavinet introduces the vocal funk of Break Down And Sing. It has the sort of sound David Bowie would utilise on his Young Americans album the following year. Aretha Franklin’s Until You Come Back To Me ends the album on a deliciously romantic instrumental groove. Some sweet backing vocals join in towards the end. Lush.

As with the previous album, this is a pleasant listen but it has probably gained more retrospective listeners than it did at the time of release, when it surely struggled to be relevant. Now, it sounds exactly what it is - quality seventies soul.


Hot Shot (1976)


I'm So Glad/Why Can't We Be Lovers/You Ain't No Ordinary Woman/Just Can't Get Enough/Love (Keep Us Together)/I Need You Right Now/Probe Your Mind/Don't Lose What You Got (Trying To Get Back What You Had)/Hot Shot   
                                                                                                                              
This was Jr. Walker's final album. It had been a great eleven years of saxophonous glory and all his albums had offered something enjoyable for soul fans, as detailed in the above reviews. This one was no different. The quality, as it always had been, was high. It was Walker's most "late night" smooth soul sounding of all his albums. The ambience is slick, polished and romantic throughout with some doses of pop/soul in there too. As it is the mid-seventies, funk is never too far away either. Overall, though, it is very much a soul album from the period and if you didn't know, you would be hard pressed to identify it as a Jr. Walker album, despite the saxophone.

I'm So Glad is a lively piece of mid-seventies-style soul, with a bit of a Philly/Harold Melvin/O'Jays feel to it. It is upbeat, poppy and soulful but also quite funky at the same time. It's a good one. Why Can't We Be Lovers is a semi-instrumental in the Walk In The Night style, with just a few vocals here and there. You Ain't No Ordinary Woman is a energetic slice of soul with more Teddy Pendergrass/Harold Melvin/Joe Tex-esque earthy vocals. The same soul/pop vibe continues on the infectious Just Can't Get Enough which is just suck a typically mid-seventies catchy soul song. I love it. Walker has moved with the times and it sounds nothing like his sixties material, not at all.


Love (Keep Us Together) features some sumptuous saxophone and the female vocalists taking the lead on a slower, sensual groover. There is some good stuff on this album, actually. There is a funky feel all over it too. The vocalists feature again on the slow soul of I Need You Here Right Now. The track also includes some nice wah-wah funky guitar backing.

Probe Your Mind is a saxophone-driven slow burning instrumental backed by some nice slow funk. Don't Lose What You Got (Trying To Get Back What You Had) is a cool, smooth instrumental while Hot Shot has Walker using his gruff, throaty, James Brown-esque vocal for the last time. That was the end of his great recording career. Thanks for some seriously good music.


  

                            Jr. WALKER

                               1931-1995

Sunday, 15 December 2019

Bad Company





Formed from members of classic blues rock outfit Free - (singer Paul Rodgers and drummer Simon Kirke), guitarist Mick Ralphs of Mott The Hoople plus bassist Boz Burrell - Bad Company carried on the bass-heavy, bluesy rock tradition of Free, with a little bit of Mott’s eye for a commercial hit. they carried on their trademark rocking for eight pretty successful years, and are very much the epitome of mid-seventies radio-friendly, driving rock.

Bad Co (1974)


Can't Get Enough/Rock Steady/Ready For Love/Don't Let Me Down/Bad Company/The Way I Choose/Movin' On/Seagull   
                                                                                                   
The Free influence comes over really loud and clear on slow-burning bluesy tracks like The Way I ChooseDon't Let Me Down and the rocking Bad Company. The Mott legacy is obviously there on Ready For Love (previously recorded on Mott The Hoople’s All The Young Dudes album) and the hit single Can't Get Enough whose riff owes more than a little bit to Mott’s One Of The Boys. There is a nice singalong rocking feel to Movin' On as well.

Rock Steady is a powerful, bluesy rock song, very Free-like in its tight-trousered potency. Hackneyed as it now may seem, I still enjoy a bit of this 70s rock. The Way I Choose is similar, a slow burning slab of pulsating blues rock. Seagull is an enjoyable, powerful, bluesy rock ballad.

 

Saxophone is used on a few tracks to give a slightly different sound to that of Free in places, but there are as many similarities, none more so, of course, than the wonderful voice of singer Paul Rodgers. Anything he lends his vocal chords to would be impressive, let's be honest.

With with regard to the remastering of the album, I actually prefer the Swan Song label remaster to the "Deluxe Edition" 2015 remaster. I find it punchier, bassier and more full. 



Straight Shooter (1975)


Good Lovin' Gone Bad/Feel Like Makin' Love/Weep No More/Shooting Star/Deal With The Preacher/Wild Fire Woman/Anna/Call On Me                                         

This album differed just slightly from its predecessor in that that the two main cornerstones of it were the “acoustic” ballads of the marvellous Feel Like Makin' Love  and the hymn to prematurely departed rock stars, (Paul KossoffJimi HendrixJanis JoplinJim Morrison), the moving Shooting Star. Yes there were “slowies” on Bad Co too, but they were more in the Free blues rock ballad style. Here there is a lighter touch (just a little) in the basic approach to these songs. The melodic Call On Me also follows this trend. However, the heavy riffs are never far from the surface and they kick in most effectively on the chorus of Feel Like Makin' Love when Paul Rodgers’ unmistakeable blues rock voice really lets go. Weep No More  is also an excellent rock ballad, piano-based but heavy guitar appears when it needs to. 























An underrated Bad Company classic on here, for me, is the rocking opener Good Lovin' Gone Bad - full riffs and Rodgers’ voice towering over proceedings. One notable critic at the time (Robert Christgau) said that Rodgers’ did not have a strong enough voice for this sort of material. What? Are you kidding? Sometimes I think some of these critics just say controversial things that go against popular opinion just for the sake of it, for self-publicity. Nonsense. Rodgers has the perfect voice for Bad Company and Free’s material. I think most people would agree with that.

The rest of the album is pretty impressive blues rock fare - Free-type titles and lyrics like Deal With The Preacher and Wild Fire WomanPreacher has some great guitar riffery, compelling bass and a great Rodgers vocal. Sounds like Free made just that more commercially accessible. Wild Fire is one of the most Free-sounding tracks on the album, all big powerful blues rock bass. One of the bonus tracks on the “deluxe edition”, All Night Long, where a Rolling Stones riff meets La Bamba would have made an excellent single.

  

To be honest, Bad Company never really changed their style too much, just as Free didn’t, and they were all the better for it. You knew what was going to be served up and, for several years, it didn’t disappoint. 

The same applies to Bad Co with regarding the remasters, I prefer the Swan Song one. 

Run With The Pack (1976)


Live For The Music/Simple Man/Honey Child/Love Me Somebody/Run With The Pack/Silver, Blue & Gold/Young Blood/Do Right By Your Woman/Sweet Lil’ Sister/Fade Away      
                                   
Like Paul Rodgers’ albums with Free and also those of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bad Company’s albums became increasingly formulaic - raw, bluesy rock was what you got, album after album, to be honest. The formula didn’t change with this, their third offering and, taken in isolation, it is fine, but I have to admit that it is more of the same. It was 1976, however, and the formula had yet to become too hackneyed. There was still an appetite for it. The album did well in the charts. Look, if you like it, you like it, and I do. Regarding the sound, I prefer the original Swan Song label master to the more recent 2015 remaster. It has more punch and more bass.

Live For The Music is a copper-bottomed Bad Company rousing stadium-style rocker to open with and Simple Man, ironically also the title of a Lynyrd Skynyrd song, is a brooding, Free-esque Mick Ralphs number. It sounds so much like Free, though, it could almost be them. These are two great songs, but they don’t offer anything particularly new. I still like them, though, and this is still a good album.



Honey Child is a great, riffy rocker with Rodgers on fine vocal form. You can’t go too far wrong with this. The guitar, the drums, the vocals - great stuff. Bad Company do what they do, and they do it well. Love Me Somebody is an appealing slow rock ballad, enhanced by some fine guitar. Run With The Pack is a typical Bad Company rocker, as I said, you knew what you were going to get. Some strings were added, but it still did not sound too different, they remained a little superfluous.

 

Silver, Blue & Gold is a melodic, mid-pace slow burner. Once more, Rodgers’ voice soars. I really like this one. Nice bass on it too. Young Blood is a cover of a Coasters hit. While it is ok, it still is not quite convincing when the group stray from their usual path. The spoken “she’s the one“ part is a bit clumsy, to be honest. Despite its very corny, seventies title Do Right By Your Woman is an archetypal, enjoyable Bad Company slow rock ballad. Even more so is the fine, rocking Sweet Lil’ Sister. The album ends with the slow, mournful Free-esque Fade Away. Although the “formulaic” accusations do hold some water, this was still an enjoyable, impressive album.

Burnin' Sky (1977)


Burnin’ Sky/Morning Sun/Leaving You/Like Water/Knapsack (The Happy Wanderer)/Everything I Need/Heartbeat/Peace Of Mind/Passing Time/Too Bad/Man Needs Woman/Master Of Ceremony        
                                         
This was probably where the rot started to set in a little for Bad Company as they continued offering more strong bluesy rock. It was an album with a few patchy or maybe lacklustre moments - certainly more than on the previous outing. The general tone is a laid-back, slow paced, slightly more reflective one, as opposed to out-and-out riffy rock, a bit like Free’s Highway album.

Burnin’ Sky is a delicious, almost funky number with a big, solid bass sound. While not a huge deviation from their usual sound, it shows a desire to try a little funk rock in the way that Led Zeppelin had on Physical Graffiti the previous year. It is a muscular, brooding number full of atmosphere and sonic depth. Morning Sun is another good one, a Free-influenced slow ballad, of the kind Paul Rodgers delivered so well. The track was enhanced by some nice flute parts to show more desire for a slight musical diversification.

Leaving You also follows the steady Bad Company path of trustworthy, chunky blues rock balladry. Like Water is another low-key, slow burning number, with another nice, deep bass coursing through its veins. The album goes off course, though, with the utterly pointless minute or so singsong of Knapsack (The Happy Wanderer), which sounds as if the group are returning from a night in the pub. Thankfully some riffage is back on the slightly fifties meets reggae fun groove of Everything I Need. Again, it is a bit of a Zeppelin-esque diversification.



Heartbeat is a chunky,  more familiar-sounding blues rocker. Peace Of Mind starts off sounding strangely like Bob Dylan before it settles into regular Bad Company fare. Passing Time is a short but pretty pleasant number and Too Bad rocks quite heavily in typical Bad Company style. It is a good track that wouldn’t have been out of place on the first two albums.

It wouldn’t be a Bad Company album without a seventies-style song title, and we get that with Man Needs Woman. Yes, it is predictable stuff, but I still like it. Unusually, it features a saxophone solo. Another departure from the usual path is the seven-minute plus Zeppelin-style slow cooking slight funk of Master Of Ceremony. Some late-night saxophone appears to help to make this one of the group’s most innovative, experimental and interesting numbers thus far in their career. I think it is really good.

 

This album should not be written off prematurely as simply “more of the same” because there are a few differences to be found here. It is still well worth a listen and the latest remastered sound is pretty good.

Desolation Angels (1979)


Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy/Crazy Circles/Gone, Gone, Gone/Evil Wind/Early In The Morning/Lonely For Your Love/Oh, Atlanta/Take The Time/Rhythm Machine/She Brings Me Love  
                                   
In 1979, with punk and new wave the music of the age, another album of blues rock from Bad Company was not something that would be particularly relevant or indeed successful. This was very much 1974-75 style music, considerably out of its time. However, it is still quite a good album, taken on its own merits, with a nice clear sound and a fine punch to it. The group still did well in attracting concert audiences, though, even though record sales and cultural relevance were on the wane. Having said that, the album still made #10 on the UK album charts, so there were plenty of rockers still out there, it would seem.

Rock ‘n Roll Fantasy is a chunky and typical Bad Company slice of blues rock, of the kind we had come to expect. Crazy Circles is an attractive, acoustic-based slow rock song, with some nice acoustic soloing in the middle. Gone, Gone, Gone is a solid, riffy Skynyrd-esque rocker. You can say the same about the grinding Evil Wind. Paul Rodgers copes effortlessly with songs like this, he is “Mr. Reliable”, isn’t he? The track has a nice, deep bass line on it too and some nice guitar near the end.

  

Early In The Morning is a very Free-style slow ballad. Lonely For Your Love could be from 1974, but it rocks majestically from beginning to end. Mick RalphsOh, Atlanta is a lyrically surprising one - a Herefordshire lad going on about being “on my way back to Georgia”, but it is another convincing, lively number. Take The Time is a warm, melodic Rodgers soulful slow burner. Rhythm Machine is a catchy one too, with an infectious drum sound.

The closer, She Brings Me Love starts off just like Joe Cocker’s With A Little Help From My Friends before settling into a more recognisable Bad Company sound. It has an anthemic quality to it that provides a fine ending to a good album.


Rough Diamonds (1982)


Electricland/Untie The Knot/Nuthin' On The TV/Painted Face/Kick Down/Ballad Of The Band/Cross Country Boy/Old Mexico/Downhill Ryder/Racetrack                                             

This album, from 1982, saw Paul Rodgers call it a day after its release. Recording sessions had been strained, with Rodgers and bassist Boz Burrell fighting at one point. It proved to be the last straw, and the last album for the original line-up, that had lasted since 1974. The band tried to throw in a few new sounds - a bit of funk, some brass, some keyboards and piano but, unfortunately, it didn’t really catch on.

Electricland is an atmospheric, brooding number that is not typical Bad Company at all, really, despite some powerful riffs. Untie The Knot is an appealing piece of funk/rock. Boz Burrell’s Nuthin’ On The TV is a catchy, Lynyrd Skynyrd-style rock groove that even used the Skynyrd spelling of “nuthin’”. It sways along nicely, though, despite its somewhat hackneyed lyrics about nothing in the telly in the hotel room. Painted Face has an appeal to it, strangely in its synthesiser riff and and melodic strains. The group were trying to move with the times a bit here, it was probably just not enough.

 

Kick Down is recognisable as Mick Ralphs track in a sort of early seventies Mott The Hoople way.  Burrell’s lively, poppy Ballad Of The Band is not the band’s best, let’s be honest. It sounds like the sort of material that appears on many Ringo Starr albums. The slightly funky and brassy Cross Country Boy has a bar-room, piano-driven swing to it. Ralphs’ Old Mexico sees him revisit his travelling in the USA theme, this time heading over the borderline into Mexico. It isn’t a bad song,  but totally at odds with most music from 1982, though.

Downhill Ryder, while containing some classic riffs, also toys with a vaguely funky sound. It is sort of sad hearing Rodgers’ voice towering over songs like this for the last time with the group. Racetrack is a return to a more traditional Bad Company sound and then that was that for a group that suffered from not ever deviating much from their usual sound, but I have to say that when it was good, it was rockingly good.



Bad Company Live 1977 & 1979


This is an excellent live compilation, taken from Bad Company concerts from HoustonTexas in 1977 and Wembley ArenaLondon in 1979. Despite the fact that the flames of punk were burning all around them, Bad Company carried on with their brand of muscular, pounding, bluesy rock regardless and their loyal fans seemed to keep lapping it up, judging from the crowd reaction and atmosphere apparent on both recordings.



The sound quality from both concerts is excellent, made to be turned up loud and enjoyed appropriately. It is also notable that over the two set lists, only Shooting Star and the encore of Feel Like Makin' Love are duplications, showing that they had a fair amount of material at their disposal, and also making it value for money for customers in this double CD format. It is not just the well-known tracks, there are plenty of good ones across both gigs, like Too BadHoney ChildRock Steady and Movin' On. All quality, beefy rockers. The Free-esque Simple Man and Bad Company are great too.

Paul Rodgers' voice is on top form in both concerts, as it aways is the the riffs are big and powerful throughout. As I said earlier, there is a great live atmosphere. It is a fine example of just what a dynamic rock band Bad Company were, despite by 1979 being somewhat anachronistic (certainly in the UK, not so much in the US, where heavy rock always had a huge following). Recommended.