Friday, 21 February 2020

The Crusaders



1 (1972)


That's How I Feel/So Far Away/Put It Where You Want It/Mystique Blues/Full Moon/Sweet Revival/Mud Hole/It's Just Gotta Be That Way/Georgia Cottonfield/A Shade Of Blues/Three Children/Mosadi                                                                     
In 1971, The Jazz Crusaders diversified away from the jazz of their original name, and became simply The Crusaders, adding more than a little funk to the sound as they did so. Many jazz artists seemed to be getting the funk in the early seventies. It was the vibe, man. They were taking the sounds and atmosphere of a jazz club and mixing it with the gritty, urban funk music of the streets, which made for a mighty appealing mix on this lengthy 1972 double album release.

That's How I Feel is an excellent opening to the album, full of brooding funky wah-wah guitar, swirling jazzy saxophone, rumbling bass and shuffling funky fatback drums. Carole King's So Far Away is given a delicious, thirteen minute makeover. It is a veritable cornucopia of sumptuous virtuosity - tinkling, melodic piano (Joe Sample), subtle bass (Chuck Rainey), gently insistent drums (Stix Hooper), trumpet (Wayne Henderson) and wonderfully evocative saxophone (Wilton Felder) all feature heavily. The bass line reminds me of Steely Dan's Rikki Don't Lose That Number. Bassist Chuck Rainey went on to play on that band's Pretzel Logic album, along with Wilton Felder.

Put It Where You Want It (also covered by The Average White Band but with added lyrics) is a magnificent track, which, despite having no vocals, is marvellously catchy. You almost feel that it has vocals, but it doesn't. Radio stations caught on to that as well, and played it alongside other singles. Check out that infectious guitar line (Larry Carlton). Great stuff. The same can be said for the atmospheric slow burn of Mystique Blues. Once more, what a great track.

 

Full Moon is an intoxicating piece of early seventies gritty jazzy funk that wouldn't sound out of place on a Blaxploitation compilation. It has that urban street jazz sound that was so prevalent in 1971-1973. Man, just listen to that bass intro to Sweet Revival. Then the guitar and the drums kick in and the rhythm is utterly captivating. 

Mud Hole is a gritty, funky number with some excellent drum parts. It's Just Gotta Be That Way sees the group going late night jazz blues on a most relaxing number, while the jazzy funk is back in a. big way on Georgia Cottonfield, with is very "jazz" piano solo.

A Shade Of Blues is very Blaxploitation soundtrack-esque. Wah-wah and horns - you know the sound. Three Children ploughs the same furrow. The piano solo reminds me of Mike Garson's piano work on David Bowie's Aladdin Sane. The bass too. 

Mosadi is a slow burning jazzer to finish with, with a touch of Abdullah Ibrahim about it (with added wah-wah, of course).

A whole double album here is a lot of music but it serves well as really high quality background (but loud enough to hear and appreciate) music, while you're reading, for example.




Street Life (1979)


Street Life/My Lady/Rodeo Drive (High Steppin')/Carnival Of The Night/The Hustler/Night Faces         
                                          
From disco's rhythms, in 1979, melodic, jazz funk grooves had become a more discerning music of choice for those who found disco's poppy vibes too lowest common denominator. Nothing summed this up more than The Crusaders's huge hit, Street Life, although I have often wondered what those who bought this album expecting more of the same felt when they heard five instrumentals along with that track.

The album is crammed full of superb saxophone, piano and jazzy rhythm, however. It is a lovely late night, chilled out piece of work. The sound quality is also outstanding, the sort of thing you used to hear played in hi-fi shops as a demonstration of the equipment’s quality.

Street Life, as I said, needs no introduction, of course. It is the album's only vocal track, featuring the talents of Randy Crawford. It is presented here in its full, eleven minute plus version, with its slow, soulful introduction before that instantly recognisable horn/funky guitar riff kicks in.

 

My Lady has an infectious, insistent drum beat and that typically jazz funk tinkling piano, the sort that Shakatak would come to specialise in. The saxophone soloing is superb and the track, indeed like all the album washes over you like a warm bath. Near the end it features some really good drum/sax rhythms.

Rodeo Drive (High Steppin’) and Carnival Of The Night are largely saxophone-driven. The former is quite jaunty and has a feel of a seventies movie soundtrack, you know, as the camera sweeps over brightly lit New York streets and skyscrapers of an evening as the opening credits roll in big yellow writing. The latter has some intoxicating percussion work and a pretty irresistible series of saxophone breaks. The two tracks sort of complement each other.

The Hustler has a bit of a blaxploitation funky vibe to it, while Night Faces is a deliciously bassy slice of dignified jazz funk to finish off the album in relaxed mood. The bass and piano interplay is excellent and that bass is just beautifully warm and melodic. Good stuff. It is a real pleasure form beginning to end.





Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Sam Dees



The Show Must Go On (1975)


Child Of The Streets/The Show Must Go On/Come Back Strong/Just Out Of Reach/Claim Jumpin'/Troubled Child/What's It Gonna Be/Worn Out Broken Heart/Good Guys/So Tied Up  
                                          
This superb 1975 album from an artist that was better-known as a songwriter (for Gladys Knight, Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, George Benson, Millie Jackson and KC & The Sunshine Band among many others), is a virtually unknown gem of a rarity. Coming a bit late to the message of urban decay/societal decline/drug abuse trend of the late sixties/early seventies in soul music it still carried a fine, funky punch to it, both musically and lyrically. Another fine point about it is the fact that there is not only meaningful, conscious material on here but also some sweet soul too. Is has a nice balance to it. The album has lain dormant, out of print, for many years until it appeared on the Atlantic Soul Legends 20 album compilation, delighting soul fans. The sound on it is absolutely stunning too, lovely and bassy.

Child Of The Streets is a marvellously atmospheric, slow burning social message number, with obvious echoes of The Temptations, The Undisputed Truth and Marvin Gaye. "Your father is a pusherman" was the opening line and it set the trend for a hard-hitting, bassy groove that delivers like a preacher dishing out a wise warning. It is packed full of depressing and uncompromising images backed by echoey, haunting vocals. Written by Dees with bassist David Camon, it is very influenced by Norman Whitfield and Curtis Mayfield.

As I said earlier, the album is varied as well, though - it is not all trouble and strife as the sweet, lush, romantic soul of The Show Must Go On proves. It is very like something groups like Blue Magic or The Manhattans would do, or The Chi-Lites on Have You Seen Her

Come Back Strong is positively Harold Melvin/Teddy Pendergrass-esque, not only in its gruffly soulful vocal, but also in its typically seventies-style Philly soul bass and percussion interplay. 

Just Out Of Reach continues in classic slow soul ballad fashion. Dees is a pretty competent singer, it has to be said, with a rich, warm but gritty tone, sort of Bobby Womack meets Teddy Pendergrass.

Claim Jumpin' returns to social problems, and is a cookin', thumpin' brassy funker that should have gained more than just cult success. 

The atmosphere is continued on the Curtis Mayfield-influenced Troubled Child. It is delivered at walking pace and carries a sombre message to it. The tempo and ambience rises up again on the jaunty Bobby Womack-style soul of What's It Gonna Be

Polished, slick soul is the order of the day for the very Chi-Lites-esque Worn Out Broken Heart

Good Guys has a positively Detroit Spinners vibe and vocal sound to it. The final track, So Tied Up, is a slow, late night smoocher of a song, in sort of Love TKO mode.

So, only three of the ten songs are message ones, but they certainly are notable, the rest are sumptuous, romantic soul. It makes for a nice combination. There is no doubt that this was a soul album of the highest order and deserves attention.





Angélique Kidjo



Remain In Light (2018)


Born Under Punches/Crosseyed And Painless/The Great Curve/Once In A Lifetime/Houses In Motion/Seen And Not Seen/Listening Wind/The Overload                                        
As someone who bought Talking Heads' Remain In Light upon release in 1980 and is virtually familiar with every note, this is certainly a most interesting release (I have reviewed the original album in detail on the Talking Heads page). Here, Benin artist Angélique Kidjo covers the entire album from an African perspective, which highlights the very West African, Afrobeat rhythms that inspired David Byrne and the band in the first place. The whole album is intoxicatingly rhythmic, with Hi-life, Afrobeat sounds pulsating throughout from beginning to end. Legendary Fela Kuti drummer Tony Allen is one of many musicians to contribute to a huge, punchy, horn and percussion-powered non-stop groove and Kidjo's vocals are euphorically rousing. She never lets the huge backing get the better of her. It is a wonderful piece of Afro/rock fusion that takes a classic album and respectfully enhances it. Kidjo has said that she remembers listening to the original album and immediately recognising aspects of her native music within, at a time when not too much Western rock/new wave music contained such clear "world music" influences. What she and her team have done is recognise all those West African influences, kept them there and built on them, considerably. This is not like an orchestra re-working a rock album, unconvincingly, it is West African musicians taking a Western album that was considerably influenced by their own indigenous music and creating something very special, using that very music. It doesn't sound remotely forced, anything but. It is a joy. Be prepared, though, the sound is thumpingly loud and you need to lower the sound on your system to appreciate it at its best.

The old "side one" of the original album, the rhythmic trio of Born Under Punches, Crosseyed And Painless and The Great Curve are, unsurprisingly, the tracks which are the most convincing. They were the most obviously African and lend themselves perfectly for this sort of project. As on the original album, the rhythm and beat doesn't let up for a minute. The searing rock guitar of the original hasn't been neglected either. All the African elements are embellished, coming even more to the fore at the expense of the Brian Eno-inspired electronic, ambient textures that merged with the African rhythms on the original album. This work is full-on African, which, of course, the skeleton of the original album was.

One track that doesn't quite come off for me, however, is Once In A Lifetime. The album's most commercial track and my least favourite doesn't quite get there, sounding a bit too fussy and cluttered. Also, the thing that gave the song a lot of is appeal was David Byrne's vocal, paranoid quirkiness. Kidjo has none of that in her delivery. That is splitting hairs a little, however, as it is still eminently listenable, more for its music than its lyrics, whereas the original was the other way around.

The beguiling Houses In Motion is given a staccato, bassy and different makeover, featuring some ethnic language parts (Yoruba?). This one works well, with a completely infectious rhythm/beat. Listen to those authentic West African horns too. 

The lyrically mysterious, spoken Seen And Not Seen is given a vibrant, thumping new life by Kidjo. The David Byrne spoken bits, perplexing as they are, now sound hauntingly voodoo-esque in Kidjo's hands. The album's cover has echoes of that too. The end of the song breaks out into an uplifting glorious piece of choral majesty. 

The same can be said of Listening Wind. As on all of the tracks, all the vocal call-and-response is there, but emphasised even more. The vocals are truly amazing throughout, check out the bass and addictive percussion on here too. These three tracks are all really impressive.

The sombre, always incongruous post-punk gloom of The Overload is another that doesn't quite come off, though. It has no need for Kidjo's rousing vocals. Still, six out of eight corkers ain't half bad.

This had the potential to be a disaster, attempting to cover such an iconic, unique album like this, but it is the very opposite. It is a refreshing triumph. It is possible for both albums to co-exist, bouncing off each other but they can also flourish separately and that says it all.




Saturday, 15 February 2020

Clarence Wheeler & The Enforcers



Doin' What I Wanna (1970)


Hey Jude/Sham Time/Theme From Electric Surfboard/Right On/Dream Bossa Nova/Doin’ What I Wanna/C.W.   
                                                                         
This was Atlantic’s first foray into jazz funk, with this virtually unheralded debut album. Coming out in 1970, along with Donny Hathaway’s Everything Is Everything, it stands as quite a ground-breaking release for the label, also exemplifying the contemporary changes in soul music at the turn of the decade.

Wheeler was the tenor saxophonist. He was joined by George Hughes on drums, Sonny Burke on organ, Sonny Covington on trumpet and, try as I might, I cannot find out who played the magnificent bass that embellishes the album. Never mind, I can still enjoy listening to it.

The album has a superb stereo sound to it, rich in bassiness and nowhere is this better heard than on the group’s impressive and innovative funky cover of Hey Jude. It is wonderfully rhythmic and full of strident organ breaks. Listen to that lovely, rubbery bass line too. Funk meets jazz and the result is ensured when the big brass parts kick in, followed by some delicious trumpet. It takes a well-known song and turns it into an instrumental tour de force. Great stuff indeed. How Atlantic soul has progressed.

It is now time for some kick-ass early seventies funk in the horn, bass and drum-driven instrumental glory of Sham Time

Theme From Electric Surfboard has an infectious bossa nova groove but also launches via its organ breaks into passages of Blaxplotation-esque brassy funk. It also has some very late fifties-style jazz saxophone from Wheeler. I have to reiterate that the sound is truly outstanding.

This was one of the first times that funk met jazz, something that would become very common in black music over the next few years. This was a precursor to the jazz funk of the Blaxploitation era. This vibe is continued on the intoxicating groove of Right On, which includes a few isolated female backing vocals, one of whom was Judy Clay, of William Bell duet fame. 

Dream Bossa Nova is a treat for saxophone and bass fans. It is sumptuously beautiful, lounge jazz of the highest order. A bit retrospective maybe but therein lies its appeal.

Doin’ What I Wanna has more virtuoso saxophone, set against a shuffling, funky beat with more excellent organ. 

C.W. signs off on a track that bears his initials with some more soaring sax. Check out that funky organ break too.

This was an unusual, trend-breaking Atlantic album that is well worth checking out.


Friday, 14 February 2020

Donny Hathaway



Everything Is Everything (1970)


Voice Inside (Everything Is Everything)/Je Vous Aime ( I Love You)/I Believe To My Soul/Misty/Sugar Lee/Tryin' Times/Thank You Master (For My Soul)/The Ghetto/To Be Young, Gifted & Black/A Dream  
                                                                   
This was where, in 1970, Atlantic Records got the funk. It was Donny Hathaway's debut album and a fine, cookin' offering it was too. It mixes soul with gospel, funk, brassy soul and even bits of jazz as the seventies began with an expression of social conscience. This was something The Temptations had kick-started in 1968-69 and was now starting to reach bubbling point. This was also a very spiritual, religious album alongside some of its messages of concern. Love, faith and a caring for one's fellow man are the touchstones here.

Voice Inside (Everything Is Everything) is Blaxploitation-ish piece of hard-hitting, urban sou/funk/gospel, delivered over bassist Phil Upchurch's truly sublime bass line. It expresses a social message of the sort that Marvin Gaye, The Undisputed Truth, The Temptations and Curtis Mayfield would continue in the same period. For some reason, though, this excellent album slipped under the radar of all but the cognoscenti.

Je Vous Aime (I Love You) is a solid piece of funky romancing. Hathaway's strong, warm voice enhances the song no end. Rich and emotive, it dominates every song on the album, to be honest, with a preacher-ish, church passion. 

Ray Charles' I Believe To My Soul is a brassy, muscular number with blaring horns and a bit of jazzy influence. It also has a Can I Get A Witness vibe to it, lyrically. 

Misty is a laid-back, bluesy ballad with more great bass and brooding horns.

Sugar Lee is a handclaps, bass and percussion-backed slice of irresistible instrumental groove. Once more. check out Upchurch's beautifully rubbery bass. 

Tryin' Times is an upbeat protest song about " a whole lot of things wrong goin' down". It is a vibrant sermon of a song, driven along by a rocking piano and an infectious rhythm. 

Thank You Master (For My Soul) is a devotional, jazz, blues and brass piece of praise. Listen to that addictive drum, bass and piano interplay half way through.

The Ghetto is well-known to all Blaxploitation fans, as it appears on many compilations of the early seventies, urban funk genre. It is nearly seven minutes of insistent, rhythmic polemic. It smoulders from beginning to end, from Hathaway's vocal introduction, through its intoxicating drums and keyboard-driven backing. Classic stuff.

Nina Simone's To Be Young Gifted & Black, known to all reggae fans, of course, is given a slowed-down jazzy blues makeover. It is performed at walking pace, nothing like the lively Bob & Marcia reggae hit version.

This was a ground-breaking album for Atlantic in many ways, travelling down different roads to the largely upbeat soul of the sixties. It is a relatively underrated piece of work, surprisingly.




Howard Tate



Howard Tate (1972)


She’s A Burglar/8 Days On The Road/You Don’t Know Nothing ‘Bout Love/When I Was A Young Man/Girl Of The North Country/Where Did My Baby Go/Keep Cool/Jemima Surrender/Strugglin’/It’s Heavy/It’s Your Move/The Bitter End  
                                                      
This was Howard Tate’s only album for Atlantic Records and it is a bit of a hidden treasure. I had certainly not heard of it, or indeed Tate himself, until recently. That is possibly down to my own ignorance, however. Either way, this is an ebullient album of grinding seventies soul with a nice balance between funky soul and passionate, heartfelt ballads.

She’s A Burglar, although lyrically a bit clumsy, is a solid, punchy serving of funky, brassy early seventies soul. 

8 Days On The Road has a great vocal over its muscular, shuffling beat. 

You Don’t Know Nothing ‘Bout Love is an emotional, slow ballad. 

When I Was A Young Man is funky grinder of a track. Funk was finding its way into soul far more now, in 1972, than in Atlantic/Stax’s sixties output. These early seventies years were the ones that saw the real emergence of funk.

 

An interesting curio here is a slowed-down, full-on soul rendition of Bob Dylan’s Girl Of The North Country, titled here as “of” instead of “from”, oddly. Anyway, Tate does a great job on the vocal. 

Where Did My Baby Go once again smoulders with funk/rock/soul power. 

Keep Cool has a bit of a Temptations vibe about it, especially on the chorus. 

The lyrically bemusing Jemima Surrender is backed by a swirling saxophone and is another that knocks you sideways with its power. 

Strugglin’ slows the pace down but it still has that classic Memphis guitar sound to it. All the tracks on here are quality, really, it is one of those albums where you can’t find too much fault with it, if you like earthy Stax soul, that is.

It’s Heavy grooves chunkily along, with more great guitar, it sort of reminds me of some of Elton John’s early seventies horn-driven stuff. 

It’s Your Move is similarly muscular as also is the final track, The Bitter End. This was a pleasing find, and, together with its fine sound quality, makes for a good listen.



Thursday, 13 February 2020

Percy Sledge



When A Man Loves A Woman (1966)


When A Man Loves A Woman/My Adorable One/Put A Little Lovin' On Me/Love Me All The Way/When She Touches Me/You're Pouring Water On A Drowning Man/Thief In The Night/You Fooled Me/Love Makes The World Go Round/Success/Love Me Like You Mean It   
                                             
This was Percy Sledge's 1966 debut album. It is full to overflowing with gospel-influenced soul of the highest order. If you just know the title track, listen on further.

When A Man Loves A Woman is an all-time classic, from that churchy organ through Percy's heartfelt vocal it is just wonderful. It is simply one of the finest love songs of all time. It is the only Percy Sledge song many people know, and if that is all they know, they can't go far wrong with it. It was the only one I knew for many years, before I explored deeper into the soul vaults.

My Adorable One is an uplifting slow piece of gospelly soul, with Percy's vocal helping to take the organ-driven song higher. 

Put A Little Lovin' On Me is a rocking, sax-powered Little Richard-esque stomper. It showed that Percy could rock as well as deliver ballads. I love the sheer energy and sheer joie de vivre of this one.

Love Me All The Way is back to balladry on a sumptuous serving of soulful romance, with a very late fifties slow piano backing. You will know what I mean when you hear it. 

When She Touches Me features more of that gospel organ similar to that which appeared on the title track. It is like that song, understated but hugely passionate at the same time, fervent yet respectful.

You're Pouring Water On A Drowning Man is a more uptempo groover, but still a very soulful one, with excellent organ and a rumbling bass line. It was convincingly covered by Elvis Costello on his 1995 Kojak Variety album. 

Man, I just love Thief In The Night. It has a rhythmic but seductive Northern Soul vibe to it, full of bass, organ and Percy's heavenly vocal. Great stuff. A real hidden gem of a track. 

You Fooled Me is delivered once more in that slow, dignified, moving style. Percy Sledge did this sort of thing better than most around.

Loves Makes The World Go Round is another with a Northern Soul feel to it, in its lively beat and female backing vocals. It has a great bass/vocal bit near the end. 

Success is a slow, brass and organ-powered soul ballad. Typical mid-sixties Atlantic/Stax fare. 

Love Me Like You Mean It is an upbeat, Otis Redding-esque thumper to end on. I love this too. In fact I love the whole album. Its sound is pretty good, the tracks are actually all superior to the title track, sound-wise, for some reason. Good album.



The Bar-Kays



Soul Finger (1967)


Soul Finger/Knucklehead/With A Child's Heart/Bar-Kays Boogaloo/Theme From Hell's Angels/You Can't Sit Down/House Shoes/Pearl High/I Want Someone/Hole In The Wall/Don't Do That  
                                            
The Bar-Kays were an instrumental Stax/Atlantic group similar to Booker T & The MGs, being a backing combo for a lot of the vocalists on the Memphis-based Stax and Volt labels, as well as a self-contained unit, releasing their own singles and this, their debut album, in 1967.

The group unfortunately had a tragic story and this became the only album featuring the original line-up. Four of their six members lost their lives in the plane crash that also took Otis Redding's life. Later replacements carried the group through into the seventies, however, appearing at Wattstax.

Soul Finger was their best known cut and is one that often appears on Stax/Atlantic compilations. It is a catchy instrumental that broke through into the main pop charts as well as the black/r'n'b ones. The whole album is made up of similarly infectious instrumentals that followed the Booker T style of including killer hooks and blending uptempo numbers with slower, more atmospheric numbers. The front cover is suitable freaky too, man.

Soul Finger has an added on backing of party noises helping to cement its reputation as a party anthem. It stomps from beginning to end and it a very danceable piece of fun.

Knucklehead has some great bass and lead guitar on it. There is a brief, groovy drum solo too. 

With A Child's Heart is one of those afore-mentioned slow numbers that has a touch of The Shadows about its guitar soloing. 

Bar-Kays Boogaloo is an organ-driven stomper, you can't go wrong with any of this stuff, really, all good time fare.

Theme From Hell's Angels is odd as it does not seem to relate to any film of the same name. It, unsurprisingly, has a foreboding, pounding drum rhythm to it. It is probably the heaviest cut on the album. That doesn't stop it featuring some subtle guitar breaks too, however. 

You Can't Sit Down returns to the party vibe on a lively romp. House Shoes features a stonker of a bass line and some superb guitar. 

Pearl High is another one with an absolutely captivating melody. The way the band feed off each other is so cohesive and the sound so attractive. Incidentally, the sound quality is outstanding on this album.

I Want Someone was a vocal hit for The Mad Lads. The instrumental version here is beautifully and mournfully evocative. Indeed I prefer the instrumental version to the vocal one. 

Hole In The Wall is beguiling in its seductive, bleeping organ notes. Check out those drums too. 

Don't Do That is similarly impressive. There isn't a sub-standard track on this magnificent album. One of the best instrumental albums around.



Sam & Dave




Hold On, I'm Comin' (1966)


Hold On, I’m Comin’/If You Got The Loving/I Take What I Want/Ease Me/I Got Everything I Need/Don’t Make It So Hard/It’s A Wonder/Don’t Help Me Out/Just Me/You Got It Made/You Don’t Know Like I Do/Blame Me (Don’t Blame My Heart)    
              
Sam & Dave specialised in earthy, rootsy soul, sticking to the formula of horns, bass, guitar and powerful drums with a few keyboards thrown in. They eschewed lush strings, pop sensibilities and polished, romantic productions. Down ‘n’ dirty Memphis soul was their thing. Many Motown acts in particular were going more slick and orchestrated by 1966, when this album was released , but not this pair of gruffly soulful Stax/Atlantic vocalists. They kept it real, unpretentious proper Memphis soul. Horns blasting all over the place.

What was with that cover, though, lads? The two of you riding on a huge cartoon turtle. That was one of the strangest covers of the era.

Hold On, I’m Comin’ has become an all-time classic of the genre, with its killer horn riff, pounding drums, funky guitar and singalong chorus. 

If You Got The Loving is more soulfully laid-back, with lower key horns and a gently rumbling bass backing it as it chugs appealingly along. 

I Take What I Want is a gloriously upbeat piece of gritty soul with a totally infectious beat. Check out that vocals/drum part. 

Ease Me grinds real good from beginning to end with the dual vocalists interplaying perfectly.

I Got Everything I Need slows the pace down on a classically mournful Stax ballad.

Don’t Make It So Hard continues in the same vein before It’s A Wonder ups the tempo once more on its infectious groove and Don’t Help Me Out has such a perfect bass line to it. 

Just Me is a yearning, slow ballad. When I hear these vocals I hear the influence they had on Southside Johnny so clearly.

You Got It Made is a mid-pace number with those horns blowing beautifully behind more solid, muscular drums. 

You Don’t Know Like I Know was a hit single and you can hear why in its catchy refrain and beat. Sam & Dave and their producers had an ability to give earthy, authentic soul an attractive edge. 

Blame Me (Don’t Blame My Heart) is a fine soulful tearjerker to end this  impressive album with. This was one of Atlantic/Stax’s best albums of the period, up there with Eddie Floyd and Arthur Conley’s debut albums. Its sound had a huge influence, particularly on artists like Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes, Steven Van Zandt, Bruce Springsteen and Rod Stewart.

The sound quality on the album is good too, nice and full and bassy, especially for 1966.




Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Wilson Pickett



In The Midnight Hour (1965)


The Midnight Hour/Teardrops Will Fall/Take A Little Love/For Better Or Worse/I Found A Love/That's A Man's Way/I'm Gonna Cry/Don't Fight It/Take This Love I've Got/Come Home Baby/I'm Not Tired/Let's Kiss And Make Up    
                            
While the iconic The Midnight Hour speaks and sounds for itself, the rest of this, Wilson Pickett's first proper album, is a bit of a mismatched mess. It is a selection of singles either released while with The Falcons several years earlier, or else from earlier in his post 1963 solo career. It means that there is no cohesion to either the flow of the music, or indeed the quality of the sound, which is highly variable. The Midnight Hour had excellent sound, whereas many of the other tracks are just not comparable.

Teardrops Will Fall is one of those mid-sixties soul numbers that has some echoes of the late fifties/early sixties about it. 

Take A Little Love has a bit more of a contemporary to 1965 sound. 

For Better Or Worse is a passionate number but it suffers from a dodgy sound, but not as much as I Found A Love, an old 1962 song that dated back to Pickett's time as lead singer of The Falcons. This has truly dreadful sound.

The brassy soul of That's A Man's Way is an improvement, obviously from a later date. It was written with Booker T & The MGs' Steve Cropper

I'm Gonna Cry is a 1964 single written with Don Covay. It is a vibrant, enjoyable number, but alongside The Midnight Hour it already sounds dated. 

Don't Fight It was a 1965 hit and is the first one thus far to match The Midnight Hour's sound quality and sonic  punch. It is another collaboration with Steve Cropper

Take This Love I've Got sounds horribly dated in its sound and style, although Pickett's glorious shriek of a voice shines through. A lot of this stuff sounds very early sixties and the album suffers accordingly.

Come Home Baby is, once again, very 1962-ish despite a slightly better sound. 

I'm Not Tired is an improvement, though, and is the final Steve Cropper/Pickett song. 

Let's Kiss And Make Up is a rocking, guitar-enhanced early number from The Falcons days that may have sounded great then but doesn't fit in 1965.

Basically, this album is four good tracks, the four Steve Cropper co-writes - That's A Man's Way, Don't Fight It, I'm Not Tired and The Midnight Hour. Forget the rest, historical importance or not.

Overall, I have to say that compared to other Atlantic albums from between 1965 and 1970, this is one of the most disappointing.



Pickett is pictured here with Duane Allman, who played on his Hey Jude cover.


William Bell



The Soul Of A Bell (1967)


Everybody Loves A Winner/You Don't Miss Your Water/Do Right Woman, Do Right Man/I've Been Loving You Too Long/Nothing Takes The Place Of You/Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye/Eloise (Hang On In There)/Any Other Way/It's Happening All Over/Never Like This Before/You're Such A Sweet Thang      
                 
William Bell had been around for ages, seemingly, when this, his debut album, was released in 1967. He had been recording since 1961. Everything was about singles for soul artists in the sixties, and that non-album period for him exemplifies that perfectly.

The album is a mix of mainly slow, emotional ballads sung by Bell's rich, warm and soulful voice over a typically Stax brassy backing and a second half of toe-tapping, horn-driven, upbeat numbers.

Everybody Loves A Winner is a fine example of Bell's brand of soul balladry. There were other ballad-orientated groups like The Originals and The Dramatics but, for me, Bell delivered his slower numbers with more of a soul feel about them than an "easy listening" one. He always sounded very much like the Stax artist that he was. Would you believe that You Don't Miss Your Water dated from 1961 and had taken six years to finally end up on an album.

Aretha Franklin's Do Right Woman, Do Right Man and Otis Redding's I've Been Loving You Too Long are covered is solid, convincing fashion, although I do feel that Bell's voice was good enough to have handled more original material. He approached the numbers with the velvety but earthy soulful abundance of gospel-drenched Southern soul, however, therefore they do still have something to offer.

Nothing Takes The Place Of You is an immaculately-played heartbreaker. The same applies to the yearning, emotive Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye. Stax musicians Issac Hayes and David Porter were involved on the instrumentation of this album, I believe. At this point the old "side one" ends, it had been a deliberately slow-paced side. 

Side two is much more uptempo. It opens with the energetic, Four Tops-ish Eloise (Hang On In There) that features a Levi Stubbs-esque gritty vocal from Bell.

Any Other Way is a mid-pace piece of gospel meets slowed-down rock 'n' roll backed by some sumptuous, uplifting horn breaks. I love this one - classic smouldering, brassy Stax soul. Sometimes music doesn't get much better than this. 

It's Happening All Over was an Isaac Hayes-penned song that has a fine groove to it, full of Northern Soul beat, female backing vocals and those punchy horns taking us to heaven. 

The Stax glory continues on the ebullient, addictive Never Like This Before, which is my favourite cut on the album. It pounds with a big Memphis thump from beginning to end. It even features a killer electric guitar solo - Steve Cropper? Unfortunately I haven't found that out. 

You're Such A Sweet Thang is also a lively Stax groover to end this album of two different, but equally impressive, halves. It has excellent sound quality too.




Arthur Conley




Sweet Soul Music (1967)


Sweet Soul Music/Take Me (Just As I Am)/Who’s Foolin’ Who/There’s A Place For Us/I Can’t Stop (No, No, No)/Wholesale Love/I’m A Lonely Stranger/I’m Gonna Forget About You/Let Nothing Separate Us/Where You Lead Me  
                                     
This 1967 debut album showed that Arthur Conley wasn’t just the titanic Sweet Soul Music that made his name. He shows himself to be a versatile vocalist on an enjoyable album of Southern brass-driven soul. As with Eddie Floyd’s debut from the same year, this was not an album with “filler” on it. It is full of quality material. Otis Redding produced and contributed songs to it, so that was an endorsement to begin with.

Sweet Soul Music. Where do I begin? I have loved this track for years, from its iconic horn intro, through its name checking of other soul artists it is an absolute delight. Arthur asks “do you like good music?” on the song’s first line. What a start. We sure do, Arthur. I know every note of it, even to the fade out bit of “Otis Redding’s got the feeling...”. For years this song was all I knew Arthur Conley for. This album proved that he had more to offer. It never really worked out, though, which was unfortunate, as this was a really good start. The front cover wasn't great though, was it? There were so many dreadful soul album covers in the sixties. No Sgt. Pepper fannying about in Memphis or Detroit. Just get a pretty girl on the cover in soft focus, or commission some pencil drawings of the group, Four Tops-style.

Take Me (Just As I Am) is a majestic, horn-driven soul ballad showing that Conley could do slow, emotional material too. The pace is back up on the infectious Who’s Foolin’ Who. Conley’s voice is great on this one as are the strident horns and the saxophone - a great track. 

There’s A Place For Us is another superbly-delivered ballad featuring some excellent bass and saxophone. 

The upbeat, energetic I Can’t Stop (No, No, No) is completely infectious and kicks soulful ass from beginning to end. The same applies to the catchy Otis Redding-penned groove of Wholesale Love.

I’m A Lonely Stranger is classic slow tempo, brassy soul. I’m Gonna Forget About You is very, very Sam Cooke and none the less enjoyable for it. I love this one. I'm sure big Cooke fan Rod Stewart did too. 

Let Nothing Separate Us is probably Conley’s finest vocal performance on the album. It is a beautiful, heartfelt ballad in the I’ve Been Lovin’ You A Little Too Long vein. Very Otis Redding. He wrote it after all. You can tell. 

Where You Lead Me is an organ-powered brassy Northern Soul-ish stomper to end on. Just ten tracks, but ten good ones. Arthur Conley didn’t do much more after this, just three more albums, which was a shame, because the guy could sing, no doubt about that. The sound was superb quality as well.

Incidentally, Bruce Springsteen and Rod Stewart have done great live covers of Sweet Soul Music and there is a wonderful modern version out, by The Overtones. Ike & Tina Turner also briefly did it as part of a medley on their Get Yer Ya-Yas Out set.




Eddie Floyd



Eddie Floyd (left) pictured with Steve Cropper.

Knock On Wood (1967)


Knock On Wood/Something You Got/But It’s Alright/I Stand Accused/If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody/I Don’t Want To Cry/Raise Your Hand/Got To Make A Comeback/634 - 5789/I’ve Just Been Feeling Bad/High Heel Sneakers/Warm And Tender Love 
                                   
In the sixties, soul music albums were often merely vehicles for singles, populated with throwaway “filler” along with these copper-bottomed hits. This was certainly true, but this album was not one of them. It is overflowing with great Southern soul songs - gritty, earthy but catchy Stax-style soul  at its very best. The sound quality, for 1967, is outstanding - bassy, thumping and featuring nice stereo separation. Amazingly, this was Floyd’s debut album. What a fine one it was too. The musicians were Booker T & The MGs, with Isaac Hayes adding extra keyboards and piano, so that gave it a head start.

Knock On Wood is, of course, well-known. Covered live by David Bowie in 1974, it is a glorious helping of Memphis horn-powered kick ass soul with a catchy hook of a chorus. 

Something You Got is slightly slower but has a dignified sound to it. Once again the horns play a big part, as does the bluesy piano. But It’s Alright is just upliftingly wonderful, full of lively pop/funk rhythm, killer horns, fatback drums and a great vocal from Eddie. 

I Stand Accused, later covered by Isaac Hayes, is a perfect slow soul ballad. 

If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody is mined from the same seam.

The tempo ups again on the lively I Don’t Want To Cry and then Raise Your Hand, memorably covered live by Bruce Springsteen in the mid-eighties. Southside Johnny and Steve Van Zandt will have loved stuff like this as they grew up.

Songwriter/guitarist Steve Cropper, from Booker T & The MGs, contributed to many of these songs, both writing and guitar playing, you can tell. His influence is all over the album.

Got To Make A Comeback is a slower but no less appealing number, and Wilson Pickett’s 634 - 5789 is just superb. Just check out those horns breaks - Southside Johnny would use those to great effect from 1976 onwards. 

I’ve Just Been Feeling Bad is a marvellous heartbreaker with another impressive, moving vocal. 

High Heel Sneakers is a cover, of course, but Floyd enthusiastically does the Tommy Tucker song justice. I guess covering something like this could be accused of being filler, but it is done so well that Floyd and his team get away with it. 

Warm And Tender Love is a slow-pace, romantic brassy piece of soul to end the album with. A fine half hour this has been, indeed. Quality muscular soul all the way, not a duff track on there.