Tuesday, 23 February 2021

Soul/Funk miscellaneous (part three)

Archie Bell & The Drells - There’s Gonna Be A Showdown (1969)

I Love My Baby/Houston Texas/There’s Gonna Be A Showdown/Giving Up Dancing/Girl You’re Too Young/Mama Didn’t Teach Me That Way/Do The Hand Jive/My Balloon’s Going Up/Here I Go Again/Go For What You Know/Green Power/Just A Little Closer

Released in 1969 on the Atlantic label, this was the last studio album for about six years from Houston, Texas’s male vocal group, Archie Bell & The Drells. It doesn’t beg a huge amount of analysis being devoted to it, and it will simply suffice to say that it is full of melodious, often lively and catchy dance floor soul. The slowies are beautifully lush and smooth in their quality too. Archie Bell’s vocals are, dare I say, clear as a bell. 

The group were a bit of an underrated gem of an outfit, not quite getting the success of, say, The Drifters or The Detroit Spinners. That was a shame because this album is really great. It is a fine soul album from a group that I had not previously associated with albums. 

The highlight is the popular Northern Soul floor filler, Here I Go Again, with its fade-in piano intro, great guitar line, pounding drums and string orchestrated mid-song part. It became a top twenty hit in the UK some three years later, in 1972. I remember hearing it at the time and not realising it was three years old, I thought it and the group were new to the scene.

There’s Gonna Be A Showdown is another totally infectious, upbeat number and has a “live” sounding vibe to it in the countdown bit in the middle (the group has a habit of making studio recordings sound as if they were live by using imitation ad hoc on stage chat in their recordings as they did on Tighten Up). This was also popular on the Northern Soul circuit and rightly so - it’s great. Totally uplifting.

The singalong, horn-driven groove of Do The Hand Jive is also clearly dance-themed and gets you feeling nostalgic for more innocent, carefree times (even in 1969 it was looking to the past) and just get a load of the sumptuous soulful rhythm of I Love My Baby. It has great sound quality too - lovely stereo separation and warmth. Check the rumbling bass on the funky soul of Giving Up Dancing too. That also goes for the irresistible deep soul groove of Girl You’re Too Young. I love the slow, Stax-ish soul of Mama Didn’t Teach Me That Way. Look, it’s all top notch Southern soul, albeit South-Western. I can’t enthuse enough about this lovely little nugget of an album, it has wonderful bass, drums and horns throughout and some soaring vocals. What more do you need?

Tighten Up (1968)

Tighten Up (Part 1)/Tighten Up (Part 2)/I Don't Wanna Be A Playboy/You're Mine/Knock On Wood/Give Me Time/In The Midnight Hour/When You Left Heartache Began/Thousand Wonders/Soldier's Prayer, 1967

Before the above album had been this one, showcasing the funky, two part rhythmic groove of Tighten Up, which also featured that "live" style and was an early example of the sort of funky instrumentals that would be popular in the seventies. It contains some absolutely killer drum parts and is the sort of track that you can just listen to again and again without tiring of it. 

The rest of the album, however, is more ballad-oriented, and, along with a couple of workaday covers of Eddie Floyd's Knock On Wood and Wilson Pickett's In The Midnight Hour make for a collection that is not nearly as irresistibly toe-tapping as There's Gonna Be A Showdown would be. When You Left Heartache Began is a fine track, though, as is the brassy, upbeat Thousand Wonders.

Shalamar - Best Of

For a few years straddling the seventies and the eighties, Shalamar were one of the most successful disco pop groups around - Howard Hewett, Jody Watley and Jeffery Daniel were the vocalists, the latter two went on to have some solo success too. Where Odyssey were two female and one male vocalists, Shalamar were two male and one female.

They produced a string of danceable, singalong hits that also had enough funk about them to remain credible - Take That To The Bank, A Night To Remember and I Can Make You Feel Good were the funkiest of their offerings, before they veered more towards pop with the attractively-strummed guitar-riff sounds of (particularly) There It Is, Friends, Dead Giveaway and Disappearing Act. I like all of these singles so much, the last batch being very much part of the carefree, partying sound of 1982-83. What a copper-bottomed disco classic A Night To Remember is, let's be honest. Superb.

Also a really good track is the pop funk of the Second Time Around. I love this one too, it is full of unbridled enthusiasm and just that simple feel-good factor. 

Etta James - A Retrospective

This legendary gravel-voiced bleached blonde bluesy singer was one of the finest female singers to come out of Chess Records. Her career spanned the fifties to the seventies initially and she returned after various health problems to perform into the new millennium. 

The highlights are the obvious ones - the brassy, feisty, no-nonsense I Just Want To Make Love To You; the supreme churchy organ-driven and much-covered soul of I Would Rather Go Blind; the gospelly rock ' n' roll strains Of Something's Got A Hold On Me; the equally uplifting Almost Persuaded; the punchy, spunky Stax-y soul of Tell Mama; the gritty funk on In The Basement and the I Would Rather Go Blind soundalike of Losers Weepers. All quality stuff. You could listen to any Etta James track and like it - cherry picking is quite difficult. If you've got soul you've got soul.

There is a great live album of hers too, recorded with a full-on riffy rock band backing, that dates from 1994 and has a great rock version of I Just Want To Make Love To You and an absolutely stonking Otis Redding Medley. Check it out, it's called Live From San Francisco. It rocks, big time, from beginning to end. Born Blue, the show closer, is simply magnificent.

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