Thursday, January 24, 2008

Yes We Can (In Muscle Shoals)!

Mel & Tim - Yes We Can Can

Most soul acts don't get to have multiple shots at the big time, much less from multiple cities or on multiple labels. Mel Hardin and Tim McPherson, cousins who started singing together as part of the Welcome Travelers gospel group before going into secular music as "Mel & Tim," were an exception to this rule. The cousins were signed by Gene Chandler to his Bamboo label in the late '60s and had a hit right out of the gate with 1969's "Backfield in Motion," on which the duo's fine harmony singing was coupled with a swinging Chicago soul groove. Despite having a further minor hit with "Good Guys Only Win in the Movies" and the release of a total of seven 45s (including a great reading of "Groovy Situation," which Chandler himself would have a major hit with on Mercury) and an LP, by the dawn of the '70s the duo and Chandler had parted ways. They hooked up with Barry Beckett down at Muscle Shoals Sound, and his connections with Stax Records resulted in yet another smash hit, the Phillip Mitchell-penned ballad "Starting All Over Again," in 1972. As in the case with Bamboo, they had a second hit with "I May Not Be What You Want," which was featured in the concert film Wattstax. (The duo did not perform at the festival, although recordings were made in an L.A. nightclub but not used in the film; see my Wattstax-themed post for more details about the oddities regarding the film and Stax's handling of the soundtrack.) After a total of five singles and two LPs, commercial success had faded and Mel and Tim's recording career ground to a halt. Fortunately, both the Bamboo and Stax material has been reissued on CD for us soul fans to enjoy!

Today's selection is Mel and Tim's lesser-known version of the Lee Dorsey classic funker "Yes We Can." Beckett and the boys in Muscle Shoals keep true to the Allen Toussaint/Meters New Orleans groove, and Mel and Tim do a good job with the vocals. Their version of the tune was a track on the Starting All Over Again LP, so it got little notice, and at any rate the Pointer Sisters' cover of the tune, which stripped away the New Orleans groove and turned it in to a slick piece of femme funk, would be that group's first hit in 1973.

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