Friday, September 01, 2006

Love Stories: The Birmingham Sound

Roscoe Robinson - Let Me Be Myself

Little Lois Barber - Thank You Baby

Today's post is an amalgam of several love stories. Yesterday I received my copy of the new Rabbit Factory CD The Birmingham Sound: The Soul of Neal Hemphill, Vol. 1, and it is truly a great CD. All praise must be given to John Ciba for doing an excellent job with this comp. In reading the liner notes and listening to the CD, the "love story" theme jumped to the front of my mind.

Neal Hemphill, a plumber with a love of music (not to mention an earlier gospel singing career), opened his first studio in the basement of the offices of his plumbing business. A man with an open heart and an open mind, as the liner notes state, he was willing to give a wide range of musicians and songwriters the chance to present their material and record. In so doing, he ended up giving Frederick Knight, Sam Dees and others a start in the business. Hemphill also had a love for gadgetry and experimentation, which he applied to his quest for a "Birmingham sound," even if that meant "playing" a vacuum cleaner or, in the case of Frederick Knight's 1972 Stax smash "I've Been Lonely For So Long," hitting a drum stool with a two-by-four! Although Hemphill's national success was fairly limited (the Frederick Knight Stax material was the most successful), the music that came out of the studio, whose personnel included Knight, Dees and Roscoe Robinson, was top-notch and the love that Hemphill and all of the musicians had is very apparent.

John Ciba's love for soul music and this particular story is evident in the CD, his first compilation release. Like the fine folks at Numero, Ciba's intense research and respect for the material resulted in a fantastic CD. The liner notes, which are a mixture of narrative and interviews with key players in the Hemphill story (unfortunately, Neal passed away in 1985; I can't help but think he'd be thrilled by this project), are very informative and really give the reader a great picture of the creative "family" atmosphere that existed at the studio. Ciba's track selection is fantastic. The set leans more in a '70s direction and is mostly mid- to up-tempo material, and there's really not a dud in the set. There's lots of strong and thrilling material: unreleased tracks from Roscoe Robinson (including one of today's selections), Sam Dees material heretofore unreleased on CD, unreleased Frederick Knight stuff, and interesting funk and soul tunes that show off the loose, fun and sometimes eccentric style that Hemphill pushed his musicians to have (one track, by "Butterbean" Flippo, is a loosey-goosey country funk stomp, and today's other selection features some oddball percussion).

With all of the love I've mentioned so far, I should also say that I'm feeling the love also, as I love this CD. I've listened to it about seven times already and it's one of the best comps I've heard in a long time (I'm already eager for Volume 2 to come out). I know I don't generally do CD reviews here, but if you have an interest in soul music, this is a gem worth buying. It's yet another testament of how much good music was coming out at that time, and from so many small players in the business, whose love made all the magic. Take a listen to these two tunes, go buy the CD (it's available online at Dusty Groove and Amazon and other places) and I'm sure you'll love it, too.

P.S.: It's also good to see Ciba give a shout-out in the acknowledgments to Georgia Soul expert Brian Poust; hopefully someday Brian will be able to do a compilation like this, so that his love will shine also!


Godfrey Daniel said...

Never heard Little Lois Barber before. Big thanks, Stepfather, for "Thank You Baby", and for your great blog. Added your feed. You got the stuff.

Sara Leah said...

Thanks so much. Great post. I love this disc. I had the great opportunity to see both the CD release show in Chicago and in Birmingham. Roscoe can still break hearts. There are some pictures of him and legendary soulster Otis Clay.