Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Gotta Hear Something Positive About JB!

James Brown - Sexy, Sexy, Sexy

James Brown's body is not yet moldin' in his grave, as the squabble between his family and widow/partner (depending on who you believe) continues. Only the death of Anna Nicole Smith and the mayhem about her burial has spared soul fans from having this story plastered all over the media. Supposedly, all have agreed on a "where," but now it's a question of "when," since DNA testing is now in order to establish JB's paternity of James Brown III. In the midst of such negative news I must do a JB post to remind me of happier times, when his death was a moment for us all to honor him!

As I mentioned in my "Mind Power" post, JB wasn't as successful as a blaxploitation auteur as his contemporaries Isaac Hayes and Curtis Mayfield because he believed that recycling tracks already recorded was sufficient to score films. Today's selection is an example of this approach. "Sexy, Sexy, Sexy" was part of the soundtrack to Slaughter's Big Rip-Off, but it was nothing but a reworking of Brown's 1966 hit "Money Won't Change You" with new lyrics. JB leers away at the "sexy, sexy, sexy" woman, admiring her curvy shape (check out his advice about not dieting - "the more you get, the more I want") and having fun. Frankly, I prefer the new lyrics over the original, as they seem to make more out of the great groove. Surprisingly, the recycled 1966 sound was able to ride JB's 1973 momentum, so the song garnered 45 release and it was a hit! Now that's mind (and chart) power!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Tuff Stuff!

Roscoe Robinson - What Makes a Man Do Wrong

Gospel and soul singer Roscoe Robinson has been a busy guy lately, doing gigs organized by John Ciba (compiler of the Birmingham CD that I have praised relentlessly on this blog and on the podcast). A short article about his amazing career and an interview with Robinson can be found here. When Robinson released his first secular sides in the mid-60s he had already been all over the gospel highway as a sighted member of the Blind Boys of Mississippi and the Blind Boys of Ohio (Robinson would also work with the Blind Boys of Alabama), and so it's a natural that his gospel intensity would grace one of his first soul 45s, the great "What Makes a Man Do Wrong," released on Tuff. Over a strong beat and soaring background vocals, Robinson lays out the anguish of a man who knows he's in the wrong and wishes he could do better. It's a killer, but it went nowhere when released. Shortly thereafter Robinson created his own Gerri label, and his awesome "That's Enough" was picked up by Wand, which released other great 45s. Later releases on Sound Stage Seven, Atlantic, FAME and Paula didn't fare as well, and Robinson would return to gospel, where he remains save for the occasional gig. At his advanced age, Robinson is still tough enough!

Monday, February 26, 2007

Going Back To The Deep Soul Well

Gloria Walker - Walking With My New Love

Gloria Walker is best known for the deep soul classic "Talking About My Baby" (a monologue-heavy reworking of "I'd Rather Go Blind") on Flaming Arrow (funk fans prefer the flip, "The Gallop" by The Chevelles) and the funky 45 "Papa's Got The Wagon," one of the few King-distributed People singles. "Walking With My New Love" was the natural follow-up to the hit "Talking About My Baby," and here Walker mixes the "rap" of her earlier hit with singing, and it's a powerful, if derivative, tune.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Gospel Truth!

Joshie Jo Armstead - Stumbling Blocks, Stepping Stones (What Took Me So Long)

Jo Armstead's career in music was truly multi-faceted. As a singer, she worked with the Ikettes and then had a few hits as a solo artist; as a songwriter, she co-wrote Ray Charles' "Let's Go Get Stoned" and "I Don't Need No Doctor" and Garland Green's "Jealous Kind of Fellow"; and she ran the Giant label and its affiliates with her then-husband Mel Collins. By the mid-'70s Armstead had divorced Collins and made her final stand as a recording artist with a handful of 45s on Stax's Gospel Truth label. "Stumbling Blocks, Stepping Stones" was a minor hit, and had Stax not been in its final days the song may have fared better. It certainly deserved to be more successful - Armstead's strong singing and powerful lyrics (which, although spiritual in nature, are not hit-over-the-head gospel) are very inspiring and make for an awesome record.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Get on Down With Big Al!

Big Al Downing - Gimme Some Loving

The interesting and varied career of Big Al Downing has been discussed in a prior post. Today's selection is a 1969 House Of The Fox single from his "soul period." Downing is really cooking on his cover of the Spencer Davis Group hit, and so is the funky funky backing track. You gotta get down on this one!

Friday, February 23, 2007

Here's #15!

Episode #15 of the podcast is now available in stereo and mono! Here's the (slightly more scattershot that usual) playlist:

1. James Brown & The Famous Flames - Shout and Shimmy
2. Marcell Strong - Trying to Make Up
3. Billy Joe Young - The Push
4. Carol Fran - I'm Gonna Try
5. Larry Williams & Johnny Watson - A Quitter Never Wins
6. Randolph Walker - Achin' All Over
7. The Stereos - Stereo Freeze
8. Otis Reddding - "Stay in School" PSA
9. Gwen Davis - My Man Don't Think I Know
10. Ray Bryant - Up Above the Rock
11. Marion Black - Who Knows
12. Deanie Parker & The Valadors - My Imaginary Guy
13. Josephine Taylor - What Is Love
14. The Rayons - I'm Giving Up Baby
15. Dori Grayson - Try Love
16. Carla Thomas - Coca-Cola Ad
17. Willie Parker - You Got Your Finger In My Eye
18. The Steelers - I'm Sorry
19. Steve Mancha - Just Keep On Lovin' Me
20. Earl King - Poor Sam
21. Curly Moore - Get Low Down (Pt. 1)
22. Roscoe Shelton - I Know Your Heart Has Been Broken
23. The Impressions - My Deceiving Heart
24. The Sons of Moses - Soul Symphony (closing theme)


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Knight of Birmingham!

Frederick Knight - You've Never Really Lived

Frederick Knight scored an oddball hit in 1972 on Stax with "I've Been Lonely For So Long," which was recorded in Birmingham, Alabama with the crew at Neal Hemphill's Sounds of Birmingham studio. In keeping with the "Hemphill sound," among the percussion on the record is a drum stool being hit by a two-by-four! Knight revisited the quirky groove of his biggest hit on the 45 "Trouble," a nice reggae-tinged tune that Ry Cooder would later cover. Although Knight's more unconventional songs are best known today, he was also a very strong singer and writer of straight-ahead '70s Southern soul, as demonstrated by his last Stax hit, "I Betcha Didn't Know That" (also a hit for K.C. & The Sunshine Band in its latter days) and today's selection, an unreleased track that saw the light of day on the great The Birmingham Sound comp. "You've Never Really Lived" is as warm as a down comforter, with rich electric horn lines and a nice slide guitar line in the intro. Knight's falsetto tenderly addresses the great lyrics. This really should've been released, but thanks to John Ciba for getting it out there!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

King Biscuit Time with Sonny Boy and Daddy G

Sonny Boy Williamson - One Way Out

Bluesman Sonny Boy Williamson (Aleck "Rice" Miller, not be confused with John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson, the 1940s bluesman) was the last of the "big four" Chess blues acts (Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and Little Walter being the other three), having joined the label in 1955 when Lillian McMurtry's Trumpet concern was sold to the Chess brothers. Williamson, a bit older than the other Chess bluesmen, had traveled with the legendary Robert Johnson (he claimed that he had warned Johnson not to drink from the bottle which poisoned him, and claimed that Johnson died in his arms), had taught his then-brother-in-law Chester Burnett (Howlin' Wolf) harmonica, and had hosted the immensely popular "King Biscuit Time" radio program on Helena, Arkansas radio station KFFA, where he not only plugged the show's sponsor, King Biscuit Flour, but also served as the namesake and logo of their cornmeal! (See the official King Biscuit Time website for a history of the show and its continuing legacy, and seek out the Arhoolie CD King Biscuit Time to hear an aircheck of a 1965 broadcast made shortly before Williamson's death.)

At Chess, Williamson's virtuosity on the harmonica, coupled with Williamson's clever lyrics and sly vocals (Williamson was less dependent on Willie Dixon's songs than Waters and Wolf, although records like "Help Me" and "Bring It On Home" are awesome) made Williamson a hit on the Checker label, and he took Europe by storm via the American Folk Blues Festival and other events. Although Williamson didn't live to see the ultimate "modernization" projects that would be foisted on Waters and Wolf at the end of the decade, his sound was adjusted in the '60s to add horns and a more soulful beat. Although "One Way Out" was released on Checker in 1962 as a rocking and rolling blues, a re-recording was done featuring a more modern sound. The latter version is today's selection. While "Daddy G" (Gene Barge) and the Chess horn section hunches along, Williamson has fun with the lyrics (which clearly inspired G.L. Crockett's Chicago soul classic "It's a Man Down There") and does some good harmonica blowing.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Get on Down With James Phelps!

James Phelps - Walking The Floor Over You

James Phelps was the last of the great Soul Stirrers lead singers to make the transition from gospel to R&B, and the handful of 45s he made between 1965 and 1972, of which only the first two were hits ("Love Is A Five-Letter Word" and "La De Da, I'm A Fool In Love," both on Argo), are all great records, showing off Phelps' great vocals, aptly described by Barry "Soul Brother" Fowden as being "akin to an earthier Sam Cooke." (Speaking of the Soul Brother, check out this great discography and Phelps interview that Barry has on his Soul Cellar website.) I've featured "The Look On Your Face," James' great 1971 mid-tempo mover, on a previous podcast, and today's feature is a great Northern classic that James recorded for Fontana. "Walking The Floor Over You," an old Ernest Tubb country tune, is given a stomping groove and great female background singers, and Phelps is on fire from the get-go, building in intensity as the song rushes along. It's a soul stirrer!

(EDITOR'S NOTE - I will be traveling this weekend and may not have internet access, so posts will probably resume on Monday or Tuesday.)

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Speaking Of The Brothers Of Soul ...

Ruby Andrews - Gotta Break Away

Yesterday's postscript to the Valentine's Day post provided an excellent segue into today's post. The Brothers of Soul were far more prolific as writers than as performers, penning over 40 tunes for Detroit and Chicago productions on various artists. Ruby Andrews benefited most from their songs, which she recorded prolifically for Ric Williams' Zodiac label, which was affiliated with Joshie Jo Armstead and her Chicago-based Giant Productions. Andrews, who had made a big splash with the soul classic "Casanova (Your Playing Days Are Over)," stayed active in the charts throughout the late '60s and early '70s, mainly on the strength of the material the Brothers of Soul kept providing. "Gotta Break Away" was the flip to "You Ole Boo Boo You." There's something off-center about this tune, but I like the loping Chicago soul groove and interplay between Andrews' strong voice and background singers.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Happy Valentine's Day!

Eddie & Ernie - Thanks For Yesterday

Among other things, one of the biggest things lacking in modern R&B music is the absence of male duos. Although in the '60s Sam & Dave were the most commercially successful, there were a great many acts that recorded great material, albeit with less fame. Edgar Campbell and Ernie Johnson hit with "Time Waits For No One" in the early '60s and then spent the rest of the decade recording unheralded but awesome soul records for Eastern, Chess, Revue, Columbia, Buddah and other labels as a duet, one-off singles as solo artists (Ernie's "In These Very Tender Moments" appears on Episode #14 of the podcast), and as frontmen for the band Phoenix Express. The two men had an uncanny sense of harmony and attack, and their material, which ranged from uptown soul to deep balladry, was consistently top-notch. In a perfect world, they would've been as big as Sam & Dave. Fortunately for us soul fans, however, the late Dave Godin championed the duo and, through his Deep Soul Treasures series on Kent and the Kent comp Lost Friends, he got almost all of their material on CD for us to enjoy.

I picked today's selection in connection with today being Valentine's Day. Love is definitely a common theme in lots of soul music, but the lyrics of "Thanks For Yesterday" reflect the strongest type of love there is, the kind that sympathetically reaches out when one is in a vale of sorrow, feeling all is lost. "I wanna thank you, baby, for your love throughout the years, but especially for yesterday, when you wiped away all my tears." That's serious stuff, and Eddie & Ernie sing it that way. Listen to this one and then think of how your special someone reached out to you that way. Call them up and thank them.

(If you are looking for something less heavy as a Valentine's soul selection, do go over to this Soul Sides post featuring The Brothers of Soul's "A Lifetime," which is a very tasty piece of mid-tempo soul.)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

RIP Ernestine Rundless

The Meditation Singers - Let Them Talk

Over the weekend I learned that Ernestine Rundless, founder and leader of the Meditation Singers and adoptive mother of soul legend Laura Lee, has passed away. Rundless founded the group in 1947, and among the initial lineup was Della Reese. The group started out in her husband's Detroit church and expanded into regional and then national prominence through records for Specialty, HOB, Checker and Jewel. I'm very partial to the group's Checker material, as the group proved itself to be adept at the "gos-pop" sound that Chess A&R man Ralph Bass encouraged in the mid-to-late '60s. Today's atmospheric selection finds Rundless and the group working it out over a groove that almost seems more appropriate for the Rotary Connection than a gospel act, but it really works.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Congratulations Ike!

Ike & Tina Turner - It's Groovier Across The Line

Had Ike Turner made a lot of better choices in his life, would be better known for his role in the development of rock 'n' roll (he played on Jackie Brenston's "Rocket 88," a record deemed by many to be one of the first records of the genre), for his scorching guitar instrumentals of the '50s and '60s, for the white-hot stage show that was the Ike & Tina Turner Revue, and for the Ike & Tina Turner records themselves. Instead, Ike has been reduced - and maybe rightly so - to the role of villain in the story of Tina Turner's rise to '80s pop superstardom and to Laurence Fishburne's portrayal of him in the biopic What's Love Got To Do With It. (I saw Ike in Chicago a few years ago and he gave a fantastic show - I was seated, however, among a group of ladies who looked at him disdainfully and made snide remarks about him the whole set.) Fortunately, Turner has made a comeback in the last few years, and last night he scored a Best Traditional Blues Grammy for his latest album, Risin' With The Blues.

Today's selection comes from the large body of unreleased material Ike did with Tina in the '60s and '70s, which Ike has licensed out over the last few years. "Groover Across The Line," from the comp His Woman, Her Man, finds Ike & Tina trading lines a la "It's Gonna Work Out Fine" over a nice rollicking groove.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Get on Down With Eli Reed (Pts. 1, 2 & 3)!

Eli "Paperboy" Reed & The True Loves:

I'm Gonna Getcha Back "b/w" Am I Wasting My Time

Take My Love With You

Today's three-song post is a departure from the norm in that it features new recordings (generally the province of a "Soul-Blues Saturday" post). Eli "Paperboy" Reed and his band, the True Loves, like Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings and similar acts, are adherents to the true sounds of classic soul and strive not only to pay homage to the music but also to make new music that is true to the style and technique that made those old classics so good. Don't let Reed's age (23) and the group's "fresh-faced kids" look throw you off - these guys are the real deal, laying down nice slabs of soul and blues along the East Coast and elsewhere (they are going to play the famed South by Southwest festival in Texas this year). Check out their website to find out more about the group and the interesting bio of its leader, whose life story takes him from his childhood exposure to soul and blues to the juke joints of Clarksdale, Mississippi to soul legend Mitty Collier's church on Chicago's South Side. You can also find out about Eli "Paperboy" Reed Sings "Walkin' and Talkin' (For My Baby)" And Other Smash Hits, his first CD, and download material from the group's forthcoming CD Roll With You, from which today's selections, all originals, come.

I've paired "I'm Gonna Getcha Back" and "Am I Wasting My Time" because I feel that these two tunes would make for a great 45 had they been recorded back in the '60s. "Getcha Back" is a nice piece of funky soul, featuring hard-hitting horns, great "revenge" lyrics and a nice stop-time vamp late in the song. The decidedly "back room" mix and occasionally off-the-mark horns add to the "authentic" sound of the tune, in my opinion. (Eli has told me that they have re-recorded the tune, and I'm sure the audio cleanup will improve it a lot.) "Am I Wasting My Time" takes a groove akin to Clarence Carter's "Too Weak To Fight" and a riff from Ollie & The Nightingales' "I Got A Sure Thing" and weds it to a nice lyric - albeit somewhat unusual from a male perspective - about looking for the "real thing" instead of a one-night stand. Nice keyboard work and harmony vocals really put the icing on the cake for this one. "Take My Love With You" is one of the group's newest recordings, and the improved mixing and performance is very noticeable. After a dramatic intro, Reed and the band revamp the Swanee Quintet's "Take The Lord With You" into a nice shuffling thing with a nice horn chart and enthusiastic singing from Eli.

I have corresponded with Eli a bit over the last few years and I'm very impressed by both his musical skills and his appreciation and passion for the music (he is also a record collector and during his Chicago sojourn he was a college DJ), which occasionally rises to the fore on the Southern Soul Yahoo group. Although I've occasionally debated with him over certain points, he knows his stuff, and I wish him and his band continued success. Eli's got soul, so get on down!

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Get on Down With A Holland-Dozier-Holland Product!

The Glass House - I Can't Be You, You Can't Be Me

When Eddie and Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier broke away from Motown, where their songwriting and production skills had contributed mightily to the ascendancy of the label in the R&B and pop fields, they wasted no time setting up shop with rival concerns, Invictus Records (distributed by Capitol) and Hot Wax Records (distributed by Buddah). The trio proved, however, that you can take talent out of Motown but you can't take Motown out of the talent. H-D-H had a production line of their own, and they took the model one step further by completely manufacturing recording groups (at least at Motown, many of the groups came to the label fully-formed, with some degree of history). All of the label's main groups, including 100 Proof Aged In Soul, The Chairmen of the Board, The 8th Day and today's featured group, The Glass House, were assembled by the production team from solo artists, some of whom had worked with other groups. (Furthermore, some of the singers were in more than one of the Invictus/Hot Wax groups, most notably in the case of 100 Proof Aged In Soul and The 8th Day.) The similar story of The Glass House can be found here.

"I Can't Be You" was a minor hit for the group, as noted in the bio, but it's my favorite from the group. Naturally, the song clearly is a product of its time, with the "we all can get along, despite our lifestyles" message and the astrological shout-out at the end. The H-D-H magic is all over the record, however, as the conga-driven beat and strong singing really sells the song, especially in the mid-tune breakdown.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

A Challenge: Kentucky Soul?

A reader of this blog and a fellow Kentucky native asked me if I knew of any soul records made in Kentucky. Considering that there was some recording going on in just about any city of considerable size, I would figure that some - albeit terminally obscure - soul records came out of Louisville, Lexington, Bowling Green or Ashland. Of course, it is possible that many Kentucky artists made their way to Cincinnati instead, since King Records and a host of other labels were there. At any rate, I am not aware of any Kentucky soul records, although I know Phillip Mitchell was from Louisville. Does anyone have any ideas or resources they would like to share? Any info would be welcomed.

Solomon Burke's 1972 Country Soul

Solomon Burke - The Electronic Magnetism (That's Heavy Baby)

Solomon Burke's 2006 CD Nashville finds the soul master joining forces with the likes of Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris in a great album with lots of warmth, fun and soul (of course). In many ways, though, the album was really a homecoming to the country sound for Burke, whose very first hit, 1961's "Just Out Of Reach," is probably one of the very first country soul records, along with William Bell's "You Don't Miss Your Water," Esther Phillips' "Release Me" and the early Ray Charles C&W material. In Gerri Hirsch's Nowhere To Run and in Peter Guralnick's Sweet Soul Music Burke discusses in his inimitible humorous style how "Just Out Of Reach" was very popular with white Southerners who didn't know Burke was black, which resulted in several crazy misadventures while touring (including a situtation where Burke ended up doing a command performance, so to speak, for the Ku Klux Klan). Burke's early Atlantic hits stayed in the country-soul vein, but by 1964 or so Burke moved into straight-ahead soul with hits like "The Price" and "Got To Get You Off Of My Mind."

After Burke and Atlantic parted ways in 1968, he began a nomadic career, stopping at Bell, MGM, ABC-Dunhill, and Chess from 1969 to 1976 and recording a wide range of material (he did the first soul cover of "Proud Mary" for Bell - his biggest hit for them - and even got in on the blaxploitation soundtrack game with his contributions to Cool Breeze). His 1971-1973 tenure with MGM is best represented by the Electronic Magnetism LP, and the title track was Burke's most successful recording for the company. The album is pretty eclectic, with rock covers mixed with country-soul tracks like "Electronic Magnetism" and the religious "J.C. (I Know Who You Are)." "Electronic Magnetism" is country soul 1972-style, with country guitar work mixed with swirling strings, Burke's very warm vocal (his atmospheric opening vocals and his late-song monologue lean in the Isaac Hayes / Barry White "love man" direction) and great background singing. Although Burke would later do an album for Chess entitled Music To Make Love By, "Electronic Magnetism" set the standard in that regard. It's heavy, baby!

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Howard Tate's 1972 Blues

Howard Tate - It's Your Move

After writing Saturday's post about Howard Tate I was inspired to do another post this week. As noted in the Howard Tate interview referenced in Saturday's post, after Tate's initial brush with fame at Verve, he parted ways with Jerry Ragovoy and moved on to Lloyd Price and his Turntable label under the illusory promise that he would make more money there. The resulting album, 1969's Howard Tate's Reaction, was a decent album that didn't do very well and, after Howard's discovery of Turntable's mob ties, Tate returned to Ragovoy. Ragovoy tried to create a sound for Howard that was more suitable for 1972, but but despite his and Tate's efforts, the Atlantic LP Howard Tate that resulted got little promotion from the label and "Keep Cool (Don't Be a Fool)," one of the weakest songs on the album, was picked to be the lead-off single. The single and album flopped, and after a 1974 single on Epic met a similar fate, Tate and Ragovoy again parted ways. Tate self-produced a great deep soul single in 1976 ("Pride," featured on one of the podcasts) and a 12-inch single in the early '80s (when I wrote on Saturday that he hadn't recorded since 1976 I had forgotten about "Sweetness"), and then he vanished.

Fortunately, the re-emergence of Tate in 2001 resulted in a flurry of reissues of the Verve, Turntable and Atlantic material, so the 1972 LP has received a new lease on life. Although the Howard Tate album has a lot of great nuggets on it, including great readings of "Girl From The North Country" and "Jemima Surrender" and the Tate-penned "The Bitter End" (which I need to post, because it's a nice ballad featuring some Joe Tex-styled monologues by Tate), "It's Your Move" gets the nod to be today's selection since "Tuesday is blues day." This swinging blues finds Tate ready to dump a woman who has enjoyed all of the pecuniary benefits of their relationship but has offered nothing in return. "Look out the window, it don't look so sweet," Tate warns. "I can arrange it to put you back on the street." Serious stuff, huh?

Monday, February 05, 2007

RIP Billy Henderson and Joe Hunter

The Spinners - Souly Ghost

Billy Henderson, long-time member of The Spinners, and Joe Hunter, one of the original Funk Brothers and an architect of the early Motown sound, passed away this weekend. Henderson was one of the harmony singers of the famed soul group, and he was a member of the group from its inception in the 1950s until his dismissal in 2004, unfortunately brought on by his litigation over the group's accounting. Joe Hunter's bluesy piano work appeared on a great many early Motown singles (he left Motown in 1963) and his easygoing charm made him a treasure in the documentary Standing In The Shadows Of Motown and with the newly-renowned Funk Brothers (as a matter of fact, Hunter had just returned from a tour of Europe with fellow Funk Brother Jack Ashford). May both of these gentlemen rest in peace.

In honor of Henderson I picked today's selection. Although The Spinners' fame largely rests on the group's Philly sides of the '70s for Atlantic (the lone exception being the 1970 Stevie Wonder-penned hit "It's a Shame," which ironically was released on V.I.P., a Motown subsidiary that was chock-full of the label's B-listers), some soul fans argue that the group's Motown material of the '60s is far superior, as the group's harmonies are in the forefront, as opposed to the '70s stuff (producer Thom Bell felt that the Spinners' sound was too bass-heavy, so their '70s hits featured female background singers and lush orchestrations that really drowned the group out). "Souly Ghost" is a nice up-tempo thing that finds G.C. Cameron testifying about his experience with soul while the group "hallelujahs" along and the Funk Brothers cook up a hot groove.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

I Made a Change!

The Redemption Harmonizers - I Made a Change

It's Sunday Gospel Time on this Super Bowl Sunday, and it's unfortunate that I do not have any (American) football-themed gospel tunes to post, so I'll settle with this nice piece of rambling gospel by the Redemption Harmonizers, about whom I know nothing. What I do know is that "I Made a Change" has a great beat and the lead singer attacks the lyrics with gusto.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Soul-Blues Saturday: Rediscovered!

Howard Tate - Sorry Wrong Number

Soul fandom was turned on its ear when the legendary soul singer Howard Tate, who hadn't recorded anything since 1976 and had virtually fallen off the edge of the earth (the common assumption was that he had died), was found in 2001 in New Jersey, preaching the gospel in a ministry aimed at the homeless and troubled after having hit quite a few lows of his own. A great interview with Tate can be found here, which covers his remarkable story. Howard reunited with Jerry Ragovoy, writer and producer of many of his '60s hits, to record the Grammy-nominated Rediscovered, his first LP since his eponymous 1972 LP for Atlantic. (Rediscovered is the second of the four great soul comeback albums of this decade, the others being Solomon Burke's Don't Give Up On Me, Bettye LaVette's I've Got My Own Hell To Raise and Candi Staton's His Hands.) Although soul fans decried the somewhat pedestrian backing band (and Ragovoy's decision to play the bass parts on a keyboard rather than use a bass player) and a few tepid selections, the album showed Tate to be in good voice and showed that Ragovoy could still write some good songs. Howard also resumed making live appearances. I saw him in Chicago in 2004 and, although his stage patter reflected a long absence from the stage, he gave a good show.

The Ragovoy-penned "Sorry Wrong Number" is one of my favorites from Rediscovered. The song revisits "Ain't Nobody Home" in its theme, but the brash Tate heard on "Ain't Nobody Home" is replaced by a more world-weary man, one who is still rejecting the one who did him wrong but who is more interested in moving on than seeking revenge. It's a very solid recording that would've fit nicely with his '60s Verve material or the '70s Atlantic LP.

Tate's revitalized career has led to the release of a good live album and a forthcoming album, A Portrait of Howard, both of which are featured on Howard's official website. The rediscovery of Howard Tate is a watershed moment in the history of soul, and I look forward to what will come next from the soul legend.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Get on Down With The Big O!

Otis Redding - Nobody's Fault But Mine

Sometimes I wonder how the history of soul music would've changed had Otis Redding not perished in the December '67 plane crash that took his life and that of all but two of the Bar-Kays. Would Otis have stayed with Stax, or would he have followed his manager, Phil Walden, over to Capricorn Records when Walden formed that label a few years later? Would "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay" still make it to #1 on the pop charts, and if so, would he have aimed more of his recordings in that direction? Or would Otis have gone funky, a la "Hard to Handle" and today's selection? Would he have changed with the times, or would his Southern soul roots find him in the same position as many of his contemporaries when disco came along? The questions and potential answers are many and mind-boggling.

As it stands, however, Otis showed several possibilities in his latter recordings, and "Nobody's Fault But Mine," the b-side to the 1968 Atco single "Dreams to Remember," gives us a peek at a funky Otis, doing his usual incendiary thing while the Stax guys lay down a chunky groove.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Even More Deep Soul

Johnny Sayles - You Did Me Wrong

Johnny Sayles, like so many of the obscure artists that populate the history of soul music, found his great talent to be met with little commercial success, which is especially unfortunate because Sayles recorded for several labels throughout the '60s and early '70s, leaving behind great 45s and a Dakar LP, Man on the Inside. Today's selection was one of his first and one of the first 45s on Mar-V-Lus, one of George Leaner's One-Derful! Records labels. "You Did Me Wrong" is an intense ballad, featuring a plodding beat not unlike that of Bobby Bland's records of the era, hard-hitting horn parts, and Sayles' singing, in which the desperation and madness that engulfs a mistreated lover is barely contained.