Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Get On Down With Harrison Kennedy!

Harrison Kennedy - Closet Queen

Canadian soulster Harrison Kennedy was drafted by Holland-Dozier-Holland in 1969 to be part of the Chairmen of the Board, and the group and production company hit paydirt right away with "Give Me Just a Little More Time." Although most of the group's hits either featured General Johnson's quirky vocals or Danny Woods' gospelly singing, Kennedy stepped up to the mic on the bluesy "Chairman of the Board" and earned the group a hit with his vocals and harmonica playing. It is as a solo artist, however, that Kennedy made his most interesting recordings while on Invictus.

Concurrent with the release of the Chairmen of the Board's third LP, Bittersweet, were solo releases by each of the group members. Although none of the solo projects fared that well commercially (and may have hampered the success of Bittersweet), all three artists produced good material, with General Johnson's Al Green-flavored "Only Time Will Tell" being a particular standout. Of the solo Chairmen of the Board projects, Kennedy's Hypnotic Music LP was by far the most interesting, as Kennedy's strong songwriting (encouraged by Invictus principal Eddie Holland) tackled social issues, politics and environmentalism and his guitar and vocals added a rock feel to the album. "Closet Queen" was probably too rock-ish and definitely too controversial to garner a single release - Invictus chose to release "Sunday Morning People" b/w Kennedy's cover of "Come Together"; I don't think there were too many R&B records encouraging acceptance of gay people coming out in 1972 - but it's one of my favorites from the album. Over a stepping groove accented nicely with acoustic guitar strumming, Kennedy encourages the title character to come out of that metaphorical closet "into the light, where you can be seen" and to be free and proud. It's not a "get down" record, per se, but the groove pushes along nicely and Kennedy's words are really powerful ("is it the different ways we love that hurts, or the different ways we hate?") It's strong stuff.

The Chairmen had one more Invictus LP, the very funky Skin I'm In, which yielded the group's final big hit, the Isley Brothers-influenced "Finders Keepers." The group disbanded in 1976 and Kennedy returned to Canada. After a period out of the music business, Kennedy began to make a comeback in that country and has recorded some great, critically-acclaimed material (check out his website for information about his new recordings).

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