Johnnie Taylor: Taylored in Silk

Blues- and gospel-influenced soul singer hits a peak on Stax

Vocalist Johnnie Taylor wore a number of musical hats, starting with roots in gospel, striking a soulful resonance with Stax, and finding his largest chart success with 1976’s “Disco Lady.” Taylor brought his roots with him to Stax, and his first few releases were see-saw affairs that vacillated between blues and Southern soul. His rise as a bona fide soul and R&B star began with the arrival of new staff producer Don Davis, who helmed 1968’s chart-topping “Who’s Making Love.” Taylor and Davis continued to fine-tune the balance of blues grit and soul emotion, hitting a peak with this 1973 release, Taylor’s next-to-last for Stax. Interestingly, little of the recording was actually performed in the Stax studio; basic tracks were recorded in Muscle Shoals, horns were added in Detroit and the strings overdubbed in New York.

There are still some straight blues here, such as Mack Rice’s “Cheaper to Keep Her,” but the most effective cuts mix emotional Southern soul balladry with elements of urban R&B. The superb “We’re Getting Careless with Our Love” provides a cautious retort to the overt cheating of Billy Paul’s “Me and Mrs. Jones,” and the 1972 Mel & Tim Stax hit “Starting All Over Again” is covered as more wishful than hopeful. The second half of the album has some lush arrangements, such as for “Only Thing Wrong With My Woman,” but Taylor’s voice always harbors enough grit to keep his crooning from turning soft. The 2011 reissue adds six bonus tracks drawn from the A’s and B’s of three Stax singles, including the solid funk “Hijackin’ Love” and “Shackin’ Up,” the deep-groove Southern soul “Standing in for Jody” and the two-part blues “Doing My Own Thing.” [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

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