Archive for the ‘CD Review’ Category

Rick Shea: Love & Desperation

Monday, November 2nd, 2020

Pandemic Americana

Surprisingly, Rick Shea’s latest album doesn’t sound particularly different from his earlier efforts, even though it was tracked remotely by musicians distributed amongst their own studios. Begun in the Spring of 2019 in Shea’s home studio, by early 2020 the collaboration had spread to multiple studios and was coordinated by e-mail and computer network. Incredibly, the album shows no seams or lack of group ethos, and though Shea tips his hat to the pandemic on a few titles, the songs don’t evidence the Groundhog-like sameness that our collective shelter-in-place has brought to daily life.

The opening cover of Al Ferrier’s rockabilly “Blues Stop Knockin’ at My Door” takes in Lazy Lester‘s harmonica-driven Louisiana stomp, and adds accordion and guitar solos to the yearning, heartsick vocal. Shea’s low, slow “Blues at Midnight” picks up the sorrowful mood as he suffers the late-night misery of being left behind, and “Jaunita (Why Are You So Mean)” imagines the travails of Shea’s in-laws during their dating years. The album’s title track is dramatized from an autobiographical seed, and “Down at the Bar at Gypsy Sally’s” takes a few liberties with the San Bernardino bar scene in which Shea cut his musical teeth.

The world’s current circumstance is essayed in the allegorical “Big Rain is Comin’ Mama,” a surprisingly chipper two-step of accordion and steel with a deadly category five storm on the horizon. In contrast, the dark folk-blues “The World’s Gone Crazy” finds the storm having blown through, leaving behind an apocalyptic aftermath. Luckily, Shea’s world isn’t confined by his physical circumstances, as he still writes imaginative ballads (“A Tenderhearted Love”), ambivalent musings (“Nashville Blues”), and cinematic stories (the closing “Texas Lawyer”) that belie the pandemic-induced isolation in which this music was created. [©2020 Hyperbolium]

Rick Shea’s Home Page

Bobby Hatfield: Stay With Me – The Richard Perry Sessions

Saturday, February 15th, 2020

Previously unreleased solo sessions from 1971

As half (and in several cases, all) of the Righteous Brothers, Bobby Hatfield’s tenor was the emotional high-wire that supercharged the blue-eyed soul hits “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” “Soul Inspiration” and “Unchained Melody.” In 1968 his partner Bill Medley left the act, and by 1971, Hatfield’s pairing with the Knickerbockers’ Jimmy Walker had also broken up. So it was with a solo career on his mind that he engaged with producer Richard Perry, who was hot off successful albums with Barbra Streisand and Nilsson. Initial sessions were held in the legendary Abbey Road studio in December 1971, with musical luminaries Ringo Starr, Klaus Voorman, Al Kooper and Bobby Keys, and produced the single “Oo Wee Baby, I Love You.” Hatfield was loose and ready to create new sounds as Ringo’s drumming drew winningly on the Beatles’ “Get Back,” and a cover of George Harrison’s White Album-era “Sour Milk Sea” found Al Kooper banging away on piano as Hatfield exercised his falsetto.

A second set of sessions convened later in Los Angeles’ legendary Western Studios (home to Phil Spector, the Beach Boys, and others), where a single was cut covering Lorraine Ellison’s “Stay With Me.” Perry built the production with a full orchestra and chorus, and Hatfield lit it up with an impassioned vocal that echoes Ellison’s iconic original. The L.A. sessions also produced covers of Cole Porter’s “In the Still of the Night” (a song written for the 1937 film, Rosalie, and not, alas, the Five Satins’ 1956 doo-wop classic) and Billy Fury’s “Run to My Lovin’ Arms.” The former aligns with the Tin Pan Alley-era material that Hatfield recorded earlier in his career, while the latter overclocks the emotional tenor of the chorus similarly to Jay and the Americans’ original.

Also included here is the B-side to both singles, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Woman” (a blues-rock Hatfield original that sings of life on the road, rather than the Buffalo Springfield’s hit), and covers of Harrison’s “What is Life” and two exploratory approaches to Holland, Dozier & Holland’s “Baby Don’t Do It.” Perry’s growing renowned apparently pulled him away from this project, leaving the two singles as the only commercial output. And though Hatfield recorded Messin’ in Muscle Shoals at the legendary FAME studios, these unfinished sessions demonstrate he had many more ideas than he ever got to release. This is a nice complement to Ace’s Other Brother: Solo Anthology 1965-1970, providing valuable insight into Hatfield’s state at the start of the 1970s, as well as his creative process. A nice get for fans. [©2020 Hyperbolium]

Booker T. & The M.G.’s: The Complete Stax Singles Vol. 1 (1962-1967)

Friday, January 24th, 2020

Killer soul instrumentals from the Stax house band

As the Stax house band, Booker T. & The M.G.’s were often heard backing seminal recordings by Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Sam & Dave and other label stars, but their career as a standalone group also produced iconic singles, B-sides and albums. Real Gone pulls together the original mono mixes of the group’s first 15 singles, A’s and B’s, to highlight the hits and deep-grooved flips of the band’s first six years. The hits include their chart-topping 1962 debut, “Green Onions,” and a pair of crossover Top 40’s from 1967, “Hip Hug-Her” and a cover of the Rascals’ “Groovin’.” The latter kicked off a string of crossover hits that stretched into 1969 (and will hopefully be anthologized on Volume 2). In between, the group delivered catchy singles that touched the bottom of the Top 100 while generating bigger success on the R&B chart.

The band’s debut album was filled with instrumental covers, but their singles featured original mid-tempo groovers built on soulful organ leads, searing guitar solos, and propulsive backbeats. The group’s first B-side, “Behave Yourself” is a dark, late-night blues, but their second single, “Jelly Bread,” turns the tempo up as Jones vamps behind Cropper’s introductory guitar riffs. The rhythm section of Jackson and Steinberg get everyone moving for 1964’s “Can’t Be Still,” and Isaac Hayes reportedly keys the organ on the follow-up “Boot-Leg.” 1966’s “My Sweet Potato” trades organ for piano, as does the country-inflected “Slim Jenkins Place.” The set’s covers include Buster Brown’s “Fannie Mae,” Gershwin’s “Summertime,” a pair of holiday releases, and, under the title “Big Train,” the gospel classic “This Train.”

Real Gone has packed twenty-nine original sides onto a single 74-minute CD, with liner notes and discographical detail by Ed Osborne, and mastering by Dan Hersch. For the vintage minded, they’ve produced a limited-edition 2-LP set on blue vinyl with a gatefold cover. Shorn of album tracks and the temporal condensation of greatest hits albums, this chronological recitation of the group’s mono singles showcases what listeners heard through their radios at the time. Album sales would later become a central focus of both the recording ethos and marketing strategy of music groups, but in the early-to-mid-60s, singles were still the lingua franca of pop music, and Booker T. & The M.G.’s made some great ones! [©2020 Hyperbolium]

Booker T.’s Home Page

Marshall Crenshaw: Miracle of Science

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2020

Expanded reissue of Crenshaw’s impressive, self-produced 1996 return to the studio

After five albums for Warner Brothers and one for MCA, this 1996 release marked five years since Crenshaw’s previous studio album, and broadened his new relationship with the indie label Razor & Tie. More importantly, the production stripped away the overwrought Steve Lilywhite-helmed sonics of Field Day and the extensive guest lists of Downtown and Good Evening, and centered on the considerable, innate charms of Crenshaw’s songs, voice and guitar. That transformation began to show with the trio playing of 1991’s Life’s Too Short, but with the guitar-rich live album My Truck is My Home, and again with this first self-produced studio effort, Crenshaw washed away the aural sheen of the 1980s, and brought the spotlight back to the richness of his pop craft.

From the hopeful longing of the opening “What Do You Dream Of,” the album offers hummable melodies, warm harmonies, catchy lyrical hooks, and perhaps most thankfully, studio production that supports rather than preens. Crenshaw is able to sing without straining to be heard, returning his voice to its m\wheelhouse. He sounds enthused to be in the studio with a new batch of original, co-written and coover material, and he alternates between mixing it up with guests and pitching in one-man-band-style on guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, percussion and vibraphone. By producing himself, he no longer served as a canvas upon which others cast their own shades, and his aim is as true as Richard Gottehrer’s work on Crenshaw’s 1982 eponymous debut.

Crenshaw had grown artistically in the fourteen years since Marshall Crenshaw, and this album isn’t a repeat of, or even really a throwback to his earlier work; but there is a connection to the nostalgic sounds of his earlier work than hadn’t been captured on the albums in between. The Shadows-styled guitar instrumental “Theme From Flaregun” offers a faux 1960s TV-theme, and Hy Heath’s up-tempo country-rock “Who Stole That Train” includes scorching electric guitar, energetic drumming and dobro from Greg Leisz that add muscle and buzz to the honky-tonk soul of Ray Price’s 1953 rendering. Several of Crenshaw’s originals are laced with bittersweetness as he contemplates the uncertain possibilities of “Only an Hour Ago” and lonely memories of “Laughter,” and the dissolution of Grant Hart’s “Twenty Five Forty One” is buoyed by terrific electric guitar figures.

“There and Back Again” may be the album’s most emotionally powerful moment, as Crenshaw wistfully remembers the joy of romantic discovery through the lens of its eventual end. More fully satisfied is a cover of  “A Wondrous Place,” with vibraphone and a Latin beat expanding upon Jimmy Jones’ and Billy Fury’s 1960 takes. Having gained ownership of his Razor & Tie catalog, Crenshaw is planning to reissue all five of its albums in expanded editions. This first effort includes a reordered track list alongside three bonus tracks that quizically include a backward rendering of “Seven Miles an Hour,” and new recordings of Daniel Wylie’s haunting “Misty Dreamer” and Michael Pagliaro’s 1975 single “What the Hell I Got.” The latter, a memorable song that was a minor hit in Canada, must have beamed across the border to Crenshaw’s native Detroit to make its long-lasting impression.

One might assume that the lack of major label marketing muscle doomed his album to its relative obscurity; but given that neither Warner Brothers nor MCA had much more success in promoting Crenshaw to a wide audience, it was likely the same disconnect between his artistry and the times that had plagued the commercial prospects of his earlier work. Which is a shame, because this album evidences Crenshaw’s talent, charm and vision more plainly than his earlier work. Those who lost track of Crenshaw during his major label run are highly recommended to this album as a place to reengage, and fans who’d already discovered this title will be interested in both the bonus tracks, and the tinkering Crenshaw has performed on “Twenty-Five Forty-One,” “Only an Hour Ago” and “There and Back Again.” A great start to Crenshaw’s reissue project! [©2020 Hyperbolium]

Marshall Crenshaw’s Home Page

Big Star: In Space

Thursday, January 16th, 2020

Expanded edition of reformulated Big Star’s 2004 return to the studio

After reformulating Big Star with the Posies John Auer and Ken Stringfellow in 1993, Alex Chilton eventually mustered up the interest to record a new album in 2004, and release it the following year. But in ways similar to Big Star’s third album (and to be fair, even the Chilton-led, mostly Bell-free Radio City), one might ask what it means to be a Big Star album. There is material here – largely from Auer, Stringfellow, and original Big Star drummer Jody Stephens – that harkens back to the band’s early-70s British pop inspired beginnings. But there are also strong currents of Alex Chilton’s rag-tag solo work, and his propensity to record cover songs. It’s difficult to hear this as continuous with the band’s earlier work, though there are moments; it’s not an erszatz doo wop band touring under someone else’s name, but it may be more accurate to think of this Big Star moniker as more ancestry than identity.

Despite having acceded to performing as Big Star, Chilton retained an uneasy relationship with the group’s earlier material. The new album was apparently born out of both his boredom with the narrow setlist he was willing to play on stage, and the opportunity to collaborate with bandmates with whom he enjoyed making music. After ten years of sporadic gigs, the group was really solid, rooted in the legacy material they performed, but not beholden to its ghosts. Chilton evidenced little interest is writing material for the new album that echoed his past, leaving it to his bandmates to mine the band’s legacy. Jon Auer and Jody Stephens’ co-writes touch most closely on the band’s earlier work, with both “Best Chance” and “February’s Quiet” offering guitar riffs and melodies that fit comfortably with the band’s first two albums. Stephens’ drumming on the former highlights just how fundamental he was to Big Star’s sound, and the closing chord of the latter song will provoke aural deja vu.

Chilton’s funky “Love Revolution” and “Do You Want to Make It” are more in line with his solo career than earlier Big Star, and the Olympics’ “Mine Exclusively” is just the sort of obscure cover that had long since become a Chilton trademark. Chilton’s post-Big Star penchant for spontaneous, raw performances threads through several tracks, including the rock ‘n’ roll rave-up “A Whole New Thing,” a ploddingly-delivered arrangement of Georg Muffat’s baroque “Aria, Largo,” and the cacophonous closer, “Makeover.” There’s craft to be heard, as on Ken Stringfellow’s Beach Boys’ pastiche “Turn My Back on the Sun,” but it’s not the sort of crystalline sounds the original band recorded in the early 1970s.

The original album is expanded on this 2019 reissue with a half-dozen bonus tracks that include songwriter demos, an a cappella take of Auer’s Beach Boys tribute, a rough mix of “Dony,” and “Hot Thing,” a track originally recorded by Big Star for their own tribute album Big Star, Small World. The demos are particularly interesting as working documents that sketch the initial inspiration and evolving views of the singer-songwriters. Liner notes from Auer, Stringfellow, co-producer/engineer Jeff Powell, assistant engineer Adam Hill, and Rkyo Records exec Jeff Rougvie offer first-person memories and warm anecdotes of what turned out to be a one-off studio effort. In retrospect, this is a nice coda to the Big Star legend, if not exactly a straightforward element of the canon. [©2020 Hyperbolium]

David Ball: Thinkin’ Problem

Tuesday, January 14th, 2020

Expanded 25th anniversary reissue of 1994 honky-tonk landmark

Having gained artistic and fan notoriety in Austin’s Uncle Walt’s Band, David Ball spent more than a decade searching for commercial success in Nashville. He recorded an album for RCA in 1988, but after the initial singles had only middling chart success, the album was vaulted until this 1994 Warner Brothers release broke nationally. The sessions offered uncompromising neotraditional country, just as the neotraditional movement was giving way to crossover sounds; but fans apparently hadn’t gotten the marketing memo, as the  album launched five country chart singles and sold double platinum. At the age of 41, Ball’s maturity – both musically and experientially – shows in music that’s rife with broken hearts that won’t stop loving, bittersweet memories that continue to surface, and emotional bruises salved with an alcohol liniment.

Produced by Blake Chancey and engineered by the legendary Billy Sherrill, the album is backed studio players who came together into a tight, twangy honky-tonk band of fiddle, steel, piano, drums and generous amounts of Telecaster. Ball’s voice was recorded without the sort of mid-90s studio effects that polished and pumped singers for radio, and it leaves his emotional connection to the lyrics exposed for everyone to hear. The record doesn’t sound anachronistic (even for its own time), but the throwback connections from Ball’s earlier work with Uncle Walt’s Band are clear. The album’s lone cover is a devastating take on Webb Pierce’s “A Walk on the Wild Side of Life,” opening with a haunted acapella intro that leaves the protagonist to forever stalk an empty house. Ball’s original material — reportedly winnowed down from a hundred songs over two years to the ten included on the original album – is superb.

The uptempo title track provided the first of five singles to make the country chart, falling just shy of the top at #2. The other four include the mid-tempo honky-tonk of “Look What Followed Me Home” and “Honky Tonk Healin’,” the slow, bluesy “What Do You Want With His Love,” and the pained ballad “When the Thought of You Catches Up to Me.” The album tracks are just as good, including the rockabilly-tinged “Down at the Bottom of a Broken Heart” and the Tex-Mex flavors of “Don’t Think Twice” that evoke Buck Owens, Doug Sahm, and the Mavericks.

Omnivore’s anniversary reissue adds eight demos that show just how hard the choice of ten album tracks must have been. Ball’s liner notes suggest “I’ve Got a Heart With Your Name On It” as George Strait-styled material, but the simply arranged demo and Ball’s heart-on-sleeve vocal are more in line with Nick Lowe’s post-Jesus of Pop singer-songwriter works. The old-timey “Goodbye Heartache, Hello Honky Tonk” and “The King of Jackson Mississippi” reach back to Uncle Walt’s Band more directly than the tracks that made the album, and “Give Me Back My Heart” has some incredibly fine, and surprisingly extensive guitar picking, for a demo. The original album’s appeal has proven timeless in its emotion and artistry, and augmented by period demos, this reissue is a must-have upgrade for fans. [©2020 Hyperbolium]

David Ball’s Home Page

Tony Joe White: That on the Road Look “Live”

Monday, January 6th, 2020

Outstanding, yet long neglected, 1971 live set

Though originally planned for commercial release, this 1971 multitrack recording sat in Warner Brothers’ vaults for nearly forty years. Rhino Handmade released a limited edition CD in 2010, but it’s taken nearly another decade for these tapes to find a full retail release. Opening for Creedence Clearwater Revival, White is in great voice, his “whomper stomper” wah-wah pedal sets his electric guitar deep in the swamp, and he’s backed by a tight band that includes White’s longtime drummer Sammy Creason and organist Mike Utley, alongside MG’s bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn. Together they work through more than an hour of material that mixes selections from White’s earlier tenure on Monument and his then-current run for Warners, including “Rainy Night in Georgia,” “Willie and Laura Mae,” and a ten-minute version of “Polk Salad Annie.” White connects deeply with the folk side of his material in this small group setting, often setting down his electric guitar for an acoustic that leaves more room for the gritty, intimate soulfulness of his voice. This is an outstanding set that catches a unique artist on the rise, and a must-have for all of White’s fans. [©2019 Hyperbolium]

Tony Joe White’s Home Page

Essential Reissues of 2019

Thursday, January 2nd, 2020

Some of the best reissues of 2019. Click the titles to find full reviews and music samples.

Various Artists: The Bakersfield Sound

A towering achievement in musical archaeology, even when measured against Bear Family’s stratospherically high standard. Reissue producer Scott B. Bomar digs deeply into Bakersfield’s musical soil to explore the migrant roots that coalesced into the history, connections, influences and circumstances that forged the Bakersfield Sound. Ten discs, nearly three-hundred tracks, and a 224-page hardcover book essay the scenes development, how lesser-known players contributed to those who would become stars, and how the stars blossomed from their roots. Reissue of the year.

Various Artists: Cadillac Baby’s Bea & Baby Records – The Definitive Collection

Triple-disc set cataloging the riches of Narvel “Cadillac Baby” Eatmon’s Chicago-based labels, including Bea & Baby, Key, Keyhole, Ronald and Miss. Competing with Chess, Vee-Jay, Brunswick and Delmark in the early ‘60s, the entrepreneurial Eatmon sourced acts through his Show Lounge nightclub, and built a small, but artistically important catalog that includes blues, soul, R&B doo-wop and Latin-tinged numbers. The accompanying 128-page hardbound book includes a lengthy interview with Eatmon, alongside producer’s notes, liners, and artist profiles.

Blinky: Heart Full of Soul – The Motown Anthology

Sondra “Blinky” Williams may be Motown’s most widely heard unsung singer. She recorded dozens of sides for the Detroit powerhouse, but only a few ever made it to market. At the same time, she was heard weekly by millions of television viewers as Jim Gilstrap’s duet partner on the theme song to Good Times. Her many fans have lobbied for years to “free Blinky from the vaults,” and with Real Gone’s two-CD set, their wish has finally been granted.

Buck Owens and the Buckaroos: The Complete Capitol Singles 1971-1975

The third of three double-disc sets cataloging Buck Owens’ singles on Capitol. Though he didn’t have the same level of commercial success in the early 1970s that he’d had throughout the 1960s, his artistry was undimmed, and his omnivorous musical appetite was still unsated. Recording primarily in his own Bakersfield studio, he covered material from outside the country realm, and stretched out from his classic Telecaster-and-steel sound to incorporate pop, bluegrass and gospel. A strong and fulfilling chapter of the Buck Owens legacy.

Hank Williams: The Complete Health & Happiness Recordings

Third try is the charm. Williams’ 1949 radio transcriptions for patent medicine sponsor Hadacol have slowly been resuscitated and restored over a series of releases, culminating in this best-yet edition. In a year that saw Williams transition from the Hayride to the Opry, and evolve his material from a cover of “Love Sick Blues” to the iconic original “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” these eight shows capture Williams on a fast-moving train to stardom. This new restoration attends to both the physical issues of the source transcriptions and the aural issues of earlier remasters.

Van Duren: Waiting – The Van Duren Story

Following Big Star by a few years, Van Duren suffered the same lack of renown as his fellow Memphians. Though Big Star’s public renown grew over the decades, Duren has remained obscure. A limited edition Japanese reissue of his 1977 debut failed to spread the word, and his follow-up album remained vaulted for decades. But with this documentary soundtrack sampling the rich Badfinger/Rundgren sounds of his late-70s power-pop, Duren’s music may finally reach the sympathetic ears it deserves.

Uncle Walt’s Band: Uncle Walt’s Band

This springboard for Walter Hyatt, Champ Hood and David Ball was well-known in their adopted Austin, and among in-the-know music fans; but their instrumental finesse and joyous mix of country, jazz, folk, blues, bluegrass and swing was too sophisticated for reduction to a commercial concern. Omnivore’s reissue of the group’s 1974 debut polishes the brilliant gem by doubling the original track count with eleven bonus demos and live recordings.

Yum Yum: Dan Loves Patti

The conflagration of criticism and meta-criticism that burned this release to a crisp two years after its release is one of the stranger chapters in pop critic history. Yum Yum’s Chris Holmes was, according to his former roommate Thomas Frank, a prankster faking out his record company in a quixotic bid to supplant corporate Alternative Rock with finely crafted orchestral pop. Absurd on its face, Frank’s critique caught fire in an escalating war of meta-criticism. More than twenty years later, Holmes’ creation remains sweetly satisfying to those with a taste for candy.

Robin Lane & The Chartbusters: Many Years Ago

Triple-disc set pulling together the great Boston band’s entire first-run catalog, including pre-signing demos and an indie single, two albums and a live EP for Warner Brothers, a post-Warner EP, demos, session tracks, and live material. The music rings with the passion of its author and the intensity of the band’s playing.

The Strangeloves: I Want Candy

Three Australian sheep-farming brothers turned out to be a trio of New York songwriter-producers coping with the British Invasion. The authors of the Angels’ “My Boyfriend’s Back” turned themselves into a beat group with the earworms “I Want Candy,” “Cara-Lin” and “Night Time,” and waxed a full album of catchy Bo Diddley beats. Reissued on red vinyl, the original mono mix delivers an AM radio gut punch and an object lesson in the power of mid-60s mono vs. stereo.

Various Artists: That’ll Flat Git It! Vol. 32
Twenty-eight years and thirty-two volumes in, there is still life in Bear Family’s rockabilly anthology series. This latest edition takes a fourth trip into the vaults of Decca, Brunswick and Coral, and turns up a surprising number of worthy sides. The label’s typical attention to detail fills out a 39-page booklet with period photos, label reproductions, and knowledgeable liner notes by Bill Dahl.

OST: Harper Valley P.T.A.

Saturday, December 14th, 2019

The title hit, Barbara Eden and selections from Nelson Riddle’s score

A decade after Jeannie C. Riley topped the country chart with Tom T. Hall’s “Harper Valley P.T.A.,” the song was made into a feature film starring Barbara Eden. Eden had turned her early training as a singer, and the fame generated by I Dream of Genie, into a 1967 album for Dot and numerous appearances on television variety shows. For the soundtrack of this 1978 film she sang the Tom T. Hall songs “Mr. Harper” and “Widow Jones,” the latter released as a single. The album leads off with the stereo version of the title tune, and adds well-known songs by Jerry Lee Lewis (“High School Confidential”) and Johnny Cash (“Ballad of a Teenage Queen”) to Carol Channing’s cover of “Whatever Happened to Charlie Brown.” Of more interest to soundtrack collectors will be Nelson Riddle’s instrumental pieces, which include swing, late-night jazz and a classical pastiche. Unfortunately, though listenable, the fidelity of the Riddle tracks doesn’t match that of the rest of the album. Worth getting, but someone should take another look in the vault for better source material. [©2019 Hyperbolium]

Blinky: Heart Full of Soul – The Motown Anthology

Saturday, December 14th, 2019

The most widely heard unsung singer at Motown

Sondra “Blinky” Williams may be simultaneously one of the most obscure soul singers of her era, and one of the most widely heard. “Obscure,” because Motown’s hit-seeking radar somehow missed the brilliance in the dozens of tracks they recorded on Williams and then buried in their vault. “Widely heard,” because Williams was heard by millions of television viewers each week as Jim Gilstrap’s duet partner on the theme song to Good Times. The daughter of a baptist minister, Williams grew up singing, directing and playing piano in church choirs. She performed with Andraé Crouch, Billy Preston and Edna Wright in the Cogic Singers, releasing several records on the Simpson and Exodus labels, but solo contracts pulled the group apart, with Williams recording an album for Atlantic.

Williams had previously crossed into secular music with a 1963 single (and a flip) under the nom de record “Lindy Adams,” and a 1964 single for Vee Jay that backed the spiritual “He’s Got the Whole World in his Hands” with “Heartaches.” She landed at Motown in 1968 under her high school nickname, Blinky, and debuted with the Ashford & Simpson-penned “I Wouldn’t Change the Man He Is.” An album of duets with Edwin Starr followed in 1969, along with three more singles  (one on Motown, and two on the label’s west coast imprint, Mowest), but despite opening for the Temptations and a spot in the Motortown Revue, the lack of a concerted promotional push left all of the releases to founder commercially.

Had this been the extent of Williams’ engagement with Motown, she might have been collected only by crate diggers, and remembered as a talent whose intersection with the label was artistically fruitful but commercially bare. What distinguishes Williams from other Motown shoulda-beens is the large number of finished, unreleased sides that were left in the vault alongside fascinating working tracks and live material. Motown rolled a lot of tape on someone they couldn’t (or more likely just didn’t) break, and the fervor of her fans (who mounted a now-successful “Free Blinky from the Vaults” campaign) reflects the riches that she recorded, rather than the limited sides that Motown actually released.

The two-disc set opens with Williams’ unreleased album Sunny & Warm, immediately provoking the question of what else Motown had going on that led them to leave this in the vault. To be fair to Motown, Williams’ album was slotted between Diana Ross’ eponymous 1970 solo debut, and the Jackson 5’s Christmas album, so Motown’s promotions staff was certainly busy. If it’s any consolation to Williams, Jimmy and David Ruffin’s I Am My Brother’s Keeper was in the same spot, though released on the subsidiary Soul label. Sunny & Warm opens with the single “I Wouldn’t Change the Man He Is” (which Williams can be seen performing on Chuck Johnson’s Soul Time USA), and features a new interpretation of Fontella Bass’ “Rescue Me,” produced by the song’s co-writer, Raynard Miner. Clay McMurray produced the gratified “This Man of Mine” and the questioning “Is There a Place,” and Ashford and Simpson’s “How Ya Gonna Keep It” (backed with a stunning, deep soul cover of Jimmy Webb’s “This Time Last Summer”) was slated to be the next single.

And then… nothing. No album, and no explanation. Williams kept plugging away, making a connection with Sammy Davis Jr., and touring with him while continuing to record for Motown. Disc one fleshes out the unreleased album with the singles Motown and Mowest released in 1972-73, live material (including a previously unreleased performance of “God Bless the Child”) from the Motortown Revue, and several tracks from anthologies and soundtracks that include a studio take of “God Bless the Child” that was released on 1971’s Rock Gospel – The Key To The Kingdom, and a commanding performance of the early blues  “T’Ain’t Nobody’s Bizness If I Do” from Lady Sings the Blues.

The set’s second disc includes twenty-two previously unreleased tracks recorded with a variety of Motown producers, including label material and covers. Among the latter is an original soul arrangement of Graham Gouldman’s “Heart Full of Soul,” and a thoughtful, extended cover of the Stylistics “People Make the World Go Round.” A few of the tracks are mastered with control room slates or musician count-ins, giving them the aura of work-in-process, but these are finished pieces that offer performances, arrangements and sound that are all up to Motown’s standards. Why were they left in the vault? Perhaps Williams’ gospel roots were too soulful for the pop-leaning Motown, but more likely she was a victim of the sheer volume of material that the well-oiled Motown machine could produce. Motown’s investment may not have yielded commercial returns, but the artistry of these sides is undeniable, and freed from the vault, they’re finally available for Williams’ longtime devotees to enjoy. [©2019 Hyperbolium]