After relocating from New Orleans to Los Angeles, soul queen Irma Thomas largely disappeared from public view for a few years. But a series of singles produced by Jerry Williams (a.k.a. Swamp Dogg) on the indieCanyon, Roker and Fungus labels led to this eight-track release in 1973. Williams had proven himself a talented musician and producer, and in the latter capacity he leaves behind the absurdist humor of his own records to bring Thomas a helping of Southern soul and West Coast funk. Thomas’ new material, much of it written by Williams, has plenty of bite, but it’s more personal than broad. The wistful drama of her early Minit and Imperial sides had given way to something heavier, more worldly-wise, weary and womanly. When she sings of broken relationships, it’s from the experience of being spurned rather than the hope of being accepted, and when she takes stock of her life, she’s not afraid to highlight problems with the balance sheet. The transition from her earlier work is particularly apparent in a remake of “Wish Someone Would Care” which evolved from heartbroken yearning to mortally wounded. Alive’s 2013 reissue adds two bonus tracks, including the pre-album B-side “I’ll Do it All Over You.” This little-known album caught Thomas in a fiery and outspoken mood, and its return to print makes a welcome addition to her better-known releases. [©2013 Hyperbolium]
Posts Tagged ‘R&B’
When country soul singer-songwriter Arthur Alexander passed away in 1993 at the age of 53, he was in the middle of a comeback that finally saw him recognized and rewarded for his songwriting genius and the heartbreaking quality of his performances. His last album, Lonely Just Like Me, his first in over two decades, rang as true as anything he’d recorded previously, and was followed the next year by this multi-artist tribute. Alexander’s songs had long been a favorite of top-flight artists, with formative covers by the Beatles and Rolling Stones giving Alexander early crossover exposure. But the artists gathered for this seventeen-track set weren’t just looking for good material to foster their own burgeoning careers, they were acknowledging their debt to Alexander as a songwriter and artist.
As one should expect from an assembled tribute, the interpretations vary in quality, but if you focus on the set’s high points, they’re very high indeed. Elvis Costello gets the program rolling with a scorching vocal and low, electric blues guitar on “Sally Sue Brown” and legendary vocalist Chuck Jackson provides the grit needed to rough up Mark Knopfler’s polished backing on “You Better Move On.” Nick Lowe, who’s later songwriting owes much to Alexander, nails the quiet pathos of “In the Middle of it All,” and fellow Brit Graham Parker captures the soul of Alexander’s heartbroken “Ever Day I Have to Cry.” John Prince, Gary U.S. Bonds and others give additional heartfelt performances. None of these substitute for Alexander’s originals, but they provide a nice capstone to a career that didn’t always garner the fame it so richly deserved. [©2012 Hyperbolium]
If you’re going to cut a rock ‘n’ roll record – a real rock ‘n’ roll record – dropping eleven tracks in two days is the way to do it. Get everyone in a room, run ‘em through the songs once or twice and let it fly. It doesn’t need polish and pitch correction, it needs abandon and raw energy, and rockabilly singer Janis Martin had the latter two in spades. Recorded only a few months before she passed away, these sides find Martin’s voice deeper than her late ‘50s work as “the female Elvis,” and though she no longer had the tone of youth, she still had the fire. Longtime friend Rosie Flores (who’d coaxed Martin into the studio to sing on 1995’s Rockabilly Filly) pulled together a talented band of Austin-based musicians and produced this album of retro-rockabilly in 2007. It’s taken five years to get it released, but it was well worth the wait.
The sessions proved a fitting farewell as drummer Bobby Trimble and upright bassist Beau Sample goose the rhythms as all-star guitarist Dave Biller and pianist T. Jarrod Bonta sling themselves around the vocals. At 67, Martin was still connected to the verve of her teenage years, and prodded by the band – particularly Trimble’s backbeats – she really belts out the tunes. The material is a connoisseur’s collection of R&B, rock ‘n’ roll, rockabilly and country, reaching back to the early years, as well as touch on revival material, like Dave Alvin’s “Long White Cadillac.” Backing vocals fromFloresand a guest duet with Kelly Willis (added in 2011) fill out a terrific final chapter in the career of a genuine rockabilly star. [©2012 Hyperbolium]
At the age of sixteen, R&B vocalist Edna McGriff scored a hit with only her second single, 1952’s “Heavenly Father.” But despite more solid outings on a half-dozen labels, she never again found true commercial success. Bear Family’s twenty-nine track anthology picks up the story in 1954 and winds through a multi-year tenure on Bell with backings from the Jimmy Carroll Orchestra, and one-offs for Brunswick, Felsted and Savoy. She and her producers ranged widely for material, covering many hits-of-the-day, including R&B, pop (The Chordette’s “Born to Be With You” and Sal Mineo’s “Start Movin’ in My Direction”), rockabilly (Lee Hazlewood’s “The Fool”), spirituals (“He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands”), folk revival favorites (“Freight Train”) and a trio of tunes from Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Flower Drum Song.
Though she was a sophisticated balladeer, her R&B numbers generate the most heat and vocal distinction. She hadn’t the bluesy grit of either Ruth Brown or Lavern Baker, but her energy really moves the former’s “Mambo Baby” and the latter’s “I Can’t Love You Enough.” At times she’s more kittenish, as on covers of “Sh-Boom” and “Dance with Me, Henry,” though, to be fair, even Etta James waited until 1958 to really hot-up the latter tune. McGriff could rock a bit, as she does on the clever multi-voiced, guitar-driven “Oh Joe!” She was a precise vocalist, and her control worked well on ballads, where the tremolo in her held notes added emotion. On rock ‘n’ roll tunes, such as the Bobettes’ “Mr. Lee,” her excellent diction feels at odds the song’s youthful exuberance.
McGriff’s commercial fortunes were hampered by Bell’s practice of splitting singles between two artists and diffusing DJ attention. At the same time, the focus on covering hot singles kept her from forming a distinct profile. Still, her sophisticated style and wide-ranging material should have garnered more action. Bear Family’s digipack includes an attached 43-page booklet that’s stuffed with photos, label and picture sleeve reproductions, discographical data and liner notes by Bill Dahl. Dahl spends several pages on McGriff’s earlier Jubliee releases (including duets with the Orioles’ Sonny Til) and several paragraphs on her post-Bell sides, making one wish Bear Family had expanded this into a “Complete Edna McGriff” package. For now, you’ll have to check out the grey market Heavenly Father to get more of the story. All tracks here are mono except 27-29, which are stereo. [©2012 Hyperbolium]
Joan Osborne’s 1995 smash, “One of Us,” may be the best thing that ever happened to her commercial fortunes, but her inability to follow-up its chart-topping success is more likely the best thing that ever happened to her artistry. In the wake of the triple-platinum Relish, Osborne receded into touring, social activism, musical study and guest appearances, taking five years to issue a follow-up that couldn’t possibly repeat the success of her major label debut. But in failing to sell millions of copies, Righteous Love freed Osborne from the expectations of another lightning strike, and set her on a path led by musical muses. She explored classic and original soul, recorded country and Americana, and even reunited with the team that had produced Relish.
Her first set of soul covers, 2002’s How Sweet It Is, featured modern production that was at odds with the material’s grit. Her second set, 2007’s Breakfast in Bed, is the more direct antecedent to this new album, with funkier arrangements that seem to have been inspired by her terrific appearance in Standing in the Shadows of Motown. For her latest set of covers, Osborne’s picked songs in which she hears the blues, going beyond the standard I-IV-V to find songs that connect to the emotion. It’s a diverse set, ranging from blues standards popularized by Sonny Boy Williamson, John Mayall, Muddy Waters and Slim Harpo to soul sides from Ray Charles, Ike & Tina, Betty Wright, Bill Withers, Otis Redding and Al Green.
The album breaks from the gate in full stride with a propulsive version of Ashford and Simpson’s “I Don’t Need No Doctor” that heats up Ray Charles’ 1966 original. Drummer Aaron Comess and bassist Richard Hammond lay down a wickedly funky bottom end punctuated by Chris Karlic’s baritone sax, and the Holmes Brothers’ backing vocals push Osborne to great heights of protest. Osborne’s equally effective singing low and seductive, taking the band with her on Muddy Waters’ “I Want to Be Loved.” The song list features some deep singles, including Olive Brown’s R&B “Roll Like a Big Wheel,” and album tracks such as John Mayall’s solo “Broken Wings.”
Some of the better known tunes accrue layers from multiple earlier covers, such as how Willie Dixon’s “Bring it on Home” picks up notes from both Sonny Boy Williamson’s original and Led Zeppelin’s more lascivious cover, and James Moore’s “Shake Your Hips” picks up from Slim Harpo’s original and the Rolling Stones’ well-known remake. Others are sung in straightforward tribute to the originals, such as Betty Wright’s “Shoorah! Shoorah!” (with songwriter Allen Toussaint pitching in on piano), and at least one, “I’m Qualified,” keys entirely off a soul cover (by Clarence Carter) rather than the R&B original (by Jimmy Hughes).
Osborne’s shown herself to be a terrific interpreter of classic blues and soul material, but it’s something she’s shown before. Perhaps that’s enough – there are few singers with a musical sensibility as good as hers, or a voice that’s gained as much character with age. Still, given her proven ability to write, as well as her (and her production team’s) great ears for songs, one has to ask whether she should be defining material, as well as redefining it. In the end, though, these songs are sturdy enough to merit multiple interpretations, and Osborne’s covers are like colorful patina layered on classic pieces of art. [©2012 hyperbolium dot com]
After leaving the Rolling Stones in 1992, bassist Bill Wyman formed the Rhythm Kings around a core of Graham Broad, Andy Fairweather-Low, Georgie Fame, Albert Lee, Beverly Skeete and Geraint Watkins. The group is joined by a revolving line-up of British all-stars that has included Gary Brooker, Eric Clapton, Peter Frampton, Mark Knopfler, George Harrison, Nicky Hopkins and Mick Taylor. Wyman shares lead vocals with Fame, Skeete, Watkins, and the occasional guest, such as Paul Carrack. Wyman’s hoarse whisper hasn’t the power or charisma of Mick Jagger, but with the crack band chugging away, and the other vocalists taking the lion’s share of leads, his limitations aren’t really noticeable. The mix of original and cover songs play out like a rhythm and blues review, like Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, minus the stoned country influences. Proper American’s box set pulls together the group’s first four studio albums, from their 1998 debut, Struttin’ Our Stuff, through 2001’s two-CD Double Bill, packaged in mini-LP sleeves in a cardboard wrapper, with full credits and new liner notes by Bud Scoppa. There’s nothing revelatory here, but if you enjoy a night out with a talented band happily playing jump blues, R&B and rock ‘n’ roll favorites (not to mention new compositions that will remind you of your favorites), this is a nice spin. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]
1961 was a banner year for Ray Charles. The crossover seeds he’d sewn with Atlantic on 1959’s The Genius of Ray Charles had led him to bigger bands and orchestras and a contract with ABC. In 1960 he’d notched his first #1 on the pop chart with a cover of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Georgia on My Mind,” and by 1961 the demand for his concert appearances finally brought him to Europe, where he headlined the second-annual Antibes Jazz Festival in southeastern France. Charles performed four dates with the classic lineup of his octet, featuring Hank Crawford (alto sax), David “Fathead” Newman (tenor sax and flute), Leroy Cooper (baritone sax), Phillip Guilbeau (trumpet), John Hunt (trumpet), Edgar Willis (bass), Bruno Carr (drums) and the Raelettes (Gwen Berry, Margie Hendrix, Pat Lyles and Darlene McCrea).
The two full dates captured here – July 18th and 22nd – split their set lists between earlier titles recorded for Atlantic and then recent sides for ABC. The two sets repeat a few titles (“Let the Good Times Roll,” “Georgia on My Mind,” “Sticks and Stones” and crowd-rousing versions of Charles’ first crossover hit, “What’d I Say”), but also add unique titles, including a swinging take of Charles then-current Latin-rhythm single “One Mint Julep” a celebratory performance of “Hallelujah, I Love Her So” (with Newman stepping to the front for a short solo), and a cover of Nat King Cole’s “With You On My Mind.” The band’s instrumental tunes give Charles an opportunity to show off his considerable talent as a pianist, and the fluidity with which the shows move between jazz, blues, R&B, gospel and pop is mesmerizing.
The two sets are augmented by six bonus performances culled from shows on the 19th and 21st, bringing the total program to a satisfying 105 minutes. Originally filmed (not videotaped) for French public television, these performances have been unseen for nearly fifty years. The black-and-white footage is neatly edited, with interesting close-ups of the instrumentalists and images of the sunglasses-wearing cigarette-smoking audience. The audio is crisp, well-balanced mono with only a few inconsequential artifacts, including Charles’ enthusiastic foot stomping rattling his microphone stand on “Let the Good Times Roll.” This is a terrific archival discovery and a must-see for Ray Charles fans! [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]
Originally released by Capitol in 1994 as a limited edition 2-CD set, this 52-track collection is now rescued from the high-prices of the secondary market with an affordable MP3 reissue. Minit Records was established in the early ‘60s in New Orleans by Joe Banashak, and distributed by Imperial. Minit was acquired by Imperial in 1963, but many of the label’s key sides and all of its biggest chart hits, starting with Jessie Hill’s “Ooh Poo Pah Doo, Part 2” and peaking with Ernie K-Doe’s chart-topping “Mother-in-Law,” came before the acquisition, and more importantly, before the departure of the label’s key asset: Allen Toussaint.
Toussaint had made a name for himself in New Orleans music circles as a teenager, and in a fortuitous reassignment of duties at Minit he started scouting new acts and then writing, producing and playing on their records. He infused each production with an irresistible dollop of New Orleans soul that made his records stand out from those produced on the coasts or in hot-spots like Chicago or Memphis. Toussaint is responsible for some of the labels greatest sides, including Benny Spellman’s “Lipstick Traces (On a Cigarette),” and its oft-covered flip, “Fortune Teller,” Aaron Neville’s “Over You,” Irma Thomas’ “Ruler of My Heart” and Ernie K-Doe’s “Mother-in-Law.”
Following Toussaint’s departure, the label continued to produce interesting records throughout the 1960s, as showcased on the second disc of this set. The label turned from the New Orleans style of its early singles to soul sounds influenced by Stax (especially its post-Atlantic work), Muscle Shoals and Motown. The results weren’t often as unique, but several singles scored on the R&B chart, and a few crossed over to pop success. Here you’ll find Ike & Tina Turner’s horn-driven soul cover of “I Wish it Would Rain,” electric boogaloo “I Wanna Jump,” and a gritty take on “Come Together,” Bobby Womack’s minor hit cover of “California Dreamin’,” Clydie King’s exuberant “I’ll Never Stop Loving You” and pre-Philly sides by the O’Jays.
Capitol’s digital download edition omits Chris Kenner’s “I Like it Like That, Part 1” (which can be found here), as well as the detailed liner notes that accompanied the CD set, but there’s a lot of great music here, particularly on disc one, at a good price. All selections in this set are mono except for stereo on disc one track 3, 6 and 7 and most of disc two. If your interest is limited to the label’s earlier Allen Toussaint sides, check out the single disc Finger Poppin’ and Stompin’ Feet; for the post-Toussaint releases only, find a copy of The Soul of Minit Records. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]
Guitarist Ronnie Duran was the eponymous leader of this mid-60s East Side rock ‘n’ soul group, managed by the ubiquitous Billy Cardenas, they were fellow travelers of Cannibal and the Headhunters, the Premiers, Thee Midniters and others. Their one full-length album is deeply indebted to the early Chicago sound of Curtis Mayfield, but also to Bobby Womack, Junior Walker and Major Lance. The soul base is strained through the garage and club sounds of mid-60s East Los Angeles, and powered by the rhythm of “The Jerk.” The bulk of the material is covers, which is what you’d expect to hear on a Saturday night out, but there are a few originals, including the Arthur Lee penned lead off “I Wanna do the Jerk.” This is excellent garage soul, fronted by the strong R&B vocals of Charles Lett, and backed with solid organ, deep baritone saxophone, and foot-stomping bass and drums. It’s hard to believe that music this solid and mature was made by, literally, a group of teenagers. Crank it up as the soundtrack to your next dance party. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]
For their second album (their debut was 2009’s Time Machine), this French quintet continues to create garage and beat sounds that echo the R&B of the Animals and Small Faces and revivalists like the Miracle Workers, Fuzztones, Lyres and Chesterfield Kings. The driving bass, reverbed guitars, hard-blown harmonica and whining organ will be familiar to fans of the Nuggets/Pebbles/Boulders series, even without the scratchy patina of original 45s. You pretty much know what you’re getting when there’s a pentagonal Vox Phantom guitar pictured on the album sleeve and the band has the taste and knowledge to cover the Gentlemen’s Texas punk classic “It’s a Crying Shame.” The Norvins make good their vintage equipment and give you the soundtrack for the hottest yoga session of the year. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]