Posts Tagged ‘Reprise’

Little Richard: King of Rock ‘n’ Roll

Saturday, June 27th, 2009

LittleRichard_KingOfRockNRollLittle Richard’s second Reprise album treads water

After his Reprise debut, 1970’s swamp-funk infused The Rill Thing, failed to garner commercial attention, Little Richard hooked up with mainstream producer H.B. Barnum and crafted an updated version of his 1950’s R&B-tinged rock ‘n’ roll sound. This is a more flamboyant and self-celebrating affair than its predecessor, from the album’s title track to the lengthy, self-aggrandizing introduction he gives himself on the cover of Hoyt Axton’s “Joy to the World.” Those who remember Richard’s television appearances in the 1970s (“Shut up!”) will recognize the character here.

As great as were the brassy, bass-heavy arrangements of The Rill Thing, Barnum’s production update doesn’t work. Richard’s belting vocals sound out-of-time against the flaccid, near-disco arrangements of “Joy to the World” and “Brown Sugar.” Better are the funky, hyperventilating reinterpretation of “Dancing in the Street” and the soul shout of “Midnight Special,” though here again the early ‘70s backing vocals are dated. Richard’s original “In the Name” is sung in a compelling croon, and “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” works well in its Stax-styled arrangement.

The album’s closing cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Born on the Bayou” fits, but it reveals more about Richard’s impact on John Fogerty than it provides an opportunity to create something new. Richard sounds engaged, but his producer wasn’t able to craft a compelling showcase for his vocals, nor help him select material that offered the best vehicles for interpretation. After the electric jolt forward of The Rill Thing, this album is disappointing for its lack of new vision. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

Little Richard: The Rill Thing

Saturday, June 27th, 2009

LittleRichard_RillThingStriking, swampy 1970 comeback from a rock ‘n’ roll icon

Had Little Richard’s rock ‘n’ roll career ended with his 1957 turn to the ministry, he’d still be remembered as a powerful, flamboyant singer who reeled off a string of unforgettable, incendiary singles for Art Rupe’s Specialty Records. His early ‘60s return to rock, fueled in part by attention from the British Invasion, resulted in some good sides in his signature style, but it wasn’t until his 1970 signing with Reprise that he really found an updated sound that made the most of his gospel power and rock ‘n’ roll fire.

Recorded in Muscle Shoals, the rhythm section on these sessions is propulsive and the electric guitars swampy. Richard’s gospel-based belting turns out to be a perfect fit for the solid rhythms, heavy bass lines and superb sax solos. A couple of tracks, notably Esquerita’s “Dew Drop Inn” (kicking off with the drum riff that opened “I Hear You Knockin’”), capture the abandon of Richard’s 1950s sides, but others, such as the album’s lead-off single, “Freedom Blues” and the Allman-styled blues “Two-Time Loser” are funkier and deeper in message.

Richard is in stellar voice throughout, adding a testifying edge to Travis Wammack’s swampy “Greenwood, Mississippi” and belting out the original “Spreadin’ Natta, What’s the Matter?” A New Orleans’ styled cover of “Lovesick Blues” is almost unrecognizable as the song Hank Williams took to the top of the charts, and the closing arrangement of the Beatles “I Saw Her Standing There” adds horns and a Southern sound. The album’s 10-minute title track is a Crusaders-styled instrumental with Richard on electric piano backed by horns, guitar and a punchy rhythm section.

Though the album received a great deal of critical praise at the time, it stiffed commercially, failing to chart and lobbing its two singles shy of the top-40. The world may not have been ready for the second coming of Little Richard, but as this reissue attests, he continued to be a vital singer, songwriter, pianist and arranger whose power and vision weren’t stuck in the past. Though he could have repeated his 1950s hits on the oldies circuit forever, he continued to more forward artistically, even if the market didn’t take notice. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]