Posts Tagged ‘Soul’

BANG! The Bert Berns Story

Wednesday, December 6th, 2017

The fascinating story of white soul brother #1

You probably heard a Bert Berns song today. If you heard “Tell Him,” “Twist and Shout,” “Cry to Me,” “Here Comes the Night,” “Hang on Sloopy” or “Piece of My Heart,” you heard a song he wrote. If you heard “Baby, I’m Yours,” “Under the Boardwalk” or “Brown Eyed Girl,” you heard a record he produced. Berns’ enormous catalog of deeply-felt songs and deftly-produced records puts him in a league with the best of the Brill Building’s songwriters and New York’s golden age pop producers. When Phil Spector lost the Latin soul of Berns’ “Twist and Shout” with a frantic rendition by the Top Notes, Berns picked it back up the next year and minted a classic with the Isley Brothers. And when Berns felt he’d accomplished everything he could as a writer and producer, he founded Bang records, stormed the charts in 1965 with the Strangeloves’ “I Want Candy,” and signed Neil Diamond and Van Morrison.

Born in 1929, Berns was thirty-one when he finally found his way into the music industry as a $50-a-week songwriter for Robert Merlin’s publishing company. His first hit came the following year with the Jarmel’s “A Little Bit of Soap,” and over the next seven years he minted more than fifty pop chart singles. Berns’ early love of Afro-Cuban music permeated his songs, as did the deep, personal feelings he poured into his lyrics. Labeled by his African American artists as “the white soul brother,” he pushed them “to sing it like he meant it.” Session dialog of Berns coaching Betty Harris, as well as Van Morrison during the recording of Blowin’ Your Mind!, give the viewer a feel for his artist rapport. Testimony from family, artists, production and business colleagues testify to the exalted status in which he was held. The interviews are highlighted by his savvy and tough widow, Ilene Berns, and the tough but artistically sensitive Carmine “Wassel” DeNoia.

Berns broke into production with Atlantic, helping the label through the fallow period that followed the departure of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. He wrote for and produced Solomon Burke, the Drifters, Solomon Burke, Ben E. King, Wilson Pickett and others. By 1964 his songs were doing double-duty as fuel for the British Invasion, with the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Animals all covering Bert Berns tunes, and Berns himself producing Them’s version of his own “Here Comes the Night.” He would eventually sign Van Morrison to Bang, produce a hit and fall out, as he also did with Neil Diamond. His relationships with his publisher and his Atlantic partners also soured as the piles of money became tall enough to fight over, but the interviews conducted for this film demonstrate how deeply respected and loved he remains by his former colleagues. His songs and his records provide the lasting epitaph, but this 90 minute documentary connects the dots and names the legacy. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Bert Berns’ Home Page
BANG! The Bert Berns Story’s Home Page

Whitney Rose: Rule 62

Monday, October 30th, 2017

Country, soul and girl group blossom under Rose’s command

With her friend and mentor Raul Malo co-producing, and a studio band drawn from the Mavericks, Jayhawks and Asleep at the Wheel, Canadian-born, Austin-based Whitney Rose doubles up on the retro country pop highlighted on 2015’s Heartbreaker of the Year. Across nine originals, and covers of “Tied to the Wheel” and “You’re a Mess,” Rose plugs into ‘70s country vibes, girl group sounds and, on “Can’t Stop Shakin’,” a deep soul groove. There’s an echo of Danny O’Keefe’s “Goodtime Charlie’s Got the Blues” in the downbeat mood of “You Never Cross My Mind,” and the rolling rhythm of the bittersweet “Trucker’s Funeral” suggests John Hartford’s “Gentle on My Mind.”

Rose is decisive as she leaves behind the wreckage of failed romances, and definitively cuts the ties that bind. She leaves without anger, and though hardened by experience, the emotional toll still leaves her numb, and on the Brill Building-worthy “Better to My Baby,” remorseful. Malo pops up throughout the album, singing harmony on “You Don’t Scare Me” and adding terrific guitar leads along with ace Kenny Vaughn. Malo and co-producer Niko Bolas showcase Rose’s vocal charms while also giving the musicians and songs room to shine. Chris Scruggs’ steel, Aaron Till’s fiddle and Jen Gunderman’s piano and organ are perfectly staged, and Rose is commanding as she eases herself into songs whose classic tones belie their originality. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Whitney Rose’s Home Page

The Robert Kraft Trio: North Bishop Ave.

Thursday, August 10th, 2017

Old-school pop-soul from Austin trio

If Robert Kraft wasn’t actually born in Muscle Shoals, he clearly grew up listening to its music. The sweetness of his throwback soul is informed by a troubling childhood whose main solace was the radio. Specifically, KKDA 730 – “Soul 73” – in Grand Prairie, Texas, belting out a mix of soul and R&B, with some gospel, jazz and blues thrown in for good measure. It was the sort of local station that spoke to its community, and in Kraft’s case, provided mentoring that defined the core of his musicality. And despite having played other genres – including alternative rock and an album of standards – the soul music of his youth was always edging its way on stage.

Backed by guitarist (and arranger) JD Pendley and bassist Lindsay Greene, and with guest appearances by drummer Robb Kidd and organist (and producer) David Boyle, the Austin-based Kraft cooks up seven original tunes that would have fit nicely onto KKDA’s playlists. The arrangements are spacious, leaving room for Kraft’s sweet voice and Pendley’s vintage guitar licks. Kraft likens his songs to recapturing “the feeling of a perfect summer day in the park with a girl who might actually like me.” That summer feeling manifests itself in the longing of “I Want to Show You” and “Alone With You,” and blossoms into the colorful metaphors of “So Beautiful.”

Kraft drops a romantic placeholder in “You’ve Still Got a Place in My Heart,” but makes a more illicit offer in “Gotta Have You.” The latter suggests Clarence Carter’s “Slip Away,” but with the guilt of an agonizing dilemma burned away by amatory fire. Pendley offers several tasty guitar solos, and Greene adds nice flourishes to the rhythm section’s time keeping. The set closes with the funky “Stand (The Ally Song),” building on a Bill Withers-styled groove and rounding the vocal tone with a hint of Sinatra. Kraft is a polished singer, and the trio’s Friday night gig at the Continental has honed them into a swinging soul trio whose debut CD is a treat. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

The Robert Kraft Trio’s Home Page

The Easybeats: Vigil

Friday, May 26th, 2017

The Easybeats’ fifth studio album was released in several different forms. The 14-track UK release was slimmed to 12 tracks, resequenced and retitled Falling Off The Edge Of The World for the U.S. market. In the group’s native Australia, the album retained its title and cover art, but lost three cover songs, gained the original “Bring a Little Lovin’,” and was issued only in mono. It’s this latter Australian release, with its track list, sequencing and mono master, that’s featured on this limited edition Record Store Day 2017 reissue. In addition to the multiple configurations of the album’s release, its construction was likewise multiheaded, as two songs recorded in mid-1967 with Glyn Johns (for the shelved Good Friday album) were combined with material recorded later the same year with Mike Vaughan.

The Australian edition sticks entirely to Vanda-Young originals, but there’s a great deal of musical range on offer. Soul influences course through the hard-grooving opener “Good Times,” rhythmic “See Saw,” mid-tempo “What in the World, and psych-gospel “Come in You’ll Get Pneumonia.” The group dips its toes into bubblegum-ska on “Sha La, La, La, Leah,” but more interesting is the social social commentary of “We All Live Happily Together” and the baroque polish of “Land of Make Believe.” And speaking of polish, the soft-pop closer, “Hello How Are You” may be the album’s most audacious in its distance from the group’s roots. There are numerous musical highlights here, if not an artistic vision that pulls it all together. Get Varese’s vinyl for the mono punch, and the CD for the bonus tracks. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Brian Owens & The Deacons of Soul: Soul of Ferguson

Tuesday, March 7th, 2017

New old-school soul

It’s no accident that Brian Owens’ latest album cover looks like a well-worn favorite. Together with the Deacons of Soul, Owens reaches back to the soul sounds of the ‘60s and early ‘70s with electric piano and organ, deep bass, punchy horns, strings and vocals that fly smoothly into falsetto for extra impact. Owens is a terrific vocalist, influenced by Curtis Mayfield, Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye and Sam & Dave, but imitating none of them. His songs are so redolent of gospel-influence classic soul that you may wonder if they’re covers, but they’re all originals. He writes optimistically and thankfully of married life, fatherhood and love that’s both corporeal and spiritual. The album’s lead single “For You” teams Owens with ex-Doobie Brother Michael McDonald, drawing an emotional, hard soul performance from the latter. Fans of Stax, Tamla and Curtom will be thoroughly pleased by Owens’ latest album. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Brian Owens’ Home Page

Recent Vinyl Reissues from Varese Sarabande

Saturday, February 25th, 2017

Although vinyl LP sales hit a 28-year high in 2016, tallying $416 million in sales. CD sales, while still much larger, decayed as digital downloads, and then streaming, displaced physical media. Vinyl has spread from independent record stores to major retailers, from independent labels to the majors, and from reissues to new releases. Even novelty picture discs are making a comeback. And whether this is a transitory hipster fad, or a long-lasting inroad into the psyches of digital natives, it provides an interesting intersection between format and material, providing a medium for reanimating not just the music, but the experience of catalog material.

Varese Sarabande, an independent label whose work is split between film scores and pop music reissues, has spanned the LP, CD, MP3 and streaming eras. Tracing its lineage back to the early ‘70s classical label Varese International and a late-70s merger with the Sarabande label, the combined Varese Sarabande, in addition to releasing modern film soundtracks, sources reissue material from a number of catalogs, and is distributed by the Universal Music Group. Each of these recent album reissues is pressed on 180 gram vinyl, with the original, full-size front- and back-cover art, and in a couple of cases, bonus tracks.

Wynn Stewart – The Very Best of Wynn Stewart 1958-1962

Varese’s vinyl reissue of their 2001 CD compilation is unusual, in that it was originally released on CD, making this vinyl reissue really a first pressing. That said, the eighteen tracks provide an excellent introduction to one of the Bakersfield Sound’s primary architects. Alongside Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, Stewart shares credit for creating the west coast country sound. Harder hitting than then-contemporary Nashville, and with some sting from electric guitars, Bakersfield planted the seeds for later country-rock marriages and any number of alt.country roots revivals.

Stewart’s sound, especially his singing, had a drama that neither Owens or Haggard matched. From his earliest rockabilly work (represented here by 1958’s “Come On”) to fiddle-and-harmony driven weepers (“How the Other Half Lives” and “Wishful Thinking”), and country pop (“Above and Beyond (The Call of Love)” – a hit for Buck Owens), Stewart ranged over a variety of styles and emotions with incredible ease. His chart success was sporadic, but the brilliance of his recordings was anything but. These tracks were cherry-picked from his years with Jackpot and Challenge, and provide a terrific sampling of his early work.

Dobie Gray – Sings for “In” Crowders That Go “Go Go”

The son of sharecroppers, Dobie Gray launched two iconic singles in a career that spanned more than forty years, and included numerous lesser-charting highlights. This 1965 album for the Charger label was his breakthrough, capitalizing on the minor success he’d generated with 1963’s punchy “Look at Me” by launching Billy Page’s “The ‘In’ Crowd” onto both the pop and R&B charts. The album includes the lower-charting follow-up “See You at the ‘Go-Go’,” but is stocked with superb album sides written by Gray and selected from period songwriters. Jackie DeShannon’s “Blue Ribbons” stands out with its Brill Building feel, as does the autobiographical “In Hollywood,” the country-gospel waltz “That’s How You Treat a Cheater” and the euphoric “Feelin’ in My Heart.” Gray is equally at home with crooned pop, string-lined ballads and up-tempo R&B, lending the album a see-what-will-stick variety. Varese’s reissue augments the album’s original dozen tracks with the soulful non-LP single “Out on the Floor.” This is a sweet treat for lovers of mid-60s pop, soul and R&B.

Aaron Neville – Tell It Like It Is

Aaron Neville’s 1966 album debut is both his most famous and his most obscure. Famous, because the title track remains his most emblematic hit, and obscure because other than a low-profile 1990 reissue and abbreviated collections, Neville’s recordings for Par-Lo have never received the archival treatment they deserve. Varese’s vinyl reissue isn’t the complete Par-Lo recitation one might dream of, but it does return the original eleven tracks (including two swinging George Davis instrumentals) to vinyl with a pair of bonuses: a stereo version of “Tell It Like It Is” and the B-side “Those Three Words.” Neville’s tiny label couldn’t capitalize on the single’s meteoric success, and quickly fell into bankruptcy. Neville recorded a few singles for other labels, but it wasn’t until he united with his brothers in the 1970s, and guested with Linda Ronstadt at the end of the ‘80s that his profile really took off. Those who know Neville for his softer hits of the ‘90s may be surprised by his early New Orleans soul sides. Now who will put together the complete Imperial, Minit, Par-Lo, Bell and Safari collection?

John Phillips – John, The Wolf King of L.A.

Following the 1969 break-up of the Mamas & Papas, Phillips quickly began working on this 1970 solo release with many of the same ace Los Angeles studio musicians who’d backed his group. Though it didn’t gain much traction at the time – in part due to a reported lack of promotion – it’s country-rock sound remained fresh, and the album’s reputation has grown over the years. Though it had been reissued in the UK in 1994, its critical re-evaluation was spurred by Varese’s bonus-laden 2006 edition. Varese’s LP reissue puts the album back on vinyl for the first time in more than forty-five years, with the original ten-track lineup.

For those accustomed to Phillip’s background singing in the Mama & Papas, his voice may be higher than you would have guessed and without the star quality of Cass Elliot or Denny Doherty. Still, he was an evocative singer, and his songs offer up a melancholy in keeping with the post-Altamont transition from the 1960s into the 1970s, and his personal transitions from group leader to solo artist and from husband to singleton. The album’s lone U.S. single, “Mississippi,” charted in the Top 40, but left album dwelling at the bottom of the Top 200. It’s a wonder this didn’t become a freeform radio staple alongside other FM favorites. But it’s not too late, and the full-sized cover gives you a place to clean your pot.

Linda Ronstadt – Silk Purse

Originally released in 1970, Ronstadt’s second solo album was reissued on CD in the mid-90s, and then seemed to have fallen out of print. Varese remedied this with a straight-up CD reissue last year, and now reaches out to vinyl collectors with this LP edition. The album bubbled under the Billboard Top 100, but managed to launch the single “Long, Long Time” into the Top 40. Recorded in Nashville, Ronstadt mixed pop and country material, including Hank Williams’ take on the Tin Pan Alley standard “Lovesick Blues,” Mel Tillis’ “Mental Revenge,” Goffin & King’s “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” (which bubbled under the Top 100) and Dillard & Clark’s “She Darked the Sun.” Ronstadt returned to California for her self-titled third album, but this Southern sojourn was an important way-point in her development from a singer in the Stone Poneys to a full-blown solo star. Varese’s 180 gram vinyl reissue includes the album’s original ten tracks, and reproduces the original front and back covers. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Shinyribs: I Got Your Medicine

Friday, February 24th, 2017

Stupendous gulf coast soul sounds

When we first heard Kevin “Shinyribs” Russell as a solo artist on 2010’s Well After Awhile, he was taking a short break from his Austin band, The Gourds. Since that time the group regrouped for Old Mad Joy, starred in the documentary All the Labor, and then declared themselves on hiatus. Russell’s used the free time to expand his solo catalog with albums in 2013 and 2015, and now offers a deep soak in Southern soul, co-produced by Jimbo Mathus. The band simmers New Orleans rhythm ‘n’ roll, Memphis soul and Louisiana swamp pop into a unique gulf coast stew whose flavor is enhanced by the Tijuana Train Wreck Horns (Tiger Anaya and Mark Wilson) and the backing vocals of the Shiny Soul Sisters (Alice Spencer and Sally Allen).

This, it turns out, is the band Russell has been waiting for, and he makes the most of them across nine originals and three covers, the latter including superb versions of Allen Toussaint’s oft recordedA Certain Girl,” Ted Hawkins’ “I Gave Up All I Had” and Toussaint McCall’s heartbreaking “Nothing Takes the Place of You.” With the horns goosing the up-tempo numbers, going sly at mid-tempo and lining the ballads, Russell reaches into deep wells of ecstasy and sorrow, fueling an incredible display of soul singing. Spencer steps forward for the thorny duet “I Don’t Give a Sh*t,” and the album closes with the gospel original “The Cross is Boss.” If you’re sick of today’s vacant, auto-tuned pop, Shinyribs definitely has your medicine. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

RIYL: Allen Toussaint, Ernie K-Doe, the Neville Brothers, Tony Joe White

Shinyribs’ Home Page

Austin Hanks: Alabastard

Tuesday, February 14th, 2017

A country-rock album with a soul singer’s heart

Austin Hanks may set his music in country, rock and blues settings, but at root, he’s a soul singer. After leaving his native Alabama, he had a cup of coffee in Nashville before a writing deal with EMI turned him into a Los Angeles-based expat. But he brought his Southern roots with him, and they shine brightly in the blue soul of the opening “Toughest Part of Me,” as Hanks realizes that scar tissue can patch a broken heart. He lays himself on the line with a cover of James Brown’s “I’ll Go Crazy,” but he’s more regularly prone to seeking second chances, doubling back on “Delta Torches” and grasping for emotional ignition on the Springsteen-ish “Worth the Fight.”

Hanks doesn’t wallow, but neither does he make starry-eyed pronouncements. There’s self awareness, and perhaps even optimism in “Rise Above” and the blues-rock “Savior Self,” but Hanks is pushing his way forward rather than celebrating his arrived. The album’s title, which abbreviates “Alabama Bastard,” hints at the in-between place of cultural emigrants and the outsider emotion it creates. He turns nostalgic for “Alive & Untied,” with a warm organ intro that develops into a full-blown Muscle Shoals sound, and though there’s a party vibe to the New Orleans roll of “Lakeside,” there’s more here than pickup trucks and beer. Fans of ZZ Top, the Allmans, Skynyrd and Sons of Anarchy (for which Hanks penned “Sucker Punch”) will enjoy this one. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Austin Hanks’ Home Page

Dennis Coffey: Hot Coffey in the D – Burnin’ at Morey Baker’s Showplace Lounge

Friday, January 13th, 2017

A Motown funk brother plays out live in 1968

Guitarist Dennis Coffey may be most familiar from his 1971 instrumental hit “Scorpio” and its follow-up “Taurus.” But astute liner note readers will recognize Coffey as one of Motown’s Funk Brothers, and the player who introduced harder-edged guitar sounds into Norman Whitfield’s productions, including “Ball of Confusion” and “Psychedelic Shack.” Like many of his Motown colleagues, Coffey also played out live in Detroit clubs, and this 1968 date from Morey Baker’s Showplace Lounge finds him in a trio with Lyman Woodard on Hammond B3 and Melvin Davis on drums. The group played under Woodard’s name, but Coffey’s guitar took most of the leads.

The group’s repertoire included soul, pop and jazz covers, as well as original material, the latter including Coffey’s opening showcase, “Fuzz.” The sounds encompass soul, rock, funk and jazz in equal parts, as Woodard vamped deep and low, Davis provided the groove, and Coffey took the lead lines. Coffey’s guitar is edgy even when he’s picking an upbeat take on the MOR classic “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” or playing slinky lines on “The Look of Love.” The band played from chord charts without rehearsal, fueling their performances with lively, jazz-styled improvisations. Herbie Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage” and Ramsey Lewis’ “Wade in the Water” remain close to their roots, but even here, the trio finds original ground to jam.

Professionally recorded on a half-inch four-track (courtesy of the then-nearby Tera Shirma studio at which Coffey worked with his partner Mike Theodore), the tapes are a world away from the hobbyist recordings one often hears from club settings. The performances are lively, and the results were good enough to score the trio a contract, which resulted in 1969’s Hair and Thangs. Woodard continued on as music director for Martha Reeves and as a jazz leader, Coffey and Davis eventually found their studio gigs drying up and signed on to day jobs. Now retired from the Ford Motor Company, Coffey is gigging weekly at the Northern Lights Lounge, and Davis has released albums on his own Rock Mill label.

In addition to the music, this archival find sheds light on the symbioses that formed between Detroit’s clubs and record labels. The clubs provided a second income stream to the musicians, but also space for players to fully express themselves. What you hear in this performance are some of the musical hearts and souls that fed Motown and other Detroit labels. The 56-page booklet includes archival photos, liner notes from producers Kevin Goins and Zev Feldman, cover art by illustrator Bill Morrison, and interviews with Coffey, Davis, Theodore and Detroit legends Bettye LaVette and Clarence Avant. There are several excellent albums of Coffey’s material, including an out-of-print Best Of, but this previously unreleased live set adds a funky new dimension to his catalog. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Dennis Coffey’s Home Page

Matt Costa: Music From the Motion Picture Orange Sunshine

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017

mattcosta_orangesunshineSuperb evocation of late-60s psychedelic soundtracks

If you were making a documentary on a renegade 1960s LSD collective, Huntington Beach singer-songwriter Matt Costa might not be your first thought for a period-evoking soundtrack. But Costa’s roots in Orange County match those of the Brotherhood at the film’s center, and the seeds of his nostalgic musical constructions can be found in his catalog. The resulting soundtrack for the film Orange Sunshine is the sort of ersatz experience one gained from AIP’s exploitation films – music that is of the era, but doesn’t define it. Costa deftly evokes the ‘60s with fuzzed guitars, hallucinogenic flights, West Coast jazz odysseys, blue funk, folk fingerpicking, ragas and even a touch of strategically placed vinyl surface noise.

The compositions lean to mood-setting instrumentals, but the vocal tracks – particularly the Airplane-styled “Born in My Mind” – are spot-on. What rats this out as homage rather than artifact is the crisp fidelity – something that couldn’t easily be achieved on a shoestring budget in 1968. Most impressive is that Costa wrote, engineered, produced and performed the entire album – especially remarkable on “ensemble” jams like “The Fuzz.” Several of the cuts are under two minutes – often leaving you wanting more – but this works nicely as a standalone album of ‘60s-tinged psych, jazz, soul and rock, and provides a terrific complement to the film. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Matt Costa’s Home Page