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DEEP # 3/2013 (July)

If everything goes as planned, there should be quite a lot of interviews coming up towards the end of the year.  For this column I contacted one of my heroes, Mr. Joe Ligon of the Mighty Clouds of Joy, to discuss the group’s latest CD.  Besides gospel, we have a small but very healing dose of new Southern soul CDs and retrospect compilations.

  I’ve been meaning to raise one specific issue for a long time, but have been putting it off... until now.  I normally find artists for interviews with the help of their fellow artists or through other channels, but sometimes I contact their management.  Earlier these companies and individuals were almost without an exception very helpful.  Some still are, like Mr. Zach Glickman, the manager of the above Joe Ligon for almost forty years by now.  They understood that those interviews and articles increase the visibility of their acts.   I remember how willingly Mr. Buddy Allen and his agency helped me with my 5-part Spinners story about ten years ago. 

  Today many of these so-called managers don’t even bother to answer.  I don’t think it’s because of laziness, more likely ignorance... perhaps even arrogance.  That’s why you won’t read in this column my review of Charles Bradley’s latest CD with his own comments to go with it, or you didn’t read last year my review of Eddie Levert’s solo CD, with quotes from him.  Those are two recent examples, but there are more.  All I’m expecting is an answer – any answer - to my emails asking for interviews.  It’s called manners.  Ask your senior colleagues.

Content and quick links:

Interviews:
Joe Ligon of the Mighty Clouds of Joy

New CD reviews:
Joe Ligon of the Mighty Clouds of Joy: All That I Am – Chapter 1
Syl Johnson with Melodee Whittle
Latimore: Remembers Ray Charles
Mel Waiters: Poor Side of Town
O.B. Buchana: Starting All Over

CD reissue & compilation reviews:
Various Artists: Sweet Dreams – Where Country Meets Soul, vol.2
Dan Greer: Beale Street Soul Man/The Sounds of Memphis Sessions
Various Artists: Romark Records – Kent Harris’ Soul Sides
G.C. Cameron: Love Songs & Other Tragedies


GO GOSPEL GO!

JOE LIGON of THE MIGHTY CLOUDS OF JOY *

  The Mighty Clouds of Joy is an iconic group.  In spite of the dominance of more contemporary, even urban spiritual sound on the Billboard’s “gospel albums” charts, the group succeeded in squeezing their latest CD with traditional quartet music on it in there, too.  The four gentlemen on the cover of All That I Am – Chapter 1 (MCG 7078) are their magnificent lead singer, Joe Ligon, co-leads Michael McCowin and Ron Staples and the drummer and vocalist Johnny Valentine.  Joe Ligon: “Johnny Valentine has been with me for thirty-seven years.”  Michael joined the group for the first time in 1987 and Ron has been in the line-up since the late 90s.  Ervin Williams, who plays guitar and also assists on vocals, has been a member for numerous years, as well.

  The longest-standing member alongside Joe, Richard Wallace, who had joined the group in the early 60s – after his stints with the Stars of Bethel and the Sensational Wonders since the mid-50s – left the group a couple of years ago to form Richard Wallace’s Mighty Clouds of Joy together with Ron’s brother, Mike Cook’s brother and a fourth member.  Mike had also been a member of the Clouds until he passed away in 2008.  For more information on Joe Ligon, the group, its members and its career, my in-depth feature is still available in our printed paper # 3/2005.

  The title of the CD says Chapter 1.  Joe: “In October they’re going to release Chapter 2. There’s also a DVD to go with these CDs.  This concert was recorded at Covenant Ministries International in Decatur, Georgia, and it’s actually Clouds’ ninth live album during their career.  Joe: “Live recordings seem to do better than studio recordings, so we thought it was time to come out live again.”

  Their three preceding CDs – In the House of the Lord, Movin’ (http://www.soulexpress.net/deep207.htm#mcoj - with Joe’s own comments) and At the Revival – were all released on EMI Gospel.  “They weren’t doing a lot of quartets.  We didn’t get the attention that we thought we should have gotten on that label, so we decided to move to a different label, because they’re more familiar with quartets than EMI are.”  The new label is James Bullard’s MCG Records (www.mgcrecords.com) out of Alpharetta, Georgia, and they have in their roster also the Dixie Hummingbirds and Lee Williams and the Spiritual QC’s, among others.

  The set was produced by Jerry Peters, who has worked with the group already earlier.  “He knows the group very well.  One of the CDs he produced on us won a Grammy Award (Pray for Me in 1990).  We just decided that we would be with him, because he’s so familiar with our sound.”

  The first song, Sinner Man, is an energetic mover written by Joe and Ron. “That’s a brand new song.  We did a lot of remakes of songs that we felt didn’t get played at the time, but we decided to put a brand new song in there to kick off this CD.  The CD’s doing very well and we’re very pleased and happy with it.”


  Jerry Peters wrote All That I Am, a powerful and penetrating slow song that originally appeared on their Night Song album in 1989.  “That is the second time we’re doing this.  We always liked that song, and the people are receiving it very, very well.”  A slow swayer titled What a Friend We Have in Jesus derives from the Pray for Me album, mentioned above.  “Mr. James Bullard wanted us to do that again, so we kind of went along with the record company and what they thought we should redo.  I guess it has a lot to do with the success of the CD, because people were still asking us to sing certain old songs, so we thought it would be good to cover them live again.”

  Everybody Ought to Praise His Name is a fast and melodic, almost poppy song, which first appeared on the Cloudburst album in 1980.  “Curtis Wilson wrote that song for us, and nobody else has recorded it.  We were the first to record it and we’re the second now that we’re doing it again.”  During the years an intense and deep ballad called God’s Love has evolved into a big crowd pleaser and a show-stopper, and here it’s followed by a storming “Holy Ghost hop” named Heavy Load, again from Pray for Me.

  Dave Crawford’s You Think You’re Doing It on Your Own is a great, deep soul & gospel gem, which originally was released on the It’s Time album in 1974.  “We did that in Philadelphia in a very famous studio over there, Sigma Sound Studio, where the O’Jays, the Chi-lites and a lot of those groups did their music at.  We went there with Dave Crawford, and we decided to do that song again.”  Since it was among the tracks on Pray for Me, too, it’s actually the third release.

  Joe’s own song, I Came to Jesus, is an almost 15-minute long opus, which begins with a 3-minute sermon and evolves into quite a rouser.  This steaming number was first released on the ’77 Live and Direct LP.  Somewhere around the Throne is a powerful ballad (the fourth one from the Pray for Me set), and as a self-evident closer there’s Joe’s signature song, Been in the Storm, which – according to my calculations – is now Joe’s fourth released performance of this James Cleveland’s intense masterpiece.  “We weren’t going to do that one, but Mr. Bullard asked us to do that again.  He said that since this is your signature song it would be a great idea to do it again.  People still love it.  On stage most of the time I close the show with that signature song.”

  Joe, who was born in Springhill, Alabama, in 1936 and who today resides in Douglasville, Georgia, cut his first records with some of the earliest incarnations of the Mighty Clouds of Joy in Los Angeles already in the middle and latter part of the 50s (on Proverb Records, later re-released on HOB), but he starts counting from the early 60s Peacock sessions.  “I go from 1961, because that’s when we turned professional.”

  “I would like to thank everybody for being with us for all these years.  A lot of these people have been with us this long.  A lot of them still come to our concerts.  We’re very proud and thankful that they have been our fans for over fifty years, and we’re planning to keep on going strong.” (Interview conducted on July 11, 1913; acknowledgements to Zach Glickman, Mildred Hood and SisDetroit).


SYL JOHNSON with MELODY WHITTLE

  Syl Johnson found his latest protégé in 2009, when she was still called Mellow-D, and already a year later their first musical collaborations were released as singles on Syl’s Twilight Records (Selfish One/Love Makes a Woman and Half of Love/Turn Back the Hands of Time).  Still in the 00s this Australian chanteuse leaned heavily on jazz music, but now Syl has taken her more in the soul direction on Syl Johnson with Melodee Whittle (Twinight 4086-CD2).  Featuring genuine, breathing musicians – unfortunately not listed - among arrangers you can spot such familiar names as Tom Tom, Willie Henderson, Gene Barge and Larry Blashingane.  Syl himself produced this whole 16-track set.

  In Melody’s case comparisons with Joss Stone or the late Amy Winehouse are inevitable, and I must admit that Joss is the first thing that comes to my mind too, which isn’t a bad thing at all.  According to my research, there are three new songs on the album.  I’m with You Too is a relaxed and gentle mid-pacer, Mellow down Easy is a brassy and indeed “mellow” funk, whereas Mr. Invisible is a downtempo song leaning to a degree on jazz.  Alongside her 2010 single above (Turn Back the Hands of Time), Mr. Invisible is Melody’s only solo effort on this set, while on the rest of the tracks Syl is either joining her on vocals, or re-releasing his old 60s-70s-80s material.  There’s one exception, though.  In the capacity of a guest vocalist, Syl’s daughter, Syleena Johnson, does an impressive, slowed-down version of Betty Everett’s ’69 hit, There’ll Come a Time, with strings and all.  In the series of her solo albums, Syleena has already reached Chapter 5.

  Among Melody’s and Syl’s duets there are some Syl’s old numbers like the swinging Goodie Goodie Good Times and the mellower Can’t Nobody Stop Me Now (both on Shama in 1977) and a sharp disco dancer called I’m Just a Freak for YouRoy HawkinsThe Thrill Is Gone has a touch of blues to it, as well as Willie Dixon’s Just Make Love to You, and this also is one the tracks where we can listen to Syl’s harmonica playing.  Baby I’m Scared of You is a light and bouncing uptempo cover of Womack & Womack’s ’84 single.

  Syl’s five solo tracks include a driving scorcher titled Loving on the Run.  Is It Because I’m Black and Forever are familiar slowies, and Ms. Fine Brown Frame and Different Strokes are equally familiar and often-sampled dancers.  They all derive from Syl’s Twinight and Shama periods, and you can check their release years at http://www.soulexpress.net/syljohnson_discography.htm


SOUTHERN SOUL STEW

LATIMORE *

  In the sleeve-notes Henry Stone recalls “I first recorded Ray Charles in the back of my little distribution warehouse on Flagler Street after Sam Cooke introduced me to him at the Mary Elizabeth Hotel in Overtown in 1951.”  In his autobiography Brother Ray, Ray himself tells a completely different story.  That detail, however, doesn’t diminish the value of this new & remarkably “old” CD.

  Latimore Remembers Ray Charles (LatStone Records, LTS 1006-2; www.henrystonemusic.com) offers remakes of nine of Ray’s biggest hits between 1955 and ’65 and one blues song, St. Pete Florida Blues, which Mr. Stone claims to have recorded in 1951 but which Ray says he cut in 1948.  Latimore is backed mostly with real instruments, including a live horn section (except on Drown in My Own Tears) and background vocals.  The arrangements are quite true to the original ones, but – as Latimore puts it – “it was fun paying tribute to the artist and the songs that he made famous while putting my own twist on them.”  Latimore really lets loose on Drown and What’d I Say.  Personal highlights include still Georgia on My Mind and Crying Time, with even a steel guitar on it. 

  Ray Charles is my all-time number one artist and among today’s singers and musicians Latimore is there at the very top for me, so this CD makes a good combination.  The other songs are Hallelujah, I Got a Woman, Hit the Road Jack (a southern hit at the moment), Unchain My Heart and I Can’t Stop Loving You.  This is inspiring, neo-nostalgic rhythm & blues!


MEL WAITERS

  The standard trademarks are there: hard-hitting and strong beat, plenty of saxophones and big-voiced, energetic singing; except on slow numbers Mel has grown softer than earlier.  But there’s a new, unfortunate element.  Mel has invited autotune in the mix and, no matter how carefully and how mildly he uses it and no matter how fashionable it may be, it immediately turns me off.  Only poor singers need it, and I don’t listen to them.

  Mel wrote or co-wrote each ten songs on Poor Side of Town (Brittney Records, BR 2143; www.melwaiterslive.com) and they follow the sequence of fast-slow-fast-slow...  On the up side, there’s a mid-tempo toe-tapper called Pouring Salt and a sharp dancer named Real Simple, while on the down side we have a nostalgic reminiscing titled Poor Side of Town and an intense soul ballad called Don’t Get Your Bread.  Pity about that new element, though.


O.B. BUCHANA

  On Starting All Over (ECD 1146; www.eckorecords.com) O.B. keeps up his high standard in the SS field.  He really is and has been for a long time one of the leading artists in the genre.  Produced by John Ward, the main composers are William Norris (also plays guitar here) and Aubles Buchana with customary help from John, Raymond Moore and a couple of others.

  Again, up and down divided fairly 5-5, the most noteworthy on the up side are the easy and carefree Just Go Dancin’, the first hit Rowdy Rowdy, the restrained, mid-tempo Dream Lover and the rolling quick-tempo I Was Searching.

  The cream cut, however, is a duet with Sir Charles Jones on a soulful and melodic ballad called Can’t Get You off My Mind.  Others on the down-tempo front include the pleading Starting All Over, the more soulful than bluesy, heartfelt Another Blues Man from Clarksdale Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Sam Cooke and Ike Turner are also mentioned – and finally the deep and churchy Hold On To What You Got, a song written by Doc McKenzie, the lead singer of the Hi-Lites.  Starting All Over is a very entertaining CD from O.B., both in terms of feel-good steppers and emotional musical moments.

You still do remember, don’t you, that the indie CDs above can easily be purchased at www.intodeepmusic.com?


COMP-ART-ment

SWEET-DREAMING AGAIN *

  Sweet Dreams – Where Country Meets Soul, vol.2 (CDKEND 395; www.acerecords.com; 23 tracks, 79 min.) is a continuation of the series, which, I believe, has become quite popular.  I also love this series.  A combination of a memorable melody, interesting storyline and especially soulful interpretation is a tough one to beat, right?  Add to that still Tony Rounce’s profound notes, and you’ll get one of the best compilations this year.  This time the music covers the years from 1962 to ’77 (except one track from ’96).

  Personal highlights include the mid-tempo, pulsating But You Know I Love You by the Sweet Inspirations, an intense delivery of Sometimes by the Facts of Life – co-produced by Millie Jackson - and, of course, her own terrific reading of Sweet Music Man.  Also, although poppy, I like the way Bobby Hebb’s A Satisfied Mind is constructed, how it keeps building up steadily.  Ralph Lamar’s Don’t Let Me Cross Over is a nice country-soul waltz and the ever-wonderful Bettye Swann just enchants you on Don’t You Ever Get Tired (of Hurting Me)Esther Phillips is one of my leading ladies in music and ever since its release I’ve liked a lot her rendition of Sweet Dreams and Etta JamesWhen I Stop Dreaming is surprisingly powerful, also in orchestration.

  Among more obscure tracks there are Hank Ballard’s self-pity monologue, Sunday Morning Coming Down, Pat Lundy’s gritty Only Mama That’ll Walk the Line and Eddie James’ pleading All I Have to Offer You (Is Me).

  Other noteworthy tracks are by Otis Redding (Tennessee Waltz), Ted Taylor (I’ll Release You), James Carr (Tell Me My Lying Eyes Are Wrong), Johnnie Taylor (Sixteen Tons), Bobby Bland (I Hate You), Isaac Hayes (I Can’t Help It If I’m Still in Love with You) and Dorothy Moore (Funny How Time Slips Away).  Looks like I ended up listing almost every track on this set.  That’s how good it is!


DAN GREER

  Beale Street Soul Man/The Sounds of Memphis Sessions (CDKEND 396, 22 tracks, 73 min.; liners by Dean Rudland) concentrates on Dan’s early 70s recordings – most of them demos – of which only four single sides were released.  Dan is a writer, producer and artist, who recorded for at least seven labels during his career, including his duets with the late George Jackson.  The latest recordings were in the gospel field.

  I can’t help comparing Dan to Swamp Dogg, both in voice and vocal style.  Also occasional messages in songs combine the two.  The most receiver-friendly tracks in this house were a light, mid-pacer called Thanks to You Girl (a single) and three slow and emotional songs – You Can’t Prove That, Bless You (a single) and What Good Is a Man.  Right behind them come such toe-tappers as Only the Beginning, Natural Reaction, Mistaken Identity and So Good to Be Young and some slower songs (You’re Slipping Away, Take a Look at Yourself, Peace & Love, I’m a Lucky Guy, How Does It Feel and Share, a single).  The more I listened to this CD, the more convinced I became of Dan having a knack for writing really good melodies.  It’s a pity that nobody really took these songs into the studio, cut them properly and released them.

ROMARK RECORDS


  Romark Records – Kent Harris’ Soul Sides (CDKEND 397; 25 tracks, 76 min., liners by Ady Croasdell) tells the story of a Los Angeles record company, which existed for twenty singles between 1963 and ’73.  These tracks were mostly produced and co-written by a music entrepreneur named Kent Harris.  As bonuses, there are also Mr. Harris’ previously unreleased cuts from the early 80s.

  One common phenomenon in music on these small labels is that often the songs or the artists are patterned after hit material.  The tracks immediately bring somebody or something to your mind.  Here on his one track Ray Agee bears a resemblance to Geater Davis, Billy Williams to Lee Dorsey, Larry Atkins is a poor man’s Bobby Bland, Jimmy “Preacher” Ellis has listened to Syl Johnson, O’Malley Jones tries to sound like Z.Z. Hill and Deborah Foster & Marshall McQueen try to revive the magic of Marvin & Tammi.  Among the melodies, Too Much (by Billy Williams) echoes Something You Got, Where Did You Stay Last Night (by Phillips Sisters) makes you hum Hi- Heel Sneakers and there are a lot of similarities between There Will Be Some Changes Made (by Cry Baby Curtis) and Warm and Tender Love.

  In search of that elusive smash, Kent Harris put out most varied material from bluesoul (The Mighty Hannibal, for one) all the way to pop and show tunes (Lon-Genes and Marcene “Dimples” Harris).  Among some indifferent dancers and formulaic stompers, there were also infectious and hooky mid- and uptempo tracks, such as the brassy All at Once by Ty Karim, the driving Faith, Hope & Trust by the big-voiced Faye Ross and an easy and soulful dancer called Any Fool Can Feel It by Marshall McQueen.

  On the slow side I mostly enjoyed the deep and thought-provoking Beautiful Day My Brother (Keep Moving On) by the strong-voiced Obie Jessie Seeds of Freedom, the beautiful Do I Need You by Dimples Harris and Bye Bye Baby (I’m Leaving you), a punchy beat-ballad by Deborah Foster.  This set, Romark Records, is a mixed but interesting compilation with a few pleasant surprises. 

G.C. CAMERON


  In case of any doubt earlier, at least this new CD, Love Songs & Other Tragedies (SMCR 5089; www.soulmusic.com; 23 tracks, 76 min., liners by Kevin Goins), should lift off any uncertainty and convince you about George Curtis’ vocal prowess.  He has many voices in him, and in each role he maintains the high level of credibility and soulfulness.  In spite of G.C’s remarkable talent, he hasn’t been able to reach that “silvery lining” superstar status.  Close but not close enough, unfairly always at a crucial point the major success escaped him.  Music business angels looked elsewhere.

  The nucleus of this compilation is G.C’s first solo album on Motown in 1974, Love Songs & Other Tragedies, but there are as many as thirteen bonus tracks from his eight MoWest and Motown singles between 1971 and ’75.  Although G.C’s main music partner those days was Willie Hutch, he worked with a lot of other producers, arrangers and songwriters, too... actually too many to create recognizable consistency in sound. 

  For the album Willie Hutch wrote and produced a light bouncer called I’m Gonna Give You Respect and a fully orchestrated mover with an irresistible groove titled Your Love Won’t Turn Me LooseDave Blumberg, Paul Riser and Gene Page were the arrangers.  Together with G.C., Willie produced a mid-tempo funk in the “It’s Your Thing” vein named Come Get This Thang, which was also released as a single, and a slow, post-doowop song called Tippin’, which has Marvin Gaye on background vocals.

  Stevie Wonder wrote, produced and arranged the busy If You Don’t Love Me – like a speeded-up It’s a Shame, actually – which was also tested as a single.  The only single side off this album that appeared on charts was a slow-to-mid-tempo song from Joe Cobb and Van McCoy, the poignant Let Me down Easy (# 84)Two biggest personal favourites, however, are a gentle, haunting mid-tempo song written by Frank Johnson and recorded in Muscle Shoals called If You’re Ever Gonna Love Me and a soothing, ethereal ballad with nature sound effects titled Riverboat, produced by Frank Wilson and arranged by Dave Van De Pitte.

  All bonus tracks appear here in chronological order – here, I think, we must thank Mr. David Nathan – and I must say that all these single sides form quite a colourful musical mosaic.  We have an aggressive chant like Act like a Shotgun (# 50), a brassy funky scorcher (I’m Gonna Get You), an easy, snappy dancer (You Are That Special One), and an almost inspirational fast song with a social message (What It Is, What It Is), with Syreeta on background.

  On Smokey Robinson’s light ditty named Don’t Wanna Play Pyjama Games, G.C. actually sounds incredibly like Smokey, whereas on a fast “scurry” called No Matter Where Curtis Mayfield is vocal-wise the closest parallel.  Jesus Help Me Find another Way is not a gospel song but a poignant ballad about a broken worldly relationship, whereas the fast Topics, produced and co-written by G.C., leans somewhat on jazz in instrumentation.  I’m glad that I purchased this CD, because I didn’t have some of those singles before and, if anything, this record only increases my admiration for G.C.’s versatility ... and I’ve been a fan ever since the Spinners days from the late 60s.

© Heikki Suosalo





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