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DEEP # 3/2017 (May)

  It’s not very often that I start with retrospect compilations, but this time there were two so superior CDs that the seat of honour belongs to them.  Further on in the article, midway through there’s a short report on my telephone conversation with my friend and a deep soul hero, Oscar Toney Jr.  We hadn’t been in touch for years, so I wanted to know about his doings these days.  Finally at the end of the column there are reviews of five recent Southern soul indie CDs.

Content and quick links:


Compilation/Reissue CD reviews:
Bobby Hatfield: The Other Brother – A Solo Anthology 1965-1970
Freddie North: What Are You Doing To Me – The Complete A-Bet Recordings plus
Bob Holmes: Nashville Soul

New music:
Vel Omarr: I’m Coming Home Soon b/w I’m a Free Man (single)
David Brinston: Sidepiece Motel
O.B. Buchana: Swing on with O.B.
Lacee: Mind Gone
Tre Williams: Chocolate Soul
Ricky White: Grown & Sexy



COMP-ART-ment

BOBBY HATFIELD *


  I have a soft spot for the Righteous Brothers.  They actually opened up the door to the world of soul music for me in the mid-1960s, and I was particularly fascinated by Bobby Hatfield’s soulfully soaring voice, so you can imagine my almost like a childlike excitement when finding out about the release of The Other Brother – A Solo Anthology 1965-1970 (CDTOP 1502; www.acerecords.com; 24 tracks, 71 min.; notes by Tony Rounce).

  To get less satisfactory things out of the way, I must first go to the eleven last tracks on this set.  I still remember how disappointed I was with Bobby’s first solo album in 1970, Messin’ in Muscle Shoals.  The difference between the grandiose Righteous Brothers sound and the newly introduced funky party music was too big to swallow at that point.  There was nothing wrong with Bobby’s singing, nor with Fame musicians’ playing, but at times it feels like the boys were just having fun in the studio instead of focusing on creating really inspiring music.  The production and the choice of material fail.  Produced and partly written by Mickey Buckins, some of the songs were familiar from the recent past (You Left the Water Running, Let It Be, Show Me the Sunshine, The Feeling Is Right) and some leaned heavily on country (The Promised Land, I Saw a Lark).  Mostly it was funky and upbeat music, not typical to Bobby, and that must have been one of the reasons why the album flopped.

  The production credits of the oldest tracks on this compilation - Ebb Tide, (I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons and Unchained Melody - go to Phil Spector, but almost equally stirring tracks can be found among the seven previously unissued songs.  Some of them were scheduled to be released on Bobby’s debut album on Verve in the late 1960s, but since the taster singles failed it was cancelled, which really is a pity.  Crying in the Chapel is interpreted warmly and beautifully and In My Mind is another slow-tempo gem, in a waltz time.  The midtempo Paradise was first cut by the Ronettes in 1965 and the spector-esque touch is retained on this track.  So Much Love was written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King and first cut by Ben E. King in 1966, and Bobby’s fascinating take on it features full orchestration.  Also Bobby’s cover of an earlier Righteous Brothers recording, See That Girl (by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil), is equally magnificent and overpowering.  These tracks really are almost too good to be true.

  One of Bobby’s single releases in 1968 was his gorgeous reading of Timi Yuro’s ’62 single, What’s the Matter Baby, which is also included here.  Actually, of my favourite Bobby Hatfield gems that are missing here I can list only two: Change Is Goin’ to Come from the Soul & Inspiration album in 1966 and the stunning Stay with Me from his later Warner Brothers era in 1972, but both of them are available on YouTube.  On this wonderful set I keep coming back again and again to these tremendous previously unreleased tracks (www.righteousbrothersdiscography.com).


FREDDIE NORTH *


  Here we have another great compilation from the Ace/Kent family - congratulation, guys!  What Are You Doing To Me – The Complete A-Bet Recordings plus (Kent, CDTOP 464; 23 tracks, 73 min.) contains seven tracks from Freddie’s album on A-Bet in 1970 titled The Magnetic North and six A-Bet single sides between 1967 and ’70 and still two A-Bet recordings that went unreleased at the time.  ‘Plus’ in the title means eight later Mankind tracks (1973-75) and three of them appear here for the first time.  Freddie’s hit album on Mankind, Friend (in 1971) – with She’s All I Got on it - had come out on Ace already in 1994.

  In his liner notes Tony Rounce writes that Frederick Carpenter was born in Nashville in 1939, and with the Rookies he released his first single in 1958.  There were later solo singles in the 1960s on University, Phillips International, Capitol and Ric labels prior to A-Bet in Nashville.  These days Freddie is involved only in vocational ministry and holy music.

  Again you can find real gems among those unreleased tracks.  An A-Bet recording called Running Back to You is a Joe Simon type of a soft soul ballad, and on Mankind they cut another soft ballad named ‘Til I Get It Right, but this time it was closer to country music and actually Tammy Wynette hit # 1 on “Hot country songs” charts with it.  Remember What I Told You to Forget (by Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter) and That’s How Much You Mean to Me (by George Jackson and Raymond Moore) are both big, melodic ballads.

  The Magnetic North album was produced by Freddie, whereas Bob Holmes produced most of the A-Bet single sides.  On the album Freddie covers a touching and sad ballad Gotta Go Get Your Momma (to Come Back Home), which most of us remember as one of the most moving moments on Jerry Butler’s Ice on Ice album in 1969.  Another almost instant cover is Rainy Night in Georgia – a number one hit for Brook Benton in early 1970 – while a pretty country-soul song titled From the Blind Side was released as Freddie’s fifth and last A-Bet single.  On this track - as well as on a big-voiced ballad named Sun Comes Up – you can’t help comparing Freddie to Roy Hamilton.

  Mind you, they are not the only songs of that ilk on the set.  There’s almost like a cavalcade of similarly melodic and dramatic big ballads ahead: Oh Lord, What Are You Doing to Me, I Have a Dream, A Long Hard Road and the inspirational mid-tempo Follow the LambFrank Johnson co-wrote and recorded a southern soul ballad called You’re Killing Me Slowly but Surely, but Freddie cut it originally on Mankind in 1973.  Lovin’ on Back Streets is a similar ballad, while Taking Her Love Ain’t Gonna Be Easy is a melodic, mid-tempo floater with a full orchestra backing Freddie up.  What Are You Doing to Me is an excellent compilation with melodic and richly orchestrated big ballads, for the most part powerful and impressive music.



NASHVILLE SOUL

  Bob Holmes’ Nashville Soul (CDKEND 463; 24 tracks – 5 previously unissued - 72 min.) is linked with the album above, because Bob Holmes used to produce Freddie North and write songs for him in the late 1960s.  But there was much more to Mr. Robert Holmes.  He was one of the leading figures in Nashville’s music scene, and this compilation presents some of the music he was involved in creating.  In his notes Ady Croasdell tells the story of this composer/producer/arranger/musician in detail.

  Most of the tracks derive from the 1960s, and they were released on such different, even dissimilar labels as Bell, Volt, Dial and Excello, but for the most part, however, on Nashville’s own A-Bet and Ref-O-Ree Records.  There are a lot of routine dancers and mid-pacers, but I was delighted with the number of ballads on display.  The most emotive ones are I Dedicate My Life to You by Roger Hatcher, You Never Had It so Good by Eddie Frierson and I’ve Got My Baby by the HytonesJimmy Church’s Right in the Palm of Your Hand and the Golden Pond’s I Know (It’s All Over) are not far behind in making an impression.

  By far the most outstanding song on this set for me is Bill Brandon’s arousing and dynamic The Streets Got My Lady (on Piedmont in 1976).  Joe Tex increases the tempo with Under Your Powerful Love (on Dial in 1975; # 27-soul), and Gene Allison’s scorcher Somebody Somewhere and Roscoe Shelton’s beater I Can’t Love Nobody but You were written and produced by Ted Jarrett for his Ref-O-Ree label.  Bob was the arranger.  In spite of Bob Holmes’ strong input, Nashville is still today best known as one of the centres for country music and not as a major soul music hub.

MAINSTREAM MAGIC

OSCAR TONEY JR


  Oscar Toney Jr. is my number one deep soul hero and I wrote the first comeback feature on him with an interview in 1997, after which I visited him in Opelika, Alabama, in 2000 (www.soulexpress.net/oscar_toney.htm) and have called him a few times after that.  I contacted him again recently just to check out how he’s doing in his present place of residence, Phenix City, Alabama.

  Oscar: “I’m doing alright.  I’m retired, but I have a part-time job, a 4-hour job.  I still sing and I’m available for entertainment.”  Since a joint CD with Cliff Ellis in 2008 and a guest appearance on Susie Ann Blackwell’s CD a year later (www.soulexpress.net/oscartoneyjr_discography.htm), we haven’t heard Oscar’s voice on record.  “I did some local stuff, but I haven’t found anybody yet to piece it together and take in the direction that I want it to go.  We’ve done some stuff together with Jackie Avery, and we’re still working on some stuff.”

  On May the 26th Oscar turned 78, so he has witnessed a lot of changes in music.  “One time it was us – rhythm & blues – then came disco, then it changed into the rap.  My belief is that it’ll come back around.  I hope it happens during the time I’m still here, because a lot of us are not here anymore – people like Solomon Burke, Percy Sledge, Mighty Sam and all those.  Here in the U.S.A. there are a lot of radio stations that don’t play our type of music anymore.  But I know you people there are into this old school type, and that’s what we old entertainers are looking into.” (Interview conducted on March 18, 2017; acknowledgements to Oscar and Debbie Dixon).


VEL OMARR *


  Our good friend, Mr. Vel Omarr (http://www.soulexpress.net/deep2_2015.htm#velomarr), is about to delight us with new music.  His next CD single – I’m Coming Home Soon b/w I’m a Free Man – is released the first of June.  Co-written and co-produced with the Australian music maestro Peter Levy, the plug side is an old-school ballad with a touch of soul and gospel to it.  Also The Womack Sisters are featured on these songs, and the lady wailing on the background of I’m Coming Home Soon is Zekuumba Womack-Zekkarjyas – better known as BG Womack – and her sisters are Zeimani Zekkarjyas Womack (Mani) and Kucha Womack Zekkarhyas (KC).


The flip is another downtempo song, haunting and to a degree biographical, and – as usually in the case of Mr. Omarr – the strong Sam Cooke flavour is present, both in the songs and Vel’s voice.  Simply, two good old-school soul songs!


SOUTHERN SOUL STEW

DAVID BRINSTON

  After seven years David is back on Ecko Records and the new CD is entitled Sidepiece Motel (ECD1170; www.eckorecords.com).  In the meantime he released three CDs on his own Delta Down label out of Pensacola, Florida. 

  Produced and eight songs written or co-written by John Ward, the rest two songs were penned by James Jackson.  John Ward: “James has been around and working for a long time.  He is a keyboard player and he does a lot of tracks for many people.  He was the keyboard player for Denise LaSalle for quite a few years until nine or ten years ago.  About five or six months ago I gave him a space in the Ecko Records building to work out of so I could hopefully utilize him on more things.  He is very talented but has never had a lot of chances to work into the business.  Some of the albums he has done in the last few years are the CDs by Karen Wolfe, Terry Wright, James Smith and a few others.  He did the last album on Terry Wright including the song I Done Lost My Good Thing, which became a pretty good little hit over here.”

  James wrote here a plaintive blues number called I Drinks My Whiskey and a laid-back mid-tempo song named I Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere Tonight.  The opener, Dance with Me – co-written by David himself - is the catchiest dancer on the set, although the quick-tempo Sidepiece Motel is almost as irresistible.  The late Bill Coday cut the mid-tempo My outside Woman already in 2000, and the smooth Give Me All Your Love first appeared on David’s Here I Go Again CD ten years ago.  In short, reliable Brinston music!

O.B. BUCHANA


  Can you believe that Swing on with O.B. (ECD1169) is actually Aubles’ 13th (fresh) CD for Ecko Records in as many years, so he if anyone is a staple on that label?  Also here James Jackson is credited as a songwriter on a mid-tempo closing song aptly titled The Last Dance.  The mellow I like the Way You Swing is another mellow mid-pacer.

  Among a couple of routine dancers, an easy flowing toe-tapper called There’s a Right Way to Do Wrong stands out, whereas among the slowies a duet with Lomax titled You’re the One, Baby has made some waves in SS circles.  In spite of the title, Freak in the Sheets is another ballad and – as other reviewers have noted before – a tribute song called They Were Gone immediately brings Abraham, Martin & John to your mind.  Because of some less inspiring tracks, this wasn’t as enjoyable CD from O.B. as some of his earlier ones.


LACEE

  I interviewed Lacee in 2006 right after the release of her debut CD (http://www.soulexpress.net/deep106.htm; midway through) and have supported her since.  She’s a strong, soulful vocalist, who often hits extremely high notes.  Now I purchased her latest CD, Mind Gone (Advantage Recordings) – mixed and produced by Jerry Flood – and there are practically no credits on it.  Who wrote the songs?  Who plays on it?  Even the titles are missing!  If I pay for a CD, the minimum I want is a track list.  I strongly dislike this kind of nonchalant attitude and arrogance.

  It’s a pity, because the music sounds good, but I just go by their rules.  The best smooth mid-tempo songs are tracks # 1, 4 and 5.  Willie Clayton’s voice is recognizable on # 4.  The catchiest dancers are # 7 and 9, and the most intense ballad is # 10.



TRE WILLIAMS


  Guess what – Chocolate Soul is again an Advantage Recordings CD and mixed and produced by Jerry Flood.  But this is their DeLuxe edition, because now all eleven tracks are listed.  Such insignificant matters as composers, players, background vocalists etc. were ignored once more.  It’s an insult not only to record buyers but also to all of those who took part in creating this music.

  Tre Williams has a hip-hop background but serious soul music fans remember him best from his stint with the Revelations – remember Concrete Blues and The Cost of Living?  There are some nice light dancers and steppers on display – BYOB Party, 3 Rounds and Ya Granda Ma – but Tre’s forte lies in down-tempo material, and there are as many as seven ballads on this set.  The three that stood out for me were a strong, Latimore type of a soulblues song called Caught in the Middle, a poignant southern soul ballad named Ghetto Man and an inspirational big ballad titled Running back to you.  Strong singing again from Tre, but I must be cautious with these Advantage releases in the future.

RICKY WHITE


  I guess Ricky White is quite popular and this observation is based on the number of CD releases he’s had in recent years.  Ricky produced and wrote all the songs on Grown & Sexy (CDC 1081; www.cdsrecords.com), and I believe this music goes down well in clubs and juke joints.  The opening track, Bounce, sets the tempo and the overall feel for most of the album.  It’s a “bouncy-goes-funky” dancer with rumbling bass riffs mixed to the front.  Mostly it’s machine-made and an obligatory rap is thrown in.  On the rest of the uptempo tracks Ricky relies on tried and tested hooks and phrases – some might even call them clichés – such as Cookie Thang, Booty Clap, (remixes of) Sexy and Shake.  As you can see, some of the songs derive from Ricky’s earlier Brimstone and CDS days.

  There are, however, as many as five ballads to calm things down.  The prettiest one, I’ll Still Love You, is again one of Ricky’s earlier recordings, and Chillin’ with My Baby is the sunniest track on the set.  Body Callin’ and Baby You’re Ready are both perfect bedroom ballads.  Mostly, however, it’s harmless party music.

© Heikki Suosalo


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