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.
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.
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’sfascinating
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).
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 Hytones. Jimmy 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.
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
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).
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.