In the “current Southern soul” section I concentrate on the recent output from CDS Records, and
in conjunction with that have a few words with Cicero Blake, too. A lot
of classic soul compilations are reviewed, and at the tail end of the column
you’ll find my top-20 for this year.
Satisfied (CDC 1036; www.cdsrecords.com)
is Cicero’s 7th album in his long and eventful career. Produced by Carl
Marshall, we can fortunately enjoy a real live rhythm section on these
tracks. Cicero: “Actually I met Carl through Stan Mosley, but I
understood when I got with Dylann that Carl produced most of the stuff for the
company. Once they contacted me and decided that they wanted to sign me, I had
to go to Houston, where Carl was at, in order to record.” Dylann DeAnna is
the head of CDS Records.
The first cut, I
Can’t Go On Mrs. Jones, is a swaying and pleasantly laid-back soul ballad.
“We expect that to be a big song. That’s the one they’re really shooting at.”
It’s also this writer’s personal favourite on this set, and it was earlier cut
by Willie West.
Cicero covers three songs that have been successful for him in the past. “My biggest song
so far has been on a CD called Just One Of Those Things. That whole CD
was good, but there was one outstanding song called I’m Into Something,
a tremendous hit.” Another touching soul ballad from the past is Here Comes
The Heartaches. “I recorded that in the 60s, and we just redid it.” The
single came out on Tower in 1968.
The third own
cover is the bluesy Dip My Dipper from thirty-three years back. The
other two slow blues cuts – She Works The Night Shift (also by Willie
West earlier)and It’s The Blues Uprising – are Cicero’s own
favourites on this set along with I Can’t Go On Mrs. Jones.
mid-pacers on this CD there are I’m Satisfied, I Want Some More Of Your Love
and the cover of You’re No Good, which frankly would have deserved a
better instrumentation. “The original version of it was by Betty Everett,
then Little Milton and Linda Ronstadt recorded it. There’s a DJ
here in Chicago and he called me one day and said ‘why don’t you record that
song’, and that’s how it got onto the CD.”
song called In The Vibe Room/Let Jesus Lead You is a relaxed and almost
a sing-along spiritual. “Carl had what he called ‘the vibe room’, and he used
to put some kind of gospel feel to some of the things he recorded. Nothing was
planned. We just came up with it.”
problem now really is getting the airplay. I don’t know what has happened to
radio. For some reason they don’t want to play that kind of music anymore. In
southern states they still play your music, but in Chicago, Detroit and the
rest of it, they won’t touch that kind of music, and I don’t know why.”
A ROUGH DECADE
The 2000s has
been a decade of trials and tribulations for Cicero. “Back in the year 2001 I
was diagnosed with colon cancer, and I had a surgery for that... and chemo and
all of that. Then in 2003 they saw something on my liver. Then I had a
surgery for that and went through that chemo stuff again. And then in 2004 I
was involved in a very bad car accident, when I stayed in a hospital like five
months and had both hips replaced. So 2000s has been pretty rough on me. I’m
doing great now and getting ready now to start going back to working with my
stuff.” At one point Cicero even lost his voice for a brief period.
Born in 1936 in
Jackson, Mississippi, Cicero followed the traditional route of church music and
vocal-group singing before entering the blues and rhythm & blues scene in
Chicago, Illinois. His first single (Should I Go/Could This Be Love)
was released on Renee in 1962. “The Renee label was owned by a guy by the name
of Leo Austell and he had several labels. One of them was Brainstorm.”
In the 60s
Cicero still had single releases on Success, Brainstorm and Tower and in the
70s as Corey Blake on Capitol (Your Love Is Like A Boomerang) and Sound
Plus & Rainbow’s End (Dip My Dipper). His second Valley Vue album
in 1993 contained, besides the aforementioned I’m Into Something, a
pleading soul ballad called Don’t Wanna Blow My Chance With You, which is
a big favourite in this corner. “It had a kind of country & western
flavour to it. Had that record been promoted correctly, it would have been the
biggest record on there, but then it turned out that the song Into Something
got to be bigger. Valley Vue was located in Palm Springs, California, but
I recorded in Chicago.”
In the latter
half of the 90s Cicero hooked up with Johnny Vincent and his Ace Records
for two albums, Wives Night Out and Stand By Me. “Johnny was a
great guy. Of all the people I’ve ever dealt with in the recording business,
he had the best attitude to artists. He was with the artist. He wanted the
artist to do well. Most of the companies were just interested in selling
records and didn’t care too much about the artist. Johnny wasn’t that way.”
worked with another Southern music veteran, Senator Jones. “Jones was a
good guy. I first recorded through him for Mardi Gras Records (Ain’t
Nothing Wrong in 2003). Then he released a CD, It’s You That I Need (’08),
just before he died, which was on the Hep’ Me label.”
I tore that CD
apart in terms of the sound quality in my review at http://www.soulexpress.net/deep308.htm#ciceroblake,
and Mr. Blake agrees with me on the production, but there weren’t any dubious
cuts or outtakes, as I suspected. “I thought it wasn’t well produced myself.
I really never liked it. Some of those things were written by a writer here in
Chicago, Bob Jones. Then there were a couple more that were sent to me
that we decided to cut. They were all new songs on that CD.”
In spite of the
fact that Cicero recorded a song called Santa Claus Stole My Baby for
Ace in the late 90s, he still wants to come to Finland and meet Santa Claus
(Interview conducted on November 16; acknowledgements to Dylann DeAnna).
Southern Soul (CDC 1040) is Chuck’s second CDS album after a lengthy
period with Ecko Records. Produced by Carl Marshall and songs mostly written
by him and Chuck, I hope the music listeners understand the title of the CD as
a geographical reference rather than to a genre called “deep soul.”
The only outside
song is Stop! (The Ladies & The Babies), a stomping mid-pacer
written by Jimmy Lewis and immortalized by Frankie Lee. The four
dancers include a mellow toe-tapper titled Happy With What I Got and a
modern honky-tonk title song (co-written by Dylann DeAnna), which owes some to George
Jackson’s Old Time Rock & Roll. Similarly, in the 5-track
down-tempo section a soul ballad named I Don’t Want To Live Alone bears
a resemblance to one of Johnnie Taylor’s best Malaco songs, Just
Because. Without going further into details over different tracks, I just
shortly state that unfortunately in terms of material, performance and
production this is the poorest CD from Chuck I’ve heard so far.
LEE SHOT WILLIAMS
For his new CD, The
First Rule Of Cheating (CDC 1039), Lee has come up with an interesting
concept. He has revived old and not-so-obvious songs and approached them in
some cases from an unaccustomed angle. Although in terms of time and place I’m
not too sure about the origins of some of the tracks here – for instance, Roy
Gaines’ bluesy title track differs considerably in sound from most of the
other material – my guess, however, is that most of these tracks are recent
recordings. There are exceptions, though, such as the quick-paced I Hurt
Myself and wistful (Sleeping In The) Wrong Bed, which have appeared
on Lee’s earlier CDs. Actually the song I Hurt Myself derives
originally from Lee’s late 60s Shama period.
Produced by Eric
Perkins and Harrison Calloway, the former wrote the opening dancer, It
Don’t Take All Night, and the tempo still picks up on Get Up Get Funky
Get Loose (remember Teddy Pendergrass in ’78). The fourth uptempo
cut is You Fooled Me This Time, penned by Mark Safford, aka Mr.
X, I presume.
A fascinating arrangement
is weaved around the mid-tempo Cry To Me, while Johnny Bristol’s You
Turn Me On (’77) is very atmospheric and peaceful. Lee’s singing is
especially intense on Gene Barge’s ballad, I’ve Got So Much To Give,
but overall the most touching slowie is Twist Turner’s melancholy You
Can’t Hide From The Blues.
certainly is a step in the right direction, but I can’t help feeling that with
an additional dose of instrumentation, imagination and intensity we could have
approached the masterpiece I’ve been waiting from Lee for a long time now.
GREGG A. SMITH
singer and radio show host turns sixty next July, and I think Forever
Young (CDC 1038) is his 9th CD so far. The set was again
produced by Carl Marshall, and he and Gregg also wrote most of the songs.
The title song,
a blues romp, kicks off the CD in a jolly and promising way and with real
instruments, too. Outside guests on this track include Bobby Rush, who
besides singing also blows his harmonica, and Lucky Peterson on co-lead,
organ and electric piano. Another track, where we can enjoy a live rhythm section,
is a swaying beat-ballad titled He Put The Wrong Woman Out He Brought The
Wrong Woman In, cut in a light and playful New Orleans spirit.
On most of the
other downtempo songs we’re back to programming and to those cheeping horns.
Mind you, among them six slowies there are good songs, such as the very slow,
almost sacred We Need A Friend and the sentimental When People Talk.
The highlight and Gregg’s best vocal performance here is the inspirational We
Ain’t Got Long To Stay Here.
The music is versatile
enough to make this CD an interesting listening experience. The good-humoured
mid-tempo tracks and soft slowies succeed in avoiding the most banal clichés in
today’s southern soul, and at times Gregg’s smoky voice remotely reminds you of
Billy Paul (www.greggasmith.com).
After at least
eleven albums during a ten-year period on the Stone River label, Big G aka George
Staten has now released his latest CD, Special Delivery (CDC
1035), on CDS out of California. Big G himself produced and arranged the whole
set and wrote all the songs, except Never Found Me A Girl. There’s a
real live rhythm section on the background and even an occasional saxophone,
and, although the rest of the horns and strings are programmed, they are quite
skilfully done and create a full sound. Strong background vocals come as an
There’s only one
song you could call downtempo, a beat-ballad named Misunderstood,
whereas the rest of the material indicates why Big G is popular also on the
dance-loving beach music scene. The opening song, Pop That Thang, is a
catchy, stirring and joyous dancer, and there are many other equally inspiring
movers on display, too, such as The Hands Of Time and the more relaxed We
Can Stay Together.
The mid-tempo If
I Could Live My Life Again offers particularly powerful singing from Big G,
and among other mid-to-up-tempo songs there’s the easily rolling In Your
Loving Arms and the melodic and “resigned” The Only Fool, with some Chokin’
This CD was a
very positive surprise. The music was exhilarating, arrangements were lively
and exciting and the whole thing just radiates energy. Even Big G’s voice on
certain tracks bears a small resemblance to that of the late great Solomon
of CDS Records, Carl Marshall, has released his fourth CD for the label,
Love Who You Wanna Love (CDC 1033), and “The New Philosopher of
Soul” produced it, wrote all twelve songs and played also guitar, bass and
The opening is
very impressive as Carl sings in a strong and at times gravelly voice a fine
soulful slowie called Good Lovin’ Testimony, which is a revised version
of Good Loving Will Make You Cry. He is accompanied by Rue Davis and
a fake audience. Another pleasant ballad on the set is a lilting, pleading
song titled I Don’t Let Love Turn Into Hate, part 2.
Right after the
opening track we are brought back down to earth with an anaemic beater named Love
Who You Wanna Love with primitive machine backing and false horns... sloppy
and off-putting. It’s difficult to describe them. You just have to hear
them. To put it bluntly, they sound almost like a small boy tooting his toy
train. Next we are offered a slowly swaying ballad called You Never Know
Who You’re Gonna Love, which is okay until the horns set in. They simply
ruin what otherwise might be good elements in the music.
There are four
more indifferent beaters on this set, but the fifth, Let’s Dance, Let’s Shag,
a duet with David Brinston, deserves to be mentioned, because it grows
into a quite energetic party song. Linda is a story-telling floater,
whereas a slow blues called Alberta is ruined by a voice-box this time.
On a positive
side, the concluding mover, perhaps an autobiographical song named I Lived
It All, is a powerful vocal performance spiced with sax. That means that
we have a touching beginning and an impressive ending on this album, but as to
the material in between there’s not much to cheer about (www.myspace.com/carlmarshalllive).
There are three
production units on That Girl Belongs To Me (CDS). Willie
Clayton produced, co-wrote and co-leads on a pleasant mid-tempo title tune.
Mel Waiters produced, wrote and co-leads on a melodic and memorable
mid-tempo beater titled Something Different About You, and I like the
“sax version” of the song at the end of the CD even better. Mel’s other
collaboration is a brisk and sharp dancer named I Can Dance Better. The
song is cut in an easily recognizable Mel’s style, but is that an Autotune I
hear over a few bars?
The rest six
songs were produced by Carl Marshall and also penned by him with some help from
Charles himself. I go straight into the seduction section, which consists of a
tender ballad named Lovemaking On My Mind, a pleading and more soulful
slowie called Give Me Your Love and finally a beat-ballad titled Your
Man Don’t Do That, which features Charles talking his way through the track
and also presents those “horror horns” again. The final score is two decent
ballads and three worthwhile collaborations from Willie and Mel (www.myspace.com/charleswilsonlive).
Look what I
found in my collection. I think that driving dancer on Duke is Bobby’s debut in
1970. The similar b-side, Little Girls Go Home, was produced by the
late Willie Mitchell. Soon after that Bobby cut a single for Ovide
together with the Entertainers and as a solo artist for Evejim in the
late 80s, and still in recent years at least three CDs for his own Rob-K label.
He has also worked as a staff writer for Malaco.
His latest CD, The
New Old School (www.AviaraMusic.com
004), has come out on CDS Records’ subsidiary. We are off to a good start with
a laid-back mid-tempo bouncer called Now I Know What, which features
real instruments... including horns! Bobby wrote all the songs on display with
some help from Jonathan Broussard, except the funky Don’t Do It,
track # 2.
Already on the
third track, a messy beater titled Baby Can I Come Back, we’re back to
those pitiful machines and faux horns, but among programmed party tracks and
big-voiced mid-pacers there are some nice downtempo songs, too. So
Beautiful is a smooth soul serenade and features convincing vocalizing from
Bobby. Call On Me is a powerful and spirited beat-ballad, and equally
strong is a swaying love ballad named simply Wonderful Love.A
Letter From A Soldier was lifted from Bobby’s Wonderful Love CD in
2007 – as well as some other tunes, too – and it’s like a throwback to those
60s Vietnam songs. Especially on ballads Bobby’s big sound and no-holding-back
style is quite fascinating (www.lovetolifeministries.com/bio.aspx).
Times (Hot Spot Records, HSPT 186) is Willie’s second CD after his 2004
debut Dr. Jealous & Mrs. Hater, also on Hot Spot out of Montgomery,
Alabama. The CD is distributed by CDS Records. Eric Perkins produced
the set and wrote most of the songs together with Willie.
quite sympathetic this time and they form a non-intrusive layer for Willie to use
his high tenor voice. Shake, Rattle & Roll is a steady and
straightforward dancer with a nonstop beat, and the same simplicity is repeated
on such party tracks as Next Man In Line, Hard Times and Treat Her
Stay Out Of
Me & My Baby’s Business and Damned If I Do are melodic, even
poppy mid-pacers, whereas Same Thang is a slow and sentimental swayer
and Queen, a beat-ballad, is a tribute to ladies, and especially on this
melodic cut Willie slightly reminds me of Terence Trent D’arby. Sweet
Lick and Larry Licker – Mr. Candy Licker Junior? – are those
compulsory... well, you know what.
I must admit
that there’s a certain interesting spark in Willie’s music. It’s a combination
of contemporary sound and simple, poppy, relaxed and at times even repetitive,
more of an old-time music... and it’s consistent.
There are two
production units on the Queen Emily CD(MCD 7537; www.malaco.com). One producer is Tommy
Couch, Jr., and he has used a live rhythm section. Live horns are arranged
by Harrison Calloway. Add to that still strings, and you’re bound to
enjoy a rich orchestration.
Four of the
twelve tracks were produced and co-written by Frederick Knight, and he
also arranged them together with Vick Allen. Here you can listen to only
guitar live, but the sound is surprisingly full anyway.
Queen Emily (www.queenemily.org), an “America’s Got
Talent” contestant, does mostly covers but she puts her individual and at times
quite original touch to them. The set opens with a mid-paced and peppy
toe-tapper called Just Got Started Loving You, and is followed by a
big-voiced version of Bill Withers’ Use Me. Hold You To Your
Promise, a driving Paul Kelly mid-pacer, is followed by the beautiful
Angel In Your Arms. Emily’s version is closer to Hot than Millie
Jackson, which happens to be one of my all-time favourites.
Jackson wrote a touching country & soul ballad titled Throw Away Me,
and the first Frederick Knight song is a thumping beater called Don’t You
Know. Keep Gettin’ Up is another funky song from him, whereas Your
Used To Be (co-written by David Camon) and the familiar I Betcha
Didn’t Know That (co-written by Sam Dees) are both downtempo and
wrote a pleading mid-tempo floater named Going Crazy, and a slow
swayer called Still Crazy we remember by Johnnie Taylor. The set
closes with There’s No Easy Way To Say Goodbye, a beautiful and
heartbreaking soul ballad from Frank Johnson.
Emily has a
strong and soulful voice and delivery, and I’m glad that Malaco has a new great
talent in their roster. The CD itself is one of the top records this year.
Ecko CD is called That Thang Thang (ECD 1128, www.eckorecords.com) and customarily it’s
produced by John Ward. The set kicks off with It Cost Me More Than I
Gained, a standard toe-tapper, which features Charles Matthews roaring
his message midway through.
Of the dancers,
the quick-tempo title track must be the draw of the record, while I prefer the
more loose Crazy Love Thang. Among the five slow songs there’s a
soulful swayer titled A Woman Ain’t No Fool, a laid-back story of a
happy threesome love affair called I Want Both Of You and the lilting Let
Me Be His Stand In. Although there’s nothing wrong with O.B.’s version of I
Think He Trusts Me Too Much, there’s no competition with Bobby Womack,
really. We Don’t Get Along Until We Gettin’ It On is a hooky
As much as I
normally like O.B.’s music, I think that this CD is more of a routine job. You
could call it “M-O-R Southern soul.” More innovation in melodies and
arrangements could do him good (www.myspace.com/obbuchana1).
I just counted
and found out that I have 26 Willie Clayton albums in my collection. That is
one of the reasons I didn’t start checking, which songs on the new CD, The
Voice (End Zone, C&C), have been released earlier, but I think that
at least two mid-tempo ones, My Everything and Rock And Hold You,
have been available before. A couple of others ring bell, too.
Produced by Miykal
Snoddy, Darnell Taylor and Paul Richmond, the budget, of course, is
a limiting factor in instrumentation. The album, however, has an apt title,
since Willie has and has always had a great voice, stirring with soul. He uses
it to a good effect on a slow and intense version of Change Gonna Come,
which runs over six minutes and which Willie turns into an inspirational song.
include a romantic serenade titled Tonight, two sentimental slowies in
the Isley Brothers vein (I Love and Diamonds) and a
melodic country-tinged soul ballad named As We Lay, a Shirley Murdock
’86 hit. The Voice offers mostly downtempo and soothing
music. There’s usually always one killer love ballad on each set by Willie
and, although I didn’t hear one this time, this record will find its way into
my top-20 this year (see later) (www.willieclayton.com).
Dione LaRue was
born in 1945 in Philadelphia, and as Dee Dee Sharp her first solo hit and gold
record on Cameo in 1962 was Mashed Potato Time. After numerous dance
follow-ups on Cameo, she moved to Atco in 1966 and to Gamble two years later.
By that time she was already married to Kenny Gamble. She has a degree
in psychology, she has appeared in movies and she’s still very active today.
She’s now married to William W. Witherspoon (www.deedeesharp.com).
‘Bout The Whole Thing & What Color Is Love & Dee Dee (Edsel, EDSD2084; www.demonmusicgroup.co.uk; 2-CD, 27
tracks, 119 min.; liners by Tony Rounce) combines Dee Dee’s three albums
for PIR/TSOP between 1975 and ’80. In that company she worked not only in the
studios cutting her own music or doing background for others, but also in the
office managing artists and handling their bookings.
The first album,
which was released on the TSOP subsidiary in ’75, was titled Happy ‘Bout The
Whole Thing (# 48-soul) and it was produced by Bobby Martin, with
assistance from James Mendell. It kicks off with a slow and mellow and
even slightly misty Gamble & Huff song called Love Buddies, and is
followed by James Mendell’s lively toe-tapper named Touch My Life. Other
peppy dancers are the title song, which Dee Dee co-wrote, and James’ Share
A cover of Ooh
Child starts slowly and tenderly but turns into jazzy jamming towards the
end. Another slow and jazzy swayer is Real Hard Day, which Dee Dee also
co-wrote and which sounds like a show tune. Make It Till Tomorrow and Best
Thing You Did For Me are both big and powerful ballads, whereas the more
pop-sounding I’m Not In Love (# 62-soul) was a hit for 10cc a few
months earlier. There’s not a dud on this album, which must be one of the most
underrated ones in the 70s. Throughout the whole LP, Dee Dee’s singing is
intense and for the most part quite big-voiced.
On the next
album, What Color Is Love? (on PIR in ’77), there are as many as seven
production units over ten tracks, but Dexter Wansel seems to be some
sort of a guiding figure in this project. He produced, arranged and co-wrote
the pretty opening ballad titled I Believe In Love and he also
co-produced and co-wrote with Don Covay a laid-back mid-tempo loper
named I Wanna Be Your Woman. Gamble & Huff together with Cecil
Womack wrote and produced another mid-pacer, the more aggressive Just As
Long As I Know You’re Mine and the three dancers on the set – Nobody
Could Take Your Place, I’d Really Love To See You Tonight (a gold record
for England Dan & John Ford Coley a year earlier) and Hang Your
Portrait – were all co-produced by Phil Terry.
A cover of Terry Callier’s What Color Is Love? is slightly jazzy, as one might have
guessed, and Michael Burton’s and Phil Terry’s Flashback is a
soft and tender ballad. Tryin’ To Get The Feeling Again, a slowie that
grows towards the end, is the poppiest one of the lot, and it’s no wonder,
since it was a hit for Barry Manilow in 1976. Color is another
quality album from Dee Dee, and it almost equals to the preceding one.
So far all the
tracks had been cut at the Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia, but for her
third album, Dee Dee (on PIR in 1980; # 59-soul / #204-pop), our lady took
a trip to Chicago. Five tracks were cut there under the guidance of Jerry
Butler, while the rest three were still Philadelphia-based under the
auspices of Kenneth Gamble, Dexter Wansel and Philip Terry.
tracks included two rather clichéd disco dancers – although Breaking And
Entering evolved into a dance hit – but there’s also a melodic mid-tempo
duet with Jerry called Everyday Affair. Also co-produced by Jerry but
written by Gamble & Huff, the fast See You Later is another haunting
and fascinating song and a personal favourite. Among the Philly tracks there’s
a big ballad called If We’re Gonna Stay Together – some impressive
singing from Dee Dee – and a soft and sophisticated mid-pacer titled I Love
You Anyway (# 79-soul). This double-CD is a good reminder of Dee Dee’s
vocal prowess and of the high quality of those three lost albums.
As Garry J.
Cape writes in his liner notes, Clayton Ivey and Terry Woodford formed
Wishbone Productions in 1972 and produced Bobby Sheen up till ’75 in
Muscle Shoalson songs mostly written by Frank Johnson and Phillip
Mitchell. Four singles were released from those sessions, but now on Too
Many To Fight (Soulscape, SSCD 7025, www.garryjcape.com;
17 tracks, 45 min.) we can also listen to those nine tracks that remained in
Warner Brothers single in ’72 comprised of two catchy mid-tempo toe-tappers
from Phillip’s pen, the familiar I May Not Be What You Want and Something
New To Do, whereas Frank’s two uptempo items in ’73 - the poppy If I
Ever Dreamed I Hurt You and the catchy It Ain’t Easy Being Your Fool - have
more drive to them. Frank’s Payback and Don’t Make Me Do Wrong (in
’73) are both funky, while the final Chelsea single in ’75 offered a classy infidelity
soul ballad called Love Stealing and a Marvin Gaye type of a
mover titled Come On And Love Me, both penned by Frank and produced by Ed
They were the
eight cuts that came out as single sides, but in Bobby’s case many of those
shelved ones surpass the released discs. I’m Not Strong Enough (To Love You
Again) is a big and soulful ballad, and the oft-recorded You’re Messing
Up A Good Thing and If You’re Ever Gonna Love Me may be light and
romantic, but they’re not lacking soul either. I’m Sorry is as
melancholy as the title suggests.
The title track
is a powerful mid-tempo number with some impressive singing from Bobby, and
both Tryin’ To Get To You, and Can’t Keep My Mind On What I’m Doing plus
She Hit Me From The Blind Side are all light and easy movers. Give
It Up is a busy shuffle, and it rounds out a very worthwhile compilation.
EVELYN “CHAMPAGNE” KING
album, which she recorded at only seventeen for RCA in 1977, went gold, as well
as the two hit singles lifted from it, the fast top-tenner Shame and the
more mellow bouncer I Don’t Know If It’s Right. Now that debut, Smooth
CDBBR 0015; 12 tracks, 56 min.; liners by Andy Kellman) has been
re-released with four bonus tracks – disco mixes and single versions of those
The set was
produced and arranged by Theodore Life, and he appears also as a
co-writer on every song, except the aforementioned Shame. On many
tracks lively orchestration, jazzy improvisation and exciting solos are
provided by Instant Funk.
are still a colourful and jazzy opener called Smooth Talk, two melodic
dancers (Nobody Knows and We’re Going To A Party) and the “last
dance” floater titled The Show Is Over. Although the music is not very
revolutionary or “deep”, it is bubbly enough and music-wise there’s a lot
happening on the background. Evelyn herself remained popular through the 80s
and she’s still active. Her latest CD was released two years ago (www.evelynchampagneking.com).
EARTH, WIND & FIRE
tremendously successful in the 70s. Seven albums in a row had gone platinum,
whereas the first one in the 80s – 1980, to be exact - earned only gold. Now
this “commercial failure” has been re-released in a CD format, Faces (CDBBR
0014; 18 tracks, 79 min.!, liners by Christian John Wikane).
preceding album, I Am in ‘79, Maurice White had visited Egypt,
admired pyramids and crystallized his view of life, based partially on
mysticism. Consequently the lyrics on some of the songs here concentrate on
unity of mankind, development of spiritual resources and preparing oneself for
a new age of higher awareness, but - a sigh of relief - there are also normal
there are hard-hitting funk songs and driving, even poppy dancers, such as the
first single, Let Me Talk (# 8-soul, # 44-pop), and Pride, Sparkle (actually
“Fantasy, part 2”), Back On The Road, Song In My Heart, And Love Goes
On (# 15-soul, # 59-pop), Win Or Lose and Share Your Love.
Of the three ballads, the atmospheric You (# 10-soul, # 48-pop) became
the second single, whereas You Went Away is a big power-ballad and Sailaway
a more moderate and fragile number.
In the course
of the years, the close to 8-minute-long title tune has grown into something of
a cult track. This exciting, jazzy jam is almost completely instrumental with
a lot of improvising. Besides the 9-piece group itself, there are also other
renowned musicians playing on the album – Paulinho da Costa, David Foster and
Jerry Peters, among others – and massive horn and string sections. On
this 12th album by the group, all except one song were
self-written. The next album in 1981, Raise!, went platinum again (www.earthwindandfire.com).
HAROLD MELVIN & THE BLUE NOTES
& Blue (CDBBR 0013; 10 tracks, 47 min.) was the second album by the
group for PIR in 1973. Produced by Gamble & Huff, it boasted two
hit singles that are highly valued and sound extremely good still today. The
Love I Lost (# 1-soul, # 7-pop; gold), arranged by Bobby Martin, is
an irresistible dancer and a serious contender for the first disco record.
It’s not the only one, though. Satisfaction Guaranteed (# 6-soul, #
58-pop), arranged by Norman Harris, is another floor-filler and an
excellent vocal delivery from Teddy Pendergrass, and also the flip, a
swaying ballad called I’m Weak For You, scraped the bottom of the charts
(# 87-soul) in its own right. In the liner notes Bobby Eli reminisces
of Gamble & Huff, the MFSB orchestra, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes,
the year 1973 and other related musical matters.
arranged a lesser dancer titled Is There A Place For Me, and the
strange opener named Cabaret is in style closer to the Four Freshmen than
the accustomed Blue Notes. It All Depends On You, Concentrate On Me and
I’m Coming Home Tomorrow - three magnificent and intense big ballads just
ooze soul and are in the same category as the earlier singles, I Miss You and
If You Don’t Know Me By Now. The two bonus tracks are the single
versions of The Love I Lost and I’m Weak For You. If you’re a
Philly music fan – or soul music fan in general, for that matter - and for some
reason you don’t have this album, the Black & Blue CD is an
Things (CDBBR 0022; 10 tracks, 36 min.) was the sisters’ 9th
album in their career and third for the Planet Records with the hit producer Richard
Perry. It was originally released in 1980 and reached # 19-soul and #
34-pop. For this reissue the foreword was written by Wayne A. Dickson,
manager of Big Break Records, and the very liner notes with interviews were by Christian
spawned two hit singles. He’s So Shy, a highly catchy mid-tempo song
written by Tom Snow and Cynthia Weil, was led by June Pointer and
it scored gold (# 10-soul, # 3-pop). Anita was leading on an energetic mover
called Could I Be Dreaming (# 22-soul, # 52-pop). Other highlights
include a pretty beat-ballad titled The Love Too Good To Last and Where
Did The Time Go, a big ballad, which, however, didn’t chart as a single.
Both songs were written by Burt Bacharach and Carole Bayer Sager.
The third sister Ruth also gets a lead on a nice ballad named Here Is Where
Your Love Belongs. I’ve seen it written that this was the sisters’ best
album this far, and it may well be so. I can’t tell, because I haven’t heard
all the preceding material, but – three tracks aside – I enjoyed this record.
(CDBBR 0025; 10 tracks, 45 min.) was released on Planet in ’82 (#
24-black, # 59-pop) after the sisters’ gold Black & White album a
year earlier. Again produced by Richard Perry, three singles charted. Anita
is leading on a pop jogger called American Music (# 23-black, # 16-pop)
as well as on the catchy title ditty (# 46-black, # 30-pop), which as a remix
went as high as # 9-pop two years later. June leads on the funky If You
Wanna Get Back Your Lady (# 44-black, # 67-pop).
Feel For You is interpreted as a light mover, not in the heavy Chaka Khan
style, and the mid-tempo See How The Love Goes repeats the
smoothness of Slow Hand from the previous album. A fast dancer titled Heart
To Heart is quite hooky. However, I’m not so excited. The music is more
pop and dance than soul, and actually there’s not a single ballad on display (www.thepointersisters.com).
Charles was born in Trinidad in 1950 and moved to London when still under
ten. He cut his first single in 1972, but hits started coming only after he
had signed with GTO in the mid-70s. His third album, Nights (Feel Like
Getting Down) (CDBBR 0023; 13 tracks, 59 min., liners by Hayden
Jones), is the first one that charted in 1981 in the U.S. on Epic (#
27-soul, # 152-pop).
Produced by Nigel
Martinez and Ken Gold and recorded in London, the songs were mainly
written by Billy himself together with Ken Gold. For this album Billy
rerecorded some of the songs that had been released earlier in the U.K. The
title cut became the first charted single in the U.S. from this album (#
7-soul, # 103-pop), and the influence of Michael Jackson’s music of the
day is evident on this mover. A light toe-tapper called Another Day Won’t
Matter also made an appearance on the soul charts (# 66) a little later on.
There are many
fast “Michael Jackson” dancers on this album (Are You Ready, Don’t Say Stop,
Who’s Gonna Rock You, Stay The Night), and the one and only downtempo song
is the rather lame Taking Chances. The Dells later came up with
a respectable cover of Whatever Turns You On, and as a whole Billy
became a prolific songwriter not only for himself, but many other artists,
too. Later in the 80s he was to enjoy enormous success on Jive (Caribbean
Queen, Suddenly, When The Going Gets Tough..., There’ll Be Sad Songs, Love
Zone, Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car etc.), but here we still witness
the half-ripe stage... but after three years it was to be another story altogether
Dancing/The Twist (Shout 69, www.shoutrecords.co.uk;
12 tracks, 29 min., liners by Clive Richardson) is actually King Curtis’
RCA album from 1961. It offers fast, rocking instrumental versions of familiar
or standard tunes (Peppermint Twist, The Twist, Let’s Twist Again, The Fly,
Honeysuckle Rose etc.) and a couple of new ones, too. On six songs there’s
a vocalist that is said to be the young Don Covay.
You could call
this a short twist marathon. The music is lively and driving and there are a
lot of improvisation spots for different members of the combo. If you like the
sax sound, like I do, this is an uplifting experience.
Anniversary Concert (RSMDVD 080, www.pegasus-ent.com)
was shot in New Jersey and on stage Eddie Levert, Walter Williams and Eric
Nolan Grant are backed by a 5-piece rhythm section, 9-piece horn section
and if you count still their musical manager, Dennis “Doc” Williams,
you’ll add up to 15 persons behind the excellent trio.
Produced by Michael
Yannich, the very concert lasts a little over one hour, but as bonuses you
still get over half an hour’s worth of interviews not only with management and
musicians, but with the three leading stars as well. They talk about the
history of the group, the music, motivation and “The O’Jays Scholarship Fund” (www.theojayshomepage.com).
In the show the
big dance hits are placed in the beginning (Give The People What They Want,
Love Train, Back Stabbers) and in the end (Use Ta Be My Girl, For The
Love Of Money), and in-between we can enjoy some of their gorgeous ballads,
such as Let Me Make Love To You, We Cried Together and Stairway To
Heaven. There’s also a lengthy musical passage with a some strong
improvisation from Eddie and Walter on You Got Your Hooks In Me, Forever
Mine and Wildflower.
The group is
still going strong after 50+ years, vocalizing is strong and the whole act
spellbinding. I recommend this DVD highly. And you all of course bought their
new Christmas CD, Christmas With The O’Jays, didn’t you?
A-F (ISBN 978-0-9866417-0-1; www.eyeballproductions.com;
596 pages) will be followed by two more volumes next year. This is an in
essential reference book for musicologists, music reporters and writers,
collectors and in fact for everybody, who’s seriously infected by rootsy and
classic soul music.
The book is
compiled in the same way as the earlier tomes on gospel and blues. The artists
– solo, groups, any act... - are presented in an alphabetical order, and the members
of the group or orchestra are mentioned in most cases. Singles, EPs, albums,
CDs – except reissues – and even unearthed unissued cuts are all listed with
info on the label, titles, matrix numbers, years, producers, arrangers,
recording locations and even musicians, if available. The main focus is on the
period between 1960 and 1980, but - if necessary - those limits are stretched
out from both ends.
Right after the
release of this book, on some forums they started complaining about the
inevitable mistakes, but such enormous pieces of work like this can never be
perfect and faultless. Actually, there’s never been this kind of a detailed
study on soul music before, and we should thank Mr. Bob McGrath for it.
I know that I’ll be using this book a lot in the future.