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DEEP # 5/2015 (July)

  I had to rush this column out, because this time it features exceptionally good records... and I mean really, really good CDs.  On the retro front there are amazing discs from the Fantastic Four and Carl Hall, and impressive fresh product comes from Bunny Sigler, Gerald Alston and Reuben James Richards.  Below you can read comments from all three gentlemen.  There’s also a one year-old Chi-Lites book reviewed at the end.

Content and quick links:

Interviews:
Bunny Sigler
Gerald Alston
Reuben James Richards

New CD release reviews:
Bunny Sigler: Bundino
Gerald Alston: True Gospel
Reuben James Richards: About Time
Alonzo Pennington: Deep-Down

CD reissue & compilation review:
Fantastic Four: The Lost Motown Album
Various Artists: L.A. Soul Sides 2
Carl Hall: You Don’t Know Nothing About Love: The Loma/Atlantic Records 1967-1972

Book review:
Marshall Thompson: Last Man Standing







BUNNY SIGLER*

  In addition to writing and singing beautiful love ballads and airy Philly disco dancers, Bunny Sigler together with Instant Funk became known as a serious funk messenger as well in the late 70s.  Instant Funk is back playing with Bunny on his new CD, but at the same time Bunny himself is once more expanding his musical territory, this time into urban contemporary field on a couple of tracks.

  On the new album called Bundino ( www.BunZMusicandRecords.com) there are four songs to woo street sound fans – the introductory Let’s Start the Show, the mellow She’s Got the Good Stuff and two “rapper’s delights”, I’ve Been There Before and Keep on Stepping.  Bunny: “I have a young man that I’m working with that helped me create the new me, Noisette Saint Man St. Jean Jr.  He’s Haitian, thirty years old.  Mr. Rashad Jamal Floyd is the rapper.  In fact, Saint Man is rapping, too.  When we first did I’ve Been There Before and Keep on Stepping, Rashad didn’t rap long enough, so Noisette said ‘okay, I’ll do the second part.”  As one can expect in Bunny’s case, under those urban beats you’ll find real melody lines and on She’s Got the Good Stuff there are even jazzy horn solos.  Actually, Noisette worked with Bunny already on his two earlier albums, From Bunny with Love & A Little Soul in 2012 and The Lord’s Prayer in 2008.

  Produced by Bunny and Noisette, they also co-wrote seven songs out of the fourteen for this set, but on two Instant Funk tracks – Buttermilk and Cornbread and When I think of you – Bunny and Raymond Earl wore the producer hats, and the rest of the Instant Funk players – Kym Miller, Ralph R. Carthan and Eugene “Lamp Chop” Curry – contributed to composing of the songs.  “Instant Funk goes way back.  With Eugene Curry I wrote a song for Patti LaBelle.”  Somebody Loves You (You Know Who It Is) evolved into # 2 Hot R&B single for Patti in 1991.

  The fast and funky Buttermilk and Cornbread is the second single off the album, and it’s bound to arouse your appetite.  “My mother used to give it to me, when I was young, and a lot of people, who are from south, used to eat that, when they were younger.”  The first single is actually the second Instant Funk song, a tender and romantic ballad called When I Think of You.  “It came out, after awhile it was going down but it keeps coming back up.  We’re getting ready to put out Buttermilk and Cornbread with a video, but When I Think of You is still coming up in different areas.”  On YouTube you’ll find a video of that beautiful song, too.

  Red or Yellow – Black or White is a mid-tempo, melodic song with a message and a Latin touch to it.  “That’s one of my favourites.  Noisette is from Haiti, so that explains the Latin music.  The title comes out of the Bible.”  Also the quick-tempo closing song, Stand Up, carries a social message, and it grows into a stirring “anthem”, with Sam Peaks spicing it up with his sax playing.


BUNNYS’S BALLADS

  There are as many as seven high-quality slow songs on this set.  Besides the above-mentioned When I Think of You, there’s an emotional love song named Now That I Gotcha, Got You Back, co-written by Nathaniel Wilkie.  “He worked with Patti LaBelle for years.  We wrote the song together, but he died before we got a chance to play the song.”  Nathanial “Crocket” Wilke passed away on May 10 in 2007.

  The second song Bunny and Nathaniel wrote together is a tongue-in-cheek, “ménage à trois” story called Call 911.  “You have to give something to the kids.  I wasn’t going to put it on the album, but I put it out on there.  I always have fun, and that’s what I do in my shows.  I sing love songs, but I make you laugh, too.  I’m a fun-loving guy.  I like to do crazy things to make people laugh and be happy.”

  I Don’t Give My Heart is an elegant down-tempo song, a bit raspy in vocals, while Lavada is a pretty ballad with a beat, co-written by Phil Hurtt.  “It was written and recorded forty years ago.  It was recorded like a symphony with a string orchestra.  It was never cut vocally, until I did it over.  I re-cut it about six years ago, and then I put other stuff in there.  My wife kept asking ‘when do you cut my song?’  I always showed it to the people, and I showed it to the Dells.  I always give songs away, and this time I didn’t do that.  That’s going to be released in September (as the third single).  It’s for my wife.  I got peace in the house now.  She can’t bother me anymore.”  Martha Lavada Sigler is also credited as Bunny’s hair stylist in the sleeve-notes.

  Song for Sig is a jazzy ballad, bearing a remote resemblance to some of Marvin Gaye’s material.  It was written by James Sigler, Bunny’s brother, who passed on March 31 in 2013 at the age of 67.  “Nobody has recorded that song earlier.  James wrote it years ago.  Back in the day people used cassettes.  I found this cassette in one box, when I went through James’ things.  I did it with dedication to him.”

  A tuneful and pretty ballad called Forgive and Forget was released as a single already two years ago.  “I wrote it with my lawyer, Lloyd Zane Remick.  I’m playing the whole track on there.  He wrote the story and I put it together.  He was sick, when I wrote the song.  He had flu, and he was a mess.  When I sent him the song, he said that it did more for him than all the stuff the doctors were doing.  It helped him to get well.”

  “On eight songs Noisette is playing all the music.  Noisette is a fantastic musician - on the guitar, on the piano, on the bass; and he mixed the album also.  Bryant Pugh plays on two songs, Lavada and Song for Sig.  Most of the album was recorded in my house.  Lavada was cut at Sky’s House down in New Jersey, and the other songs were cut at Noisette’s studio” (Elmwood Recording Studio). 

  “I now live out in the country with Amish people in a place called Parkesburg, about sixty miles from Philadelphia.  It’s nice and very quiet here in the country.  Soon I and Instant Funk are going to start travelling.  We’re rehearsing, and now we have the album and we’re going to put the videos out with the both of us, so that people know that we’re together.”

(www.bunnysigler.net; interview conducted on July 8 in 2015; acknowledgements to Karen Labuca at www.mileshighproductions.com).

GERALD ALSTON *

  Gerald’s inspirational album, True Gospel (www.geraldalstonmusic.com), has finally arrived and what an uplifting album it is!  Vocally Gerald is at his soulfullest, and on the background there is organic music with live rhythm and horn sections and background choirs.  For the time being Gerald is selling the CD online only on the internet, but negotiations about distribution are currently conducted.  Gerald: “It’s getting a lot of play and promotion already now.”

  Producers on most of the tracks are Travis Milner and Mel Holder, and together with Thurston Oneal they also wrote two new songs for the set.  “With Travis we worked together on the Sam Cooke project (see: www.soulexpress.net/geraldalston_singssamcooke.htm).  Mel Holder is a saxophonist and Thurston Oneal is a gospel singer and a minister.”  The threesome wrote the mid-tempo and jazzy Back to Basics, which is the opening track with sharp beats and Mel’s saxophone hovering over the song.  “They wanted to try something different, kind of take me out of my comfort zone... and it worked.  Mel and Travis did the arrangements for the CD.”

  Roy Crain’s song I’m so Glad (Trouble Don’t Last always) was cut by the Soul Stirrers in the late 50s, and Gerald’s uptempo, brassy version again has a slightly jazzy arrangement to it.  “In 2005 I did the American Music Masters honouring Sam Cooke in Cleveland, and that was one of the songs we sang.”

  A cover of Sam Cooke’s The Last Mile of the Way is built on an interesting Caribbean beat and it grows into a hard-hitting number.  Gerald is backed by the Jeff Roberson Singers.  “That is the choir that Mel used before for background.  This was my first time working with them.  Mel brought them in, and they did a wonderful job.  Mel arranged that too.  Travis had recorded and produced that differently, but we decided we want to bring it up to date.  We actually recorded that and He’s so wonderful in 2008.  We just updated them.”

  Sister Jessie Mae Renfro recorded He’s so wonderful way back in 1951, then this Virginia Davis-Theodore R. Frye song was covered, among others, by the Soul Stirrers, after which it metamorphosed into Sam Cooke’s Lovable.  Gerald’s take is very laid-back and traditional.  “I wanted to pay respect to Sam and do it that way.  I wanted some traditional and some contemporary.  I wanted to do an album with a mix of both.”

  On Yes God Is Real Gerald’s two sons, Todd Alston and Calvin Alston, share vocals with him, and they sound surprisingly strong.  This slow hymn was written by Kenneth Morris (1917-88) in 1944, and one outfit to record it in 1953 was the Prisonaires.  We know the song also from Mahalia Jackson’s repertoire.  “Actually I remember this song from my dad.  That was one of the first songs I remember hear my dad sing.  He used to sing in a gospel group called the Gospel Brothers with his uncles and brother-in-law.”

  “The older son, Todd, is working on a project, and I’ve been helping him out.  My younger son, Calvin, produced some things himself.  I said ‘won’t you let your dad help?’  ‘No dad, I got it.  When I get ready, I’ll call you.’  But he’s been doing a good job, and he’s been working on his voice.”

DUETS WITH WILL AND REGINA

  Jesus Gave Me Water is Lucie Campbell’s (1885-1963) song, which Sam Cooke recorded with the Soul Stirrers in 1951.  Gerald’s version is quite true to the traditional “hand-clapping” sound.  “When I was a kid, I used to go together with the kids in the neighbourhood to St Andrews Church (in Henderson, North Carolina), because it was one of the few churches that used to have program in the afternoon on Sunday, or Sunday night.  We enjoyed going over there.  It would be so exciting, because you really saw people sing and feel and get the spirit of God.  That song put me right back there in that church.”  On this track Gerald is backed by Debbie McDuffie & the Jacksonville Youth Choir.

  Gerald, Will Downing and Chris “Big Dog” Davis wrote, Will and Chris produced and Gerald and Will sang a slow song called Jesus Is a Friend of Mine, which starts as a sophisticated ballad but finds more edge towards the end.  “Will and I have been friends for two years.  He and I had been talking about working together, writing things together, so I called him up and said ‘Will, I’m doing this gospel’, and he said ‘I got a song’.  He brought it to me, and it just came off great.”

  Irreplaceable is the second new song on the set, a beautiful ballad with intense vocalizing from Gerald and Regina Belle.  “When I first heard it, I thought it was a beautiful song.  I fell in love with it.  Travis, Mel and I thought it would make a great duet.  All of us just came together on Regina.  I had still stayed in touch with her, so I called her and asked her about singing on it, and she said ‘yep’.  She came to New York, and it was unbelievable.  She had sung with the group (Where Did We Go Wrong? with the Manhattans in 1986), but we started singing together on the song like we had never left each other.  We sing alike.  We sing from the heart.  I could sing with her all day.”

  True Gospel is actually Gerald’s 6th solo album, and you can read more about his solo career at http://www.soulexpress.net/manhattans_part5.htm.  “I still perform with the Manhattans, but gospel is a whole different thing.  I still sing in church.  In fact I’m doing a gospel brunch on August 2nd here in Jersey City.  Most of the gospel shows I’ve done and will be doing are on Sundays.  I’ve never left my roots, and it’s always good to let people know where you came from.  I remember my uncle, late Johnny Fields, telling a story about Sam Cooke, when Sam started singing r&b music and left the Soul Stirrers.  The Five Blind Boys of Alabama (Johnny was a member) used to open up for him in night-clubs, but they sang gospel... and the people enjoyed it.”

  As we all remember, one founding member of the Manhattans, Winfred “Blue” Lovett, passed away last December.  “Today we’re working as four.  My cousin, who used to sing with me in high school, Edward Fields, is singing with us.”  Edward was a member of Gerald Alston and the New Imperials in the mid-60s.  “We’re having an audition in a couple of months for another bass singer.  You understand that I have to very particular about the bass singer.”  (Interview conducted on July 21 in 2015).

REUBEN JAMES RICHARDS *

  In 1994 deep soul followers were amazed by an astonishing single release out of the U.K., Hold on My Heart by Reuben James on the Frontier label.  It was even named as the best soul record ever cut in England.  I still give that credit to Kentucky Bluebird (A Message to Martha) b/w Everything I Own by Oscar Toney Jr. on John Abbey’s Contempo label in 1973, but Hold on My Heart is a good runner-up.

  Reuben James Richards was born on a Caribbean island of St. Vincent in the West Indies.  He moved to the UK in early 70s and he’s living in London these days.  His mother sang in the local church and his father played guitar and also Reuben knows the basic of guitar.  His main musical influences are Sam Cooke, Ray Charles and Otis ReddingReuben: “After leaving school I made it my mission to start working as a professional singer, although I still had to work other jobs to survive.  Hold on My Heart was my debut single.  It was produced by Dave Williams and written by Dave and Matt Irving.  At the time we recorded several demos and picked Hold on My Heart to record and release.  Dave had met Charlie Chalmers a couple of years earlier, when his promotion company Frontier had been involved with bringing the Willie Mitchell Memphis Soul Review to the UK.  Charlie Chalmers and his wife, Sandra Rhodes, were involved with that track.  Unfortunately back then there were mainly only major labels signing artists and we just couldn’t get the interest and finance to complete an album.”

  Sue Williams: “Dave Williams started his recording career at Decca Studios, working with producers Mike Vernon and Gus Dudgeon, with Fleetwood Mac, John Mayall, Peter Green etc.  Some other acts he worked with were the Moody Blues, Cat Stevens and Tom Jones.  Dave worked as a song plugger for Stax’s Memphis Music, which at the time was administered by Chappells and went on to score several hits with Private Number by William Bell and Judy Clay, Soul Limbo by Booker T. & the MG’s and Who’s Making Love by Johnnie Taylor, amongst others.”

  “Dave set up his own publishing company, Jig-Saw Music Ltd., and had several hits around the world, most recently a track on Sarah Brightman’s album.  He then built his first professional studio, Jigsaw Studios, and also set up Frontier Promotions, a press, radio & TV promotion company.  During that time his producer & engineer credits included Tina Turner, Camel, the Home Service, Sherman Robertson, Wild Child Butler, Albert Lee, Chris Farlowe etc.”

  “Since moving to the country to set up his new Grange Residential Studio facility, some producer and engineering credits include albums by Eric Bibb, Marcus Bonfanti, Colin Blunstone, Colin Vearncombe, Danny Bryant, Eleanor McEvoy, Hot Club of Cowtown, Stan Webb, Larry Johnson, Eugene Hideaway Bridges and Mike Harrison (Spooky Tooth) etc.”

ABOUT TIME

  Reuben: “About Time is my debut album.”  This year, again out of the blue comes a new, complete album by Reuben James Richards.  It was recorded over the last two years in Norfolk, UK, at Grange and released on the Jigsaw label.  Sue: “Jigsaw is the label owned by Sue and Dave Williams.  The preceding release to Reuben album was Marcus Bonfanti’s Shake the Walls album, which was also recorded at the Grange residential studios and released on Jigsaw.  It was received extremely well by the media and won several blues awards.  We are currently recording other releases for the label.” 

  “Frontier Promotions is our promotion company.  We have been responsible for building the following artists’ careers in the UK: Alison Krauss, Eva Cassidy, Imelda May, Joe Bonamassa, Eric Bibb, Beth Hart etc.  Some of the more established acts we’re working with include Donald Fagen, Boz Scaggs, Michael McDonald, Andy Summers, Paul Rodgers (The Royal Sessions – soul album), Randy Bachman, Buffy Saint Marie etc.”

  About Time (Jigsaw, SAW 5; www.grangestudios.co.uk) is like heaven-sent to all aficionados of southern and deep soul.  It reminds you of the 60s Memphis and Muscle Shoals sounds and Reuben himself vocally bears a resemblance to such still active artists as Charles Bradley, Wee Willie Walker and Charles Walker.  He has that same kind of raspy and gutsy style and a very soulful delivery.

  All ten new songs were written by Dave Williams, some together with his musicians like Mick Parker (keyboards), Matt Irving (bass, keys, Hammond) and Tommy Willis (guitar).  Reuben: “The majority of the recording was done at the Grange Studios with some overdubs recorded in US studios.”  Guests from Muscle Shoals are Charlie Chalmers brass section, from Memphis Rhodes, Chalmers & Rhodes and Brenda Barnett on background vocals, from New Orleans a variety of musicians including Raymond Weber on drums and finally Kenny Royster from Nashville helped record parts on three tracks.  The rest dozen musicians are all local.  All the music is live and full, and horns appear on as many as seven tracks out of ten. 

  We’ll Always Be Together is a punchy and brassy, uptempo opening track, and also the new single release.  In the same category there are A.S.A.P., which is a storming scorcher with a ripping sax solo by Charlie Chalmers, a funky number called Sugar Cane and a hard-hitting beater titled Taking a Chance.

  Please Let Me down Easy is a poignant and touching country-soul ballad, and the more strutting Who’s Foolin’ Who carries another sad story.  I’m only guilty of Loving you and Your Broken Promises are quite similar, as both are melodic and touching, country-tinged soul ballads.  The gorgeous Hold on My Heart is remixed for this album, and the final track on the set is a beautiful ballad called Let Me Be the One with only Mick Parker’s keyboard backing.  

  I enjoyed this southern soul style CD a lot - both the uptempo numbers, and emotive ballads.  Reuben: “Soul ballads are my favourite, but uptempo tracks are easier to get programmed on national radio.  The first uptempo track on the album, We’ll Always Be Together, is currently on BBC Radio 2 playlist.  My other favourites on the album are Please Let Me down Easy, A.S.A.P., Hold on My Heart and Let Me Be the One.” 

  Generally Reuben thinks that the black music scene is currently very healthy.  Reuben: “Now I’m a professional singer, and I will be touring the UK and do some festivals abroad later this year... and eventually album number two.” (Email exchange on July 21, 2015; acknowledgements to Reuben James Richards and Sue Williams).

ADDITIONAL NOTE! I was later informed (by "Stormcock" on the Soul Source website) that Reuben Richards actually had one album released on Orbitone in the late 80s, and there's also a 4-track CD released about ten years ago, so I was misinformed.

ALONZO PENNINGTON

  Alonzo is a 35-year-old singer and thumbpicker out of Kentucky, and Deep-Down (SLT-5002-CD) is his 6th CD.  Actually it has very little to do with soul music, but there’s one strong connection: the 93-year-old Quinton Claunch produced the CD for his revived Soultrax label.  Quinton not only produced all those marvellous 60s soul gems for Goldwax, but also released ten CDs on Soultrax in the 90s on James Carr, the Jubilee Hummingbirds, Toni Green, Jerry L and five other artists, and last year he put out Alonzo’s Born with Nothin’ (Soultrax 5001), which has now been re-packaged and officially released.  The recording took place at Wishbone Studios in Muscle Shoals.

  The opening half of this ten-track CD is pure traditional southern-style country music with either funny or touching story lines.  The one that stood out for me was a rolling and melodic mid-pacer called Trapped on the Outside, cut earlier by one of its writers, Jeff Simmons.  One single off the album is a blues romp named Why You Wanna Do Me This Way, and the second blues track here is Alonzo’s own slow moaner, Am I Losing Her.

  There’s one country-soul number, Quinton’s slowly swaying ballad named A Taste of Heaven with a soft sax solo on the background.  For me it’s the cream cut and it’s also the second single off the set.  An easy, r&b type of a dancer called It’s Sweet on the Back-Street was first recorded by Charles Wilson in 1995 on Ecko Records (acknowledgements to Debbie Dixon).


COMP-ART-ment

FANTASTIC FOUR *

  With pun more than intended, The Lost Motown Album (Kent, CDTOP 434; www.acerecords.com; 25 tracks, 77 min.) is a FANTASTIC CD.  With notes - and actually the whole initiation - by Tony Rounce and track annotations by Keith Hughes, we finally get to hear the cancelled How Sweet He Is album and numerous previously unreleased tracks from the late 1968 till the early 1971.  As a lead singer, the late Sweet James Epps was one of my all-time heroes, so I’m strongly biased.  Actually on this set for me there are only five tracks that fall into the “mediocre” category.  The rest twenty are all honey, with superb singing, good melodies and guaranteed Motown orchestration, which – especially in the case of Fantastic Four - is rich and full.

  The album was scheduled for an early 1971 release, possibly more or less as a solo project for Sweet James, and the main producers on those twelve tracks were William Weatherspoon & James Dean and Clay McMurray.  Of the eight single sides on the Soul label (www.soulexpress.net/fantasticfour_discography.htm), five are included on this album. Among those gems you can find an energetic mid-pacer called I Feel like I’m Falling in Love Again, a fabulous cover of the Temptations’ Just Another Lonely Night and a pleading beat ballad titled Don’t Care Why You Want Me (Long As You Want Me), assigned first to Jimmy Ruffin.  The plug side of the final Soul single was On the Brighter Side of a Blue World, a powerful downtempo number produced by Al Kent. 

  Other impressive non-single tracks include the lively Take Him Back If It Makes You Happy (assigned to Dennis Edwards), the slow and intense A Little Too Much (assigned to the Supremes), the slowed-down and re-constructed We Can Work It Out, the infectious Keep on Tryin’ (‘til You Find Love) – first for Jimmy Ruffin – and the surprisingly good, Philly-meets-Motown dancer, Just Can’t Forget About You Baby, earlier cut by Jerry Butler.

  Bobby Taylor and Al Kent were the main producers on the rest of the tracks on this set (# 13-25). The cream cut for me in this section is Johnny Bristol’s catchy dancer called How Big Is Your Heart.  Al Kent’s standout tracks are a plaintive beat ballad named It Keeps Raining down Tears and a cover of Freddie Gorman’s mid-tempo dancer, In a Bad Way.  Bobby Taylor’s best moments are a cover of the memorable Don’t Tell Me I’m Crazy and a pleasant floater titled Fan the Flame, earlier by the Temptations.  Still two more worthwhile toe-tappers: Forgive My Jealousy, produced by Jack Goga, and I Shall Not Be Moved, from Henry Cosby

This fabulous CD will have a special place in my collection.


MORE DORÉ

  L.A. Soul Sides 2 (CDKEND 433; 24 tracks, 65 min; notes by Ady Croasdell) is the second CD in the Doré label series, and this time the sides stem from the period of 1962 till 1981, but mostly they derive from the late 60s.  There are two previously unreleased tracks and two from Markay and Dee Dee subsidiaries.

  I must admit that for me the music sounds a bit lacklustre right after the Fantastic Four CD above.  They are not comparable per se, of course, but I just couldn’t get into the first five dancers on this set.  However, the next 5-track ballad section got my attention, and here I was turned to a fascinating big ballad called Pictures in My Window by Eddie Williams (1970), to a cute post-doowop song titled I Wanna Chance by the Vows (1962) and to nice girl group sound with a little power to it, too, named My Pillow by the Darlings (1963).

  There are two beaty and funky instrumentals – by Smoky & the Bears and Rambling Willie & the Euphonics – but among the uptempo songs my preferences go to Nitty Gritty City, a fast stomper by the Swans (1966), and Just a Little Ugly, a big-voiced “nasty” number by Gail Anderson (1981).

b><  Toussaint McCall<’s fascinating and hypnotic ballad, Saigon to San Francisco, brings the tempo down again at the end of the set, and the other mellow tracks around Toussaint include the tender This Girl Is a Good Girl by Johnny Braff (1975), the high-voiced As I Sit Here by the Whispers (1965) and the introspective I Look in the Mirror by Eddie Kool (1968).  This is actually a well-balanced collection between up- and down-tempo tracks.

CARL HALL *

  Carl Henry Hall has an impressive vocal range and amazing androgynous voice, and his intense delivery takes you to church, to put it mildly.  He started his recording career in gospel in the 50s with the (Raymond) Rasberry Singers prior to his 3-year secular stint with Mercury from 1964 onwards.  Later in the 70s he still turned up on other artists’ albums, like on two tracks on Archie Shepp’s Attica Blues in 1972 as Henry Hull and as one of the leads on Alley and the Soul Sneekers’ album in 1979.  That took place alongside his solo single releases on Columbia in 1973 and one disco track on Martru in 1987.  For almost three decades Carl, however, was mostly engaged in Broadway plays until his death in 1999.

  You Don’t Know Nothing About Love: The Loma/Atlantic Records 1967-1972 (OVCD-133; www.omnivorerecordings.com; 19 tracks, 64 min.) covers the period in-between, which means that this compilation features his two released singles on Loma in 1967 and ’68 and one on Atlantic in 1972.  The rest 13 tracks are previously unreleased, and four of them are alternate takes.  The producer was Jerry Ragovoy and Garry Sherman was one of the arrangers. Bill Dahl explains it all very rationally in his liner notes.

  The first single and still the most powerful cut out of Carl’s all recordings is his reading of Jerry Ragovoy’s gospel-infused, deep ballad, You Don’t Know Nothing about Love.  There are a few more almost equally thrilling deep soul gems on this set.  One is the self-written, highly emotive It Was You (That I Needed), and another one is actually the B-side of his ’72 Atlantic single, Elliot Lurie’s big ballad called Change with the Seasons.  Two familiar songs, The Long and Winding Road and Time Is on My Side, just grow and grow, until an abrupt end, because they never got as far as to the fading process.  What Kind of Fool Am I? is a musical song, and here it’s delivered as a big-voiced demo with only a piano accompaniment.  He’ll Never Love You is an uptown type of a beat ballad.

  The second Loma single consisted of two uptempo numbers.  Co-written by two Poindexters, The Dam Busted becomes quite fierce towards the end, and the flip side - the punchy I Don’t Wanna Be (Your Used to be) - was composed by Jerry, Carl and Van McCoy.  Still the A-side of the Atlantic single is a fast and furious cover of Jefferson Airplane’s Somebody to Love, and on it the rich orchestration was created by Tony Camillo.  There are still a couple of stompers for northern soul fans, but I keep coming back to those seven powerful slow songs.

BLACK BOOKCASE

LAST MAN STANDING

  The history of the Chi-Lites can be traced back to two doo-wop groups in the late 50s, the Chanteurs and the Desideros.  They soon teamed up and eventually decided on the name “the Chi-Lites” in 1964.  The classic line-up of Eugene Record (lead), Marshall Thompson (baritone), Robert Lester (tenor) and Creadel Jones (bass) remained intact under the leadership of Marshall for almost ten years, till 1973.

  A book entitled Last Man Standing (Anytime Enterprises, LLC, Chicago, Illinois; 152 pages, 22 with photos) was actually issued almost a year ago and it consists of three main parts.  Marshall Thompson’s narration covers 57 pages, a section called “genealogy & the roots” is written by Dane Ladwig and finally there are “inspirational messages from friends and supporters of the Chi-Lites” (21 altogether) and a discography on the Wikipedia level.

  In his reminiscing, Marshall chooses an almost philosophical approach.  Ignoring chronological order in his “stream of consciousness”, Marshall talks freely about the brotherhood and family atmosphere within the group, the importance of marketing and the importance of having a “driven” spirit, even playing drums.  He also touches such sore issues as losing his wife in the late 90s, mob connections, doing time as a police officer in the early 2000s, the passing of Frank Reed - Eugene’s successor as the lead vocalist - and his own massive stroke in 2014.  His wife Tara writes the last two chapters in this section.  Marshall also tells, how he determinedly asked Bobby Taylor to go and check out a new group called the Jackson 5

  Besides a short history of the group, Dane Ladwig sheds some light on another aspect of the business: organized crime, including such characters as Morris Levy, Nat Tarnapol and the syndicate boss, Gaetano Vastola.  They and their “colleagues” did a lot of harm for music industry, and one outcome was that - in spite of many huge hit records for the Chi-Lites – Marshall ended up practically penniless.

  Last Man Standing is not your book, if you’re looking for a complete story on the Chi-Lites, their history and music.  This book focuses on Marshall.  It’s a quick and easy read.  There’s no deeper analysis on music, no stories about recording sessions, fellow artists, life on the road, writing the music, the musicians, producers, etc.  That book still waits to be written, but I don’t think there’s anybody left to do it anymore.

  However, this book prompted me listen to some of that soothing and beautiful music the group is best known for.  I especially cherish two songs: one hidden gem is their great and richly orchestrated Temptations style of a ballad called Love Me (by Marshall & the Chi-Lites in 1967 on Revue 11005) and the second, more poignant one derives from their golden period, The Coldest Days of My Life (on Brunswick 55478 in 1972).

(http://www.chi-lites.info).

© Heikki Suosalo




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