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From Soul Express 4/2005


INTRODUCING: LEON McMULLEN

Produced and arranged by Greg Rowell and Don Matthews, Just A Few Words (Main Street Music; 2005 – out of Tuscumbia, Alabama) features real instruments, including a horn section, and background singers. The last time I was this excited about a new CD was when Booker Brown released his Passion Of Love in 2004, and guess what! – the only inferior cut on that CD, Sugar Daddy, has now become a small hit for Booker.

Don Matthews: “Main Street is a small label in Muscle Shoals. Several soul artists who have been popular in the past – in the U.S. as well as Europe and Japan – plus several new artists we have discovered are on board to work with us, but it is a slow go with our limited funding. We are currently recording an album on Anthony Watson, formerly of the Chi-Lites as well as a successful artist on his own.”

Leon has a rootsy, gravely voice, which suits not only slowies but easy movers as well, such as Baby's Got A Broken Heart and Should Have Been Me. Leon McMullen: “The album is doing nicely over here in Birmingham, Muscle Shoals and in different areas in Alabama. Everything that's on that album is real – nothing fake, no drum machines, no computers … everything is original. Ricky Ryan and Lamar Rutherford wrote Baby's Got A Broken Heart and Should Have Been Me, and they are fantastic, local guys.” Something To Be Proud Of is a bluesy swayer (by Donnie Fritts and Bill Blackburn), and the only song on this CD that to an extent fails is a cover of Jimmy Hughes' Steal Away, where Leon's singing is surprisingly stiff. “Steal Away was a tribute to Jimmy, who wrote the tune. He was out of Muscle Shoals.”

The opening song, Come On Home (by Bill Blackburn – Ronnie Oldham – Albert S. Lowe, Jr), is a great, 60s type of a soul ballad, and it is followed by a smoother slowie, Just A Few Words (by Carl Holder – Steve Baccus – Dennis Clifton), which has a snippet of Martin Luther King's speech in it. “They're all local writers and based in Muscle Shoals. I'm from Birmingham, Alabama, but I enjoyed the opportunity to work with them.”

It's Over is a horn-heavy, pleading slow ballad, whereas the two thrilling cream cuts of the set – Time To Let Go and If Leaving Was Easy – both have a drop of country in their melodies. “Time To Let Go is something I experienced in life. I had a love affair that didn't work out.” A mid-tempo pulsator, Sending You A Kiss, we know by Johnnie Taylor earlier. “Every song on the CD is a new one except Steal Away and Sending You A Kiss, and Malaco gave that to us.” Leon was born in 1958, and he names Sam Cooke, Otis Redding and Marvin Gaye his biggest influences. “I was born and raised about fifteen miles outside of Birmingham in a place called Aliceville, Alabama, but I moved to Birmingham as a teenager, and I've been living here ever since. When I was a little boy, I was walking home from school, and the next-door neighbour heard me singing. She told my mother and said 'that boy should be in a choir'. My mother put me in a church choir, and I've been singing ever since.”

“First I had an opportunity to meet Joe Tex. I was a background singer for him for about two years. That was my first professional job. Then he passed away” (in 1982). “Then I had the opportunity to work with a lot of people like Johnnie Taylor, James Brown, Mel Waiters… When they came to Birmingham, I used to open up shows for them.”

Just A Few Words is my first CD. Now I'm in the process of recording another CD. The title of the first single is Can I Take You Out Tonight, and it's doing well here in Birmingham. It was written by my manager and producer, Jimmy Tee, who's a local DJ here in Birmingham. After the single, there's going to be a whole CD.”

Just A Few Words is this scribe's personal number one record of all the soul releases in 2005. (www.soundmindzmusic.com).
-Heikki Suosalo

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