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DEEP # 4/2020 (August)

 

  The two new CDs that are reviewed here may differ in style, but they are both marvellous pieces of music art, and below Don Bryant and Bettye LaVette talk about their new product.

  The second half of this column introduces four new Ace/Kent compilations, which also represent almost contrasting genres, but for me there are again two gems among them.

New CD release reviews & interviews:

Don Bryant: You Make Me Feel
Bettye LaVette: Blackbirds


Compilation CD's & Collections:
Various Artists: Ready or Not – Thom Bell
Various Artists: The Soul of the Memphis Boys
Various Artists: Dirty Work Going On
Various Artists: New Breed R&B – Saturday Night Special


DON BRYANT *

  Ever since the release of Don’t Give up on Love in 2017, Don Bryant has been a busy man. Don: “We were travelling everywhere. I had done it before not for myself but I travelled with my wife. It was good to be able to get out there. I never expected it, but I was so thankful and glad that it did happen.” Don’s wife Ann Peebles is doing okay, but she isn’t doing any travelling nor performing anymore.

  Don’t Give up on Love was Don’s comeback album three years ago, and you can read about it and Don’s career in general in his own words at https://www.soulexpress.net/donbryant_interview.htm. The CD became quite popular and made Don a household name among southern and more specifically Memphis soul fans, but all the travelling and shows came to a halt earlier this year due to this still ongoing pandemia. “We’ve been doing some radio, TV and video interviews, but that’s the only thing that’s going on now. I’m not really getting out a lot. I mostly stay at home with my wife.”

  In the middle of this standstill, in June they released Don’s follow-up titled You Make Me Feel (FP1747-2; www.fatpossum.com), and practically the same winning team is in charge of music again. Recorded at Scott Bomar’s Electraphonic Recording in Memphis, TN (www.electraphonicrecording.com), Scott is the producer as well as plays bass, keyboard, guitar and percussion. Besides three familiar names from the Hi Rhythm Section – Charles Hodges on drums, Archie Turner on keyboards and Howard Grimes on drums – other musicians include Joe Restivo on guitar, Al Gamble on keyboard and Marc Franklin, Kirk Smothers and Art Edmaiston in the horn section. This time there’s also a 5-piece string section and as many as 13 background vocalists from such groups as the Flat Five, the HamilTones and the two Barnes Brothers. “Scott Bomar found them. We did a show in Canada, and the Barnes Brothers were there.”

  Don and Scott co-wrote four new songs for this CD. “Scott already had in mind the things we needed to do. We just got together and came up with some titles and one or two lines that would get us off to write more. With a guitar and vocal we just tried to finish the song up, and it did come out pretty good. That’s still my love – writing songs. Even now, when I walk around and a line would hit me, I write it down for later use. This year I’d say I’ve written maybe about 80 songs. Might be more, because when I get halfway and if I get stuck I move over to another song, come back to that song and go in another direction. Not all get recorded, but I enjoy coming up with little stories. I get prepared, because I don’t know when we’re going into the studio again, and some other artists might also want to have a song.”

  Two of Don’s and Scott’s songs are uptempo ones. The opener, Your Love Is to Blame, is a funky track, whereas Your Love Is Too Late is more like a poppy dancer. “I just concentrate on ideas and try to come up with something that people can easily understand, relate to the story. I like to catch people’s attention, because we’ve all been through some kind of situations. I try to put out some of the things that I’ve been through or the things that I’ve heard people talking about. I enjoy this challenge.”

  The twosome co-wrote also two highly emotive deep soul ballads, like a throwback to some of those 1960s gems. Is It Over is a touching testimony from a broken-hearted man. “I tried to look back how I did the writing back then. I tried to put myself in that mood.” A Woman’s Touch remotely reminds me of That’s How Strong My Love Is. “Sometimes you get an idea, when you’re around people and they’re talking. There are a lot of people that understand what A Woman’s Touch is all about, and those are the people I’m trying to reach. It’s for real” (laughing).

  Don himself has written four songs on this set and they all date back either close to, or over fifty years. The punchy 99 Pounds was written for Ann and released in 1971. “That was about her, and the title just popped into my head. She was 99 pounds.” I Die a Little Each Day is a plaintive soul ballad, which the late and great Otis Clay released in 1972. “As a writer I was always trying to be prepared, to have something for any artist that comes in. I think Otis did a great job on it.”

  Don himself cut the self-written song Don’t Turn Your Back on Me for Hi Records already 55 years ago, and now this pleading ballad is covered at an even slower pace. “I might have been going through some things then, or I was around somebody that was going through them. At the studio we had about four or five different people that would be there writing and I had three or four people I could turn to, if I got stuck.” Cracked up over You with its Hi-Heel Sneakers type of beat was first released by Danny White in 1966.

  On the B-side of one his Hi singles in 1968, Don sang another deep ballad titled I’ll Go Crazy, and one of the co-writers of the song was the late Mary Frierson aka Wendy Rene (1947-2014). “She used to stay around the studio on occasions.” The concluding song is the inspirational Walk all over God’s Heaven, and the research shows that the very first recording of this song was by Fis University Jubilee Quartet in 1909, that is 111 years ago on the Victor label. After that, Mahalia Jackson, the Stars of Faith, Etta James and numerous other artists have covered it. “I chose this song because that was the song I did at church with the choir and everything. I liked that song, and I’m glad it came off that good. I had the opportunity to record a couple of gospel albums. A lot of those things stuck with me. Those songs are still in me. I walk around humming them all the time.”

  “I like all styles of music – jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, blues... different things. I can take something out of each one of these and I’m thankful to have the ability to do that and come up with different songs. I’ve got things laying around, leave them and come back to them later on, so there’s always something I can get started on.”

(Interview conducted on August the 4th; acknowledgements also to Scott Bomar).


BETTYE LaVETTE *

  I had an assumption that it was easier for Bettye to tackle songs made famous  by outstanding and highly regarded rhythm & blues and jazz ladies than, say, Bob Dylan, as if she were more in her own territory, but she quickly proved me wrong. Bettye: “I really don’t know any more about these songs that I did the Bob Dylan songs. I’ve heard them earlier in my life, but I haven’t always sung them. I’m a rhythm & blues singer, but in 59 years I can apply my voice to Bob Dylan or Mahalia Jackson. The songs are not going to sound like that when I get through with them. I’m a song interpreter. If Bob Dylan had written those songs and given me those lyrics and he had never sung them, that’s the way I would have sung them. If these women had written those songs and given them to me, that’s the way I would have done them. The artists themselves have had very little, if any, impact on me. It’s the songs that impress me. I don’t care where the songs come from as long as I like them and they make me cry” (laughing).

  Similarly to Bettye’s preceding “Bob Dylan” CD called Things Have Changed two and a half years ago, this new one titled Blackbirds is released on Verve (00602508692710, http://www.ververecords.com ) and again Steve Jordan is the producer as well as the drummer in the rhythm section that also includes Leon Pandarvis on keys. The two musicians that didn’t play on that earlier record are Smokey Hormel on guitar and Tom Barney on bass. Monte Croft plays vibraphone on three tracks and there is also the 4-piece Firey String Company making a comeback from the preceding album on three tracks here.

  Blackbirds is a tribute to a number of great lady singers like Nina Simone, who cut the slightly bluesy I Hold No Grudge in 1967. Bettye’s version is surrounded by a thin cloak of mystery, and for all of you music conspiracists out there, there’s a connection: one of the composers of the song, Angelo Badalamenti, has written film scores for David Lynch, too.

  Actually the only contemporary song on the set is Sharon Robinson’s One More Song (2015), which is one of the four singles off Bettye’s album so far. Bettye has turned this simple folksy song into a slow and melancholic farewell melody. “When we decided to put Sharon’s song onto the CD, the A&R director and I were talking about how she doesn’t have anything to do with the concept, but I said ‘yes but we like the tune, so let’s just put it there anyway” (laughing).


  Della Reese released Blues for the Weepers in 1965, and Bettye’s version is bluesier that Della’s lush and a bit loungy record. “Mack Rice and Della were best friends and whenever Mack came to LA he stayed with Della and he called me. I went to Della’s house, when Mack was there, so I really got a chance to spend a great deal of time with her. She’s very much like me, because I think chicks from Detroit are all alike - they wear a long hair or whatever they do...”  Also Al Hibbler and Lou Rawls had their versions out approximately at the same time as Della, and this song is another single off Bettye’s CD.

  Ruth Brown’s 1958 single, Book of Lies, is not one of her best-known recordings, and Betty gears this slow song to a still more mournful blues, and also Romance in the Dark is toned down from Lillian Green’s 1940 big-voiced “shoutress” version to a more restrained love song... and with a beat this time. Dinah Washington’s sorrowful Drinking Again (1962) gets an equally vulnerable treatment from Bettye, with an added touch of jazz and even whistling at the end.

  The third single is an appropriate revival of Billie Holiday’s immortal 1939 reading of Strange Fruit. “Everything that has been happening in this country – the whole civil right thing and the whole black movement thing – that’s why we put Strange Fruit out. We did it months ago. This is the first time ever that the situation in the world changed to match the album, Actual world changed to fit the album, so Blackbird and Strange Fruit are very timely right now.”  Also a single, Blackbird is Paul McCartney’s 1968 troubadoury song, which Bettye has turned into an atmospheric, pretty ballad with a violins and cello backing. There’s still Bettye’s slightly jazzy approach to Nancy Wilson’s 1961 recording of Buddy Johnson’s song, Save Your Love for Me.

  Bettye has developed an incomparable style with theatrical elements that makes you able to almost visualize the song. This thrilling CD with intimate and at times dramatic performances will be released on August 28. “It needs to be out. They’ve already released four singles, so they may just as well get on with it. The album was supposed to come out in May. My last concert was on February the third, and I’ve been pretty much in the house since then. I’ve done some virtual videos with my band in Detroit. My music director put them together for me, and it came out pretty well to be done at home. My husband, Kevin Kiley, has become ‘the home producer.’” (laughing).

  Bettye’s upcoming gigs have all been rescheduled. “I really don’t think anything’s going to happen before March or May. It’s boring on one hand, because what I do for entertainment is my work. At home I don’t want to go out for a dinner and I don’t want to see anybody. But when I’m on the road, I’m doing all of that. So I look at my work as part of my entertainment as well. So I’m bored that I’m not working and I’m not seeing people. I really miss everybody so much, and I’m hoping that I’ll be with you again soon. I miss EVERYBODY!”

http://www.bettyelavette.com

(Interview conducted on August 11, 2020; acknowledgements also to Kevin Kiley)

COMP-ART-ment

THOM BELL *

  I was truly delighted to learn that Kent Records and Bob Stanley have compiled this CD titled Ready or Not – Thom Bell (23 tracks, 77 min.;https://acerecords.co.uk/ready-or-not-thom-bells-philly-soul-arrangements-productions-1965-1978), subtitled Philly Soul Arrangements & productions 1965-1978. When talking about producing, arranging, composing and playing, Thom simply is one of my music heroes. In his notes Bob tells about Thom’s history and his music, and Thom himself comments on many tracks on this set. In this review I also add a few lines from my feature on Thom 17 years ago.

  Thom was born on January 27 (not 26, as it says in some sources) in 1943, and first he studied to become a concert pianist, so the use of classical elements in his music stems already from those days. At about nine-ten years of age Thom started playing and dancing, “together with the whole family.” Next significant event was meeting with Kenny Gamble – “Kenny used to go to school with my sister” - and recording a single called Some Day You’ll Be My Love as Kenny & Tommy. According to Bob McGrath’s R&B Indies, this single was released in 1962 on Heritage. “Next step was the Romeos. I played with the Romeos for about two years - - In that three-year period in the early 60s a lot of things went on - - I was back and forth of New York every week. I played piano there, also at the Apollo Theater. I worked in recording studios there and studied to be a conductor and pianist there - - Then I got a chance to expand a little, and that’s when I went with Chubby Checker. He was looking for a pianist and conductor - - After Chubby Checker I went working at Cameo-Parkway studio as a studio musician.”

  This is actually where the music starts on this CD, as Thom co-wrote and arranged a fine ballad called I Can’t Take It for the Orlons on Cameo in 1965. Fortunately they’ve picked up for this set some less obvious choices, such as the Orlons above and also Lesley Gore on Look the Other Way (1968), Connie Stevens on Tick-Tock (1970), the Courtship on It’s the Same Old Love on Tamla (!) (1972) and Laura Nyro & Labelle on It’s Gonna Take a Miracle (1971).

  The first successful act for Thom was the Delfonics, or the Five Guys, as they called themselves at that point. “I recorded them. That was my first production. It was on a label called Moon Shot. It did decently in the area, but it wasn’t really big nationally. The first song was He Don’t Really Love You.” For this compilation they have chosen You’ve Been Untrue, a 1967 single on Cameo. The string of hits started with La – La – Means I Love You, and one of the follow-ups was Ready or Not Here I Come, which is also included here. Thom worked with the group till 1970.

  Up to this point Thom’s main writing partner had been William Hart of the Delfonics. “The Stylistics came in 1971. That’s when Linda Creed and I started working together as songwriters.” Their first song was I Wanna Be a Free Girl, which they gave to Dusty Springfield in 1970... and it’s also included here. The next string of huge hits was with the Stylistics. The first one was Stop, Look, Listen (To Your Heart), and for this CD they chose People Make the World Go Round and You Make Me Feel Brand New.

  The longest string of hits Thom enjoyed with the Spinners, starting from I’ll Be Around in 1972 and continuing till the end of that decade. On this CD you can listen to the catchy mid-tempo Could It Be I’m Falling in Love (also in 1972). “That’s when I started introducing Philippe Wynne at the end of Could It Be I’m Falling in Love. I began to hear him as a lead singer.” Besides those mentioned above, there are many other personal favourites on this compilation, such as Moody Woman by Jerry Butler, Back Stabbers by the O’Jays, One Man Band by Ronnie Dyson, Close the Door by Teddy Pendergrass and Track of the Cat by Dionne Warwick. Essential!

MEMPHIS BOYS *

  The Soul of the Memphis Boys (Ace, CDCHD 1572; https://acerecords.co.uk/the-soul-of-the-memphis-boys, 24 tracks, 68 min.) is another great new compilation from the U.K. Ace. Compiled by John Broven and “The Soul Detective” Red Kelly and comprehensive notes by Red, plus a few lines from Bobby Wood, now we move from Philly mainstream to Chips Moman’s American studios in Memphis to hear some of the southern gems they cut there between 1967 and ’72. Besides Chips, the spotlight is on the musicians, a house band which became to be known as the Memphis Boys. Roben Jones wrote a detailed book about the history of that studio and those musicians a little over ten years ago titled Memphis Boys/the Story of American Studios, and for the short summary you can read my review at https://www.soulexpress.net/deep110.htm#memphisboys. All the main characters and artists are also listed in there.

  Out of the 24 songs on the set, only four are uptempo ones, which is fine with me and which indicates that this CD just oozes southern soul. Mind you, there are also some pop tracks on display – the Box Tops, Jerry Lee Lewis, Dusty Springfield and Elvis Presley – but they mingle fine with the crowd. At one point Atlantic Records favoured American Studios, and here Arthur Conley, Solomon Burke, Joe Tex, King Curtis and Ben E. King prove the point, whereas John R’s Sound Stage 7 is represented here by Sam Baker, Roscoe Robinson, Ella Washington, Roscoe Shelton and Lattimore Brown.

  When I saw On the Other Side by Lee Jones & the Sounds of Soul and I Can Make You Happy by Sam Hutchins included, I checked my feature on the Masqueraders and noticed that the members of the group had a lot to say about that American period: https://www.soulexpress.net/masqueraders_story.htm. Honorary mentions still to James Carr’s What Can I Call My Own, Roy Hamilton’s 100 Years and the BlossomsDon’t Take Your Love.

BIHARI BLUES

  For blues enthusiasts Ace has compiled a CD of West Coast blues recorded for the Bihari Brothers’ labels between the late 50s and 1970. Dirty Work Going On, subtitled Kent & Modern Records Blues into the 60s, vol. 1 (CDCHD 1571; 26 tracks, 74 min.; https://acerecords.co.uk/dirty-work-going-on-kent-modern-records-blues-into-the-60s-vol-1-mp3), contains only nine issued tracks. The rest seventeen are either completely previously unissued, or have appeared on some later compilations.

  Dick Shurman has written detailed notes about these tracks and the featured artists like King Solomon, T-Bone Walker and Stacy Johnson. There are as many as seventeen slow blues moans on display and especially slow and mid-tempo tracks tend to reveal poor vocalists, such as Little Joe Blue and Flash Terry on this set. As a positive bonus, on some tracks you can hear brass backing.

  A couple of songs differ from the rather formulaic mainstream sound on the CD. Larry DavisSomething about You Baby (take 7) is a melodic and atmospheric number, whereas Billy Ray’s aka Fillmore Slim’s Fast Gun Annie and Playboy are jolly novelty numbers. Big Jay McNeely’s Blues in G Minor is a fast, sax-driven instrumental, and Kent’s main man, B.B. King, is honoured by adding his take 3 of the slow Down Now (1961) into the program. Volume 2 is coming up later this year.

NEW BREED PARTY

  In Kent’s ongoing New Breed series their latest CD is titled New Breed R&B – Saturday Night Special (CDKEND 492; 24 tracks, 55 min.; https://acerecords.co.uk/new-breed-rb-saturday-night-special), which means that we are presented with one hour’s worth of party music mostly from the 1960s. Only eleven out of the twenty-four tracks here were officially released. The rest remained in the can and in many cases there was a good “quality control” reason for that.

  The uptempo tracks on this CD stretch from teeny pop to r&b jump numbers, Latin-flavoured dancers and even girl group sound. Some are influenced by the hits of the day, like Ray Charles is lurking behind Prince Consley’s Ain’t That Good and Rob Robinson’s Compact Baby. I can remotely hear Mama He Treats Your Daughter Mean in Flora D’s Way out Baby and Little Richard in Pee Wee Foster’s aggressive and punchy You Can Be My Honey. In his customarily all-inclusive notes Ady Croasdell rightly points out the connection between Mother-In-Law and Slim & the TwilitesFamily Man.

Many of the artists on this set are quite obscure, but Johnny “Guitar” Watson with his 1964 r&b belter named Wait a Minute Baby and Tony Clarke with his clichéd dancer called Love Must Be Taboo (1961) certainly ring a bell. There are a few tracks that are not finished or simply are mediocre, routine dancers, but for me there are at least three that stand out. The opener, Every Saturday Night by Aaron Collins & the Teen Queens, slips almost into gospelly rejoicing, and Esko Wallace’s Triple Zero is an easily flowing r&b-meets-pop number. I’ll Conquer the World by J D Wright & the Metallics is like an unpolished piece of precious metal and a good example of fledgling soul.

© Heikki Suosalo


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