With only five
CDs in the mail in the past few weeks, this column will be short and sweet. Since
I didn’t want those records to lose their topicality, I decided not to wait for
more material but to go ahead and review them. The one artist that I had a
short chat with this time is Nellie “Tiger” Travis.
Now we enter the
sacred soul territory. Headliner of the column is none other than James
Carr, and the occasion is the 50th anniversary of TheDark
End of the Street. To celebrate the release of this gem half a century ago,
Ace Records releases this month The Best of James Carr (CDKENM
20 tracks, 49 min.), as well as a 14-track vinyl LP, MP3 and a vinyl single
coupling The Dark End of the Street with You’ve Got My Mind Messed Up
Produced by Quinton
Claunch and Rudolph Russell and written & arranged by Chips
Moman and Dan Penn, The Dark End of the Street is one of
those few flawless records in the history of soul music that has a big
emotional and lasting value. It was released as James’ 7th Goldwax
single and it peaked at # 10 – rhythm & blues and # 77 – pop in early 1967,
and I don’t know any soul music fan who doesn’t like this record a lot. It’s
This CD is full
of other thrilling deep soul gems from James’ Goldwax period (1964-69),
including You Hurt Me So Good, A Man Needs a Woman, To Love Somebody, These
Arms of Mine, I Don’t Want to Be Hurt Anymore, Let It Happen, Forgetting You and
Let’s Face Facts. Fourteen tracks were released as single sides and the
rest six derive from LPs and later compilations. The most captivating up-beat
numbers are the gospel-infused Freedom Train and the express-tempo That’s
What I Want to Know, whereas Pouring Water on a Drowning Man and A
Lucky Loser are more mid-tempo toe-tappers, as well as the poppy Lover’s
Competition, which could have been lifted from the Drifters’
repertoire. An excellent CD! Soul supreme!
riding high after his Slip Away and Too Weak to Fight hits in
1968, but the peak was still ahead. Testifyin’ & Patches (CDKEND
26 tracks, 75 min.) pairs Clarence’s third and fourth Fame albums from 1969 and
1970 and adds still three bonus tracks that were released only five years ago
on an EP.
Produced by Rick
Hall and backed by those creditable Fame musicians, Clarence carries on in
his unmistakable style presenting occasionally his trademark chuckles and suspicious
humming. He co-wrote eight of the songs on display, and some of his co-writers
included George Jackson, Raymond Moore, Mickey Buckins and O.B.
McClinton. The music is mostly mid-tempo or funky with a lot of danceable
and story-telling songs, and some of those memorable tunes in their
arrangements lean heavily on country music.
Hits kept on coming:
Snatching It Back, The Feeling Is Right, I Can’t Leave Your Love Alone, It’s
All In Your Mind and Doin’ Our Thing. The biggest one, however, was
Clarence’s third gold single, Patches, in 1970 and in the notes Tony
Rounce tells the intriguing history of this Ronald Dunbar & General
did some irresistible covers, such as Tony Joe White’s Willie and
Laura Mae Jones and Soul Deep, originally cut by the Box Tops.
Making Love is actually a fascinating and mostly spoken version of The
Dark End of the Street. Those three bonus tracks that were cut but left in
the can in 1971 include a country-soul ballad called Johnny Poverty, a
mid-tempo Slip Away type of a tracktitled I Found What I
Wanted and a beat-ballad named Say a Little Prayer. You probably
have some of these tracks on other compilations, but for completists this is
just what is needed.
“The Prince of
Sophisticated Soul” promotes his latest CD called Soul Survivor (www.shanachie.com 5842) as his 20th
album in thirty years, which is a good cause for celebration. Produced and for
the most part written by Will, on this ten-track CD his main partners this time
are Randy Bowland (musician, co-producer and co-writer), Pablo
Batista (co-producer, percussion) and Mike Logan on various
instruments. Among background vocalists you can discover Will’s wife, Audrey
Wheeler Downing, and James “D-Train” Williams.
Of the three
outside tunes, two draw from the Philly catalogue. Phil Perry shares
the lead on Stop to Start and he brings a strong Blue Magic element
into the cover of this small 1973 hit. In 1980 The Stylistics released Hurry
up This Way Again, and on Will’s version Najee contributes on sax
and flutes. There’s a Caribbean feel to the intimate Tell Me about It,
which was first recorded in 1983 by its writer, Michael Franks.
his gratitude on the positive I Just Wanna Say Thank You, which actually
is the only uptempo song on the set... but with a sharp beat, nevertheless. On
two mid-tempo songs Will has a featured vocalist with him. On the first
single, a soulful duet of I’m Feeling the Love there’s Avery*Sunshine,
and Maysa is the co-vocalist on a smooth serenade titled Everything I
Want In My Lady. The most romantic and sensual ballads on the CD are Our
Time and When We Make Love. Soul Survivor is another
elegant album from Mr. Downing and meets his customary high standards (www.willdowning.com).
My previous call
to Nellie took place over twelve years ago, and then we talked about her
current CD (Wanna Be with You) and her past career - http://www.soulexpress.net/nellietravis.htm.
Now five CDs later, I wanted to congratulate Nellie on her recent release
titled – surprise, surprise! – Mr. Sexy Man – The Album (Wegonsee
Records, WEGO 5742). Usually it doesn’t take as many as four years to release
an album after a hit single, as in this case. Nellie: “The song, Mr. Sexy
Man, was doing so good and for so long. The album was done, when the song
Hamberlin is the main force behind this CD. Besides Mike Wheeler,
Hollywood and Walter Scott on guitars, Floyd is in charge of the
rest of the instrumentation, and I must admit that his playing/programming is
quite skilful, if we ignore annoying voice distortion on background vocals on
two tracks. Floyd also produced the set and wrote all twelve songs on it. After
Mr. Sexy Man, Floyd pushed a laid-back ballad called All the Lovers,
but the DJs went for a toe-tapper named Textual Harassment.
Spacey Love is
a nice mid-tempo floater, Keep on Movin has a stronger groove to it and Cold
Feet is a very catchy and melodic dancer. “I’m kind of partial to Cold
Feet. My favourite ballad is Use to Run to You.” Another quality
downtempo song on the set is the memorable Tired of Being Alone and to
touch your heart there’s still Walking in the Rain in Memphis, a
sorrowful andstory-telling soul ballad.
It looks like
the album is doing quite well for Nellie. “I get some good feedback from the
DJs that are playing it, and I want to thank all the listeners of my music. I
really appreciate it.” (Interview conducted on November 13, 2017; https://nellietigertravis.com).
Let’s move from
Chicago to St. Louis, MO, and to one of its suburbs, Florissant. Nobody
But You (Mission Park Records) is Uvee’s 7th album on her
husband’s, Bernie Hayes’ label... or perhaps we’d better talk about an
extended EP, since this close to half an hour set has only seven songs on it.
It was produced and songs written by James McKay, who was active also on
Uvee’s previous CD in 2014, In the Mood. James is also responsible for most
of the instruments, although there are seven other musicians credited as well,
and Theresa Davis for background vocals. Unfortunately, neither could
James totally avoid using those voice distorting toys, but luckily they are
audible only on three tracks.
Besides funk (Mr.
Fixer Upper) and blues (I Wanna Hear Some Blues), we can enjoy
smooth and beautiful ballads – Ooh Baby, That’s how you make Me Feel, Hold
On and Nobody but You – and with Uvee on emotive slow songs, you
just can’t go wrong. The opener, Your Love’s Gotta Hold on Me, is a
sweet and tender floater.