R&B, Blues, Soul & Stax
VOICES Notes and news on R&B, Blues, Soul & Stax releases
28 APR 13 DAVID SHANNON
Albert King’s 1967 debut for Stax Records, Born Under A Bad Sign, is shorthand for the blues. A number of '60s-era rock 'n' rollers covered the title track both on stage and in the studio, Cream and Jimi Hendrix perhaps the most famously. The entire album, a collection of singles King recorded for Stax, marked a crossover from an older blues epoch and helped make the form relevant again, thanks in large part to the support of Stax house band Booker T. & the MGs, The Memphis Horns, and the songwriting of Booker T. Jones and William Bell. So it’s a good sign that King’s seminal album is given the Stax Remaster deluxe edition treatment, treating listeners to the original album as well as four previously unreleased versions of King classics and a compelling, never-before-released, untitled instrumental.
Although the release comprises well-known King tunes, revisiting the album is something of a twice-lived revelation. I discovered all over again the soulful flute and languid blues of “I Almost Lost My Mind” and the slow burn of “As the Years Go Passing By.” The bonus tracks themselves add up to an EP’s worth of crucial King cuts, including of course the title number but also offering fresh takes of “Crosscut Saw” and “The Hunter."
11 APR 13 DAVID SHANNON
Otis Redding made his name as the sound of soul music in the mid-'60s, an enduring legacy that marks him as the vocal standard against which all other soul singers who followed him are measured. Redding’s death in 1967 left only six studio recordings, as well as a handful of posthumous albums. The latest of these is Lonely & Blue: The Deepest Soul Of Otis Redding on Stax records, the studio that recorded and released Redding’s first album, Pain In My Heart.
The songs compiled on Lonely & Blue share the heartbreak theme that Redding brilliantly conveyed during his Stax career, a topic suited so well to his voice that noted Memphis disc jockey Moohah Williams dubbed him “Mr. Pitiful.” However, the track listing isn’t limited to heartbreak hits. While “These Arms Of Mine,” “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now),” and a moving version of “I’ve Got Dreams To Remember” are all included here, the album features equally affecting -- if not as famous -- songs such as “Open The Door” and “Everybody Makes A Mistake.”
When Redding played the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, he famously asked the audience if it was the “love crowd” and received a warm response that prefigured his growing popularity beyond black listeners. Redding’s ruminations on the subject of lost love were limited to “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)” at Monterey. This album beautifully expands on his thoughts on the subject.
23 MAR 13 DAVID SHANNON
Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite's new Stax release Get Up! makes perfect sense, even if it took years for the longtime friends to meet in the studio. They became acquainted back in 1994 at a John Lee Hooker gig. Harper opened the show and Musselwhite accompanied Hooker, and thereafter the two crossed paths every so often, always with the intention of one day recording together.
Each has a long history of collaboration. Throughout his storied career Musselwhite played or recorded with blues, rock, and pop honor roll members from B.B. King and Eric Clapton to INXS and Cyndi Lauper. Harper got an auspicious start touring and recording with Taj Mahal and outside of his successful solo career has worked with Jack Johnson, Dhani Harrison, and Brazilian singer Vanessa da Mata.
The album flows beautifully. Harper wrote or co-wrote all the tunes, and they have his signature energy and motley sound, although with Musselwhite's obvious influence the material hews to the blues. "I'm In I'm Out and I'm Gone" stomps like boots on a Chicago roadhouse floor, Musselwhite's harmonica helping gather intensity under Harper's chanting chorus.
The swinging feel, choir, and hand claps that directly follow on "We Can't End This Way" shift to a gospel feel, before the album deftly switches gears into the blues rock of "I Don't Believe A Word You Say." The entire album is a study in artful moods, Musselwhite blowing hot on "Blood Side Out" or lilting and evocative on the title track and Harper's vocals and guitar alternating between meditative, righteous, wounded, and celebratory.
28 JAN 13 JOHN C. BRUENING
Nearly two decades before Ollie Hoskins and his vocal group -- whose ranks briefly included a teenage David Ruffin -- began recording pop records on Stax in the late '60s, they had firmly established themselves as a tightly harmonized gospel group in their native Tennessee. The transition to secular music prompted a name change from the Gospel Writer Juniors to The Dixie Nightingales, and ultimately Ollie & The Nightingales -- and more importantly, an evolution from traditional gospel to a powerful brand of Memphis soul. A 19-song compilation released 10 years ago includes the group's self-titled 1968 album, combined with four rare singles.
The brassy Stax signature sound is evident from the opening bars of the upbeat "You'll Never Do Wrong," but it's always arranged to consistently serve Hoskins and his crew and never overpower them. The slower, more melancholy tracks like "You're Leaving Me" are just as well balanced, thanks to string arrangements that accentuate the poignant subject matter.
True to their gospel roots, the group is at its best when delivering churning mid-tempo devotionals like "I've Never Found a Girl," "Showered With Love" and "I'll Be Your Anything," all of which are enhanced by some combination of tight horn arrangements and shimmering organ riffs.
Throughout the late 1950s and into the '60s, the best and most authentic soul music consistently came from artists firmly rooted in gospel (see Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Sam Cooke and the like). Ollie & The Nightingales, who emerged at the later end of this period, are no exception to the rule. This collection is a snapshot of the brief moment when great music emerged at the intersection of gospel, soul and pop.
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