R&B, Blues, Soul & Stax
VOICES Notes and news on R&B, Blues, Soul & Stax releases
19 JUN 13 CHRIS SLAWECKI
You can't tell that the early 1960s were a time of such tumultuous change (in society and music) from the rock-solid, timeless sound of Lightnin' Hopkins' The Complete Prestige/Bluesville Recordings (Prestige, 1991), a seven-CD box which presents more than 100 songs that this Texas blues legend recorded for these two labels between 1960 and 1964.
There's better introduction to Hopkins' homespun Texas picking and strumming than The Complete, which includes more than 30 unaccompanied tunes, several intimate college concerts, and interview segments where he shares his earliest blues experiences and deepest blues roots.
Hopkins' trademark rough and tumble but playful sound proves essential yet elusive. Sonny Terry's harmonica and voice seem to flow as naturally as maple syrup into "Conversation Blues," a highlight of Hopkins' rapport with this blues legend. Lightnin's voice overflows with hurt and wisdom in his cautionary "Automobile Blues" (when he moans, "Your car looks so pretty baby, please let me drive sometime," you can tell he's not talking about her vehicle). "Come Back Baby" and "Thinkin' 'Bout an Old Friend" are so basic they transcend the blues form into a primal experience that's simultaneously petition, prayer and praise. You may already know "Back To New Orleans" as "Baby Please Don't Go."
If seven CDs is more blues than you can use, several individual titles comprised herein remain available including Last Night Blues with Terry (Original Blues Classics, 1992) and the live sets Hootin' The Blues (OBC, 1994) and The Swarthmore Concert (OBC, 1993).
14 JUN 13 ANNE FARNSWORTH
Rhythm and blues singer Shirley Brown scored big with her first single, 1974's "Woman To Woman," the title track from her first album which, amazingly for a debut, reached the Top 20 on the Pop charts and #1 in R&B. And Stax recently re-released Woman To Woman in vinyl format.
A big hit for the struggling Stax label, "Woman To Woman" struck a nerve with female listeners, opening with a spoken section where Brown calls a number she found in a pocket of her "old man's" pants. The single was so popular it inspired a response release by singer Barbara Mason two years later. Mason's version used Brown's original spoken introduction, but heard over the telephone as the other woman gives her side of the story. "Woman To Woman" later became a country hit for Barbara Mandrell and was also covered by Jewell in 1994 for the soundtrack to Murder Was The Case.
At the age of 14, Brown was singing in a club in Illinois when she was discovered by Blues legend Albert King. She'd been singing in church since she was nine, developing a gospel-honed voice and style similar to Aretha Franklin's. After leaving Stax, she went on to record for various labels, including Arista and Fantasy. Brown remains a popular performer on the R&B circuit, a niche artist with an enthusiastic fan base.
On ballads like "It Ain't No Fun" and "Stay With Me," Brown's church roots are on full display and her voice soars over the tight grooves of Stax's stellar studio musicians, backup singers and arrangers. "Between You And Me" burns with a funky Wurlitzer keyboard in the rhythm section.
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.
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