JAMES CARR: The Best Of James Carr (Kent)

Wednesday, 06 December 2017 09:57 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altJames Carr is the undoubted soul man's soul man. Little known in the mainstream, he's revered by connoisseurs – especially of the Southern persuasion. Much of that (deserved) reverence stems from his monumental and original reading of the iconic 'Dark End Of The Street'. That Dan Penn/Chips Moman song is the aural definition of Southern soul and 2017 is the 50th anniversary of Carr's Goldwax recording of the melancholic tale of illicit love. What better way to celebrate than with a retrospective of the very best recordings that James made for Quinton Claunch's Memphis imprint? Now we know that reissue specialists, Ace/Kent have made all of Carr's Goldwax recordings available already, but here, on this new 20 tracker we have the definitive overview of Carr's art. It's a perfect introduction to anyone who wants to become familiar with the singer and for those already in the know, it serves as a quick reminder of why he's so revered.

The collection begins, of course, with 'Dark End Of The Street' and it's still gripping. It's one of those very few recordings where everything seems to come together perfectly; timeless and truly universal. Carr fans, of course, will tell you that there are lots more recording in the man's repertoire just as searing – try 'These Arms Of Mine', 'Life Turned Her That Way' or 'A Man Needs A Woman' for starters.

Oddly, I think, for a Southern hero, James Carr also carved himself a niche on the Northern soul scene with tunes like 'That's What I Want To Know' and 'Freedom Train' and those, of course, are included here.

'The Best Of James Carr' CD is out now – just perfect as a soul stocking filler - and we're told that for those who like the modern way it also comes in that new fangled vinyl as a 12" LP. There's also a special 7" pressing of 'Dark End Of The Street' with 'You Got My Mind Messed Up' on something called a B-side.

The sleeve notes offer a great pen picture of Carr while the art work evokes the spirit of the 60s/early 70s... soul perfection!

(BB) 5/5


VARIOUS; The Craig Charles Funk & Show 5 (Freestyle)

Thursday, 30 November 2017 16:42 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altCraig Charles' regular soul and funk compilations have become something of a permanent feature in the UK soul calendar. Now volume 5 is with us just in time for the big party season and once again the actor/DJ serves up his usual blistering mix of (largely) indie soul and funk tunes all guaranteed to crank up the optimism factor and fill floors everywhere.

The set kicks off with The Traffic's take on Rick James' 'Superfreak' (loping bass line and crazy brass) and ends with Daytoner's funky, shuffling 'I Get By'. In between there's music from people like Tamika Charles, Australia's best - Kylie Auldist, Lack Of Afro and dear old Charles Bradley – so sadly taken from us in September this year. The Bradley inclusion is the searing 'Change For The World', proper old school soul – passionate and challenging. Less challenging, maybe, yet still passionate and old school is Nicole Willis' 'Everybody Do The Watusi'. Ms Willis, like a number of her contemporaries, now works out of Europe where old school values are still respected and nurtured and even if you can't actually do the Watusi, you won't be able to resist the temptation to at least tap those feet. The Nightshifters' 'Show Me What You Got', though a little lighter, is another clarion call to the floor. Mellower is veteran Hammond meister Brian Auger's look at Marvin's 'Inner City Blues'. The tune has been covered dozens of times, of course, but it never ceases to enthral and here Auger's jazzy B3 offers a fresh perspective on the familiar.

Different again is 'Nawa' from Ginger Johnson and his African Messengers. You can guess, I guess, from the billing that here we go deep into Afrobeat territory and nowt wrong with that – it sits perfectly within the confines of soul n' funk... and that's always one of the attractions of CC's compilations – you always get what is says on the proverbial tin (i.e. lashings of funk and soul) but you're always guaranteed something a little less expected to get you out of that comfort zone.... and out on the floor!

Watch out for our upcoming Craig Charles interview.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Thursday, 30 November 2017 16:51


LOU RAWLS: 'All Things In Time' (Elemental)

Wednesday, 29 November 2017 14:45 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF


With his rich, resonant tone, Lou Rawls possessed one of the most immediately recognisable voices in soul and R&B music. Reared on a diet of church music in his native Chicago, Rawls sang in several noteworthy gospel groups in the 1950s, including the Highway QCs, where he replaced Sam Cooke, before embarking on a solo career. He enjoyed a lot of success at Capitol Records  in the mid-1960s - scoring a chart-topping R&B single in the shape of 'Love Is A Hurtin' Thing' - but when he joined the roster at Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff's Philadelphia International label in 1976, he was 41-years-old and perceived by many as a singer whose career was on the wane. But it was this album, 'All Things In Time,' now reissued in a limited edition replica gatefold mini-LP artwork, that kick-started his career renaissance.

The first singer on P.I.R. to have enjoyed substantial success prior to joining Gamble & Huff's label, Rawls got off to a flying start with 'All Things In Time,' which is not only one of the singer's best ever albums but also undoubtedly represented a major musical milestone for its producers and record company. Indeed, the combination of Rawls' smoky baritone with Gamble & Huff's silky Philly sound was a musical marriage made in soul heaven. As well as classy arrangements (many by the redoubtable Bobby Martin), the set was also distinguished by strong, top quality  material. The icing on the cake, though, was Rawls' spectacular vocals. He had a sound that oozed class and charisma.

'You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine' is the killer cut; a chugging disco groove that explodes into life with an anthemic chorus. It's no surprise that the song topped the US R&B charts in June 1976. Other highlights on the album  include a great take on the late Bunny Sigler's disco groove, 'From Now On,' plus 'Groovy People' and 'This Song Will Last Forever.' The bluesy swinger, 'You're The One,' is also a standout while Rawls shows his skill as a storytelling balladeer on 'Time' and 'Need You Forever,' the latter combining blues-inflected guitar with slick horns and strings. Rawls also serves up a mesmeric rendition of Anthony Newley and Lesley Bricusse's 'Pure Imagination,' a song first heard in the movie based on Roald's Dahl's children's book, Willie Wonka & The Chocolate Factory. Lou Rawls recorded six more albums for P.I.R. but as good as they were, they never quite reached the heights of 'All Things In Time,' which 41 years later, has lost none of its allure and potency. Timeless.

(CW) 4/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 29 November 2017 14:55


MINNIE RIPERTON: 'Perfect Angel - Deluxe' (Virgin/UMC)

Saturday, 25 November 2017 10:46 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF


                     altA prodigious talent who died too soon and too young, Minnie Riperton was a singer unlike any other. Renowned for her sweetly soulful voice with its five-octave range and ability to hit glass-shattering high notes,  Chicago-born Riperton - the youngest of eight children - studied opera before joining a vocal group called The Gems in the mid-1960s, who did background sessions for Chess Records. They even recorded a few sides together before Riperton went solo and cut a 45 as Andrea Davis for Chess. She then joined Chess's psych-soul group, Rotary Connection, between 1967 and 1971 and then released her solo LP, 'Come To My Garden,' in 1971 for GRT. After the album - helmed by noted Chicago arranger/composer/pianist Charles Stepney, which is now considered a cult classic - bombed, she put music on the back burner and concentrated on bringing up her two children. Fortunately, though, Epic Records heard one of her demos and were prompted to sign her in 1974. Her first choice as producer was Stevie Wonder, who agreed to record her, though because of his Motown contract was credited as  El Toro Negro, but he also composed two songs for the album - the title track and 'Take A Little Trip.'  

It's 43 years since 'Perfect Angel' was first released. It proved to be Minnie Riperton's most popular album - topping the US R&B albums chart - thanks mainly to the success of the single, 'Lovin' You,'  a gentle lullaby where Riperton hit some occasional stratospheric high notes to the accompaniment of twittering birdsong. The album is now owned by Universal and has just been remastered for this deluxe reissue to commemorate what would have been Minnie Riperton's 70th birthday.  The original album is expanded to a double set that includes an alternative version of the LP (called 'A More Perfect Angel') compiled from different, previously unheard takes. Offering longer renditions and sometimes, radically different versions from those on the original LP,  it proves to be a fascinating listen.

Without doubt, the most radical alternate version is of Riperton's signature song, 'Lovin' You.' The released version was minimalistic compared with this take one (dubbed 'Band Version'), which has a Latin-style rimshot-backbeat and prominent guitar - and, crucially, an absence of birdsong noises, which makes it less twee than the original. The Stevie Wonder-penned 'Take A Little Trip' is also remarkable because it is reconfigured into a duet with its writer on lead vocals on the chorus sections while Riperton handles the verses. There's also some studio chatter between Wonder and Riperton on the intro segment to a stripped-back acoustic version of 'Seeing You This Way.'

The country-style ballad 'It's So Nice (To See Old Friends)' is double the length in its alternate form, running to almost nine minutes and includes a tasteful lap steel guitar solo from Sneaky Pete Kleinow (whose contribution was uncredited on the original album). One of the rockier tunes on the album, 'Reasons,' is also longer, with Riperton trading high notes with Marlo Henderson's guitar before the track falls away to reveal Reggie McBride's lone bass. There's also a much longer version of the title song with a disco bass and drums breakdown near the end.

Appended to this alternate album is an unused outtake from 'Perfect Angel,' a jaunty track called 'Don't Let Anyone Bring Me Down,' with Hubert Laws on flute and some weird synth notes at the end. As Riperton fans will know, the song was straightened out and re-recorded on the singer's next LP, 1975's 'Adventures In Paradise.'

Sadly, we'll never see or hear the likes of Minnie Riperton again. She was a unique singer whose music, as 'Perfect Angel' reveals with its amalgam of rock, country , funk, and R&B flavours, often defied categorisation. 'Perfect Angel' may well be perfect as it is but the inclusion of an alternate version of the album offers us the chance to see its songs in a new light.

(CW) 4/5

Last Updated on Saturday, 02 December 2017 14:51


WILSON PICKETT: 'The Complete Atlantic Albums Collection' (Atlantic/Rhino)

Friday, 24 November 2017 12:42 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                altIf there's one song that defines the driving, energetic style of this raspy-voiced Alabama soul singer, it's 'In The Midnight Hour,' which topped the US R&B charts in 1965. But as this magnificent 10-CD box set reveals, there was so much more to the man they dubbed 'Wicked' Pickett than his anthemic signature song.  

Though gospel-reared Pickett didn't start his recording career at Atlantic - he scored three charting R&B singles for Harold Logan and Lloyd Price's Double-L  Big Apple indie label in the early '60s - it was where his musical vocation truly took flight, allowing him to reach a wider audience and register on the radar of the mainstream public. His tenure with the label lasted seven years (from 1965 to 1972), and during that fertile time he racked up almost fifty charting singles in the USA and released ten albums, which can all be found presented in mini-replica LP sleeves in this clam shell-style box set.

Given that 'In The Midnight Hour' was Pickett's debut smash for Atlantic, it was no surprise that his inaugural album for the label had the same title. Though just 24 at the time, in terms of his searing vocal performances and magnetic stage presence, he seemed much older than his years. That was probably due to the experience he gained from his apprenticeship in the Detroit R&B band, The Falcons. Other highlights of his Atlantic debut album, which, significantly, was recorded at Stax studios in Memphis,  included the hits 'Don't Fight It' and 'I Found A Love.'

Pickett's next album, 1966's 'The Exciting Wilson Pickett' - featuring the classic smash hits '634-5789 (Soulsville USA)' and 'Land Of 1,000 Dances' - was recorded at Fame studios in Alabama and did better than his debut. In 1967, the singer released two albums- 'The Wicked Pickett,' another hit album packed with gems (among them the perennial favourite, 'Mustang Sally,' and 'The Sound Of Wilson Pickett,' which included  the chart-topping single, 'Funky Broadway.' He covered four Bobby Womack songs on 'I'm In Love,' released in 1968, whose gentle title cut was a Top 5 US R&B hit and demonstrated that Pickett was more than a soul shouter and could play the role of accomplished balladeer as well.

His second album of 1968, 'Midnight Mover,' also had considerable input from Pickett's songwriting buddy, Womack, again, and they wrote the LP's strutting title track together. The Womack-co-penned 'I Found A True Love' is also another high point on the LP with its raucous energy and Pickett's blood-curdling screams.  

Up to this point, all of Wilson Pickett's Atlantic LPs had nestled comfortably in the Top 10 of the US R&B albums but 1969's 'Hey Jude,' could only make #15. Its title song was a mellow, soul-infused cover of The  Beatles' epic 1968 ballad, complete with the 'Na-Na-Na' sing-along chorus at the end, with Pickett wailing over the top like a banshee. The growing influence of rock can be felt on an energised cover of Steppenwolf's counterculture anthem, 'Born To Be Wild,' which expressed a sentiment that the volatile Pickett could no doubt relate to. 1970's 'Right On' LP also found Pickett tackling rock (Hendrix's 'Hey Joe') and pop (the Archies' 'Sugar Sugar'), which some commentators perceived as a sign that the singer was losing his way.

That was probably a fair assessment but just when Wilson Pickett's career seemed to be losing momentum and direction, he unleashed a masterpiece in the shape of 'In Philadelphia,' recorded under the aegis of rising production duo, Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff, who had helmed hits for Jerry Butler in the late-'60s and would go on to found Philadelphia International Records in 1972. In terms of its production and lush orchestral arrangements, 'In Philadelphia' was eminently more sophisticated than his previous LPs. Yielding the memorable hits 'Engine No. 9' and the searing ballad, 'Don't Let The Green Grass Fool You,' it proved to be one of Pickett's most cohesive artistic statements and still sounds potent today.  

The final album in the collection is 1972's 'Don't Knock My Love,' which mopped up earlier singles (1971's R&B chart-topping title cut and Top 10 smash, 'Call My Name, I'll Be There') and also included an R&B reconfiguration of British blues-rock group Free's 'Fire & Water.'

After this, Wilson Pickett made a move to RCA in 1973, but it signalled the start of an artistic decline from which he never truly recovered - and when the disco era came along, it put paid to any chances of a full-blown career renaissance. This box set, though, captures Wilson Pickett during a fertile 7-year spell when he was at the apex of his powers. Though the absence of a liner note commentary and non-album bonus material, is a tad disappointing, it doesn't detract from the importance of this set, which contains some of the most powerful and committed old school soul performances ever committed to tape. Retailing at around 25 quid, 'The Complete Atlantic Albums Collection' is an absolute steal. Truly wicked.

(CW)  4/5

Last Updated on Friday, 24 November 2017 15:01


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