Ain’t No Love In This House by Lou Pride

October 30, 2013


Lou Pride, 1944-2012, deserved better from the music buying public. During the course of his five decade career, he produced a number of albums that featured his brand of smooth soul and rhythm & blues, which found limited commercial success. His final album, recorded shortly before his death, will be released October 15; under the title Ain’t No More Love In This Place.

From the opening blast of classic-style Motown horns on the title track, to the funky vocal on “I Didn’t Take Your Woman,” to his buttery smooth vocals on such tracks as “Never,” “Take It Slow,” “Love Come To Me,” and “Key To The World,” to the poignant farewell of the last track, a cover of Simply Red’s “Holding Back The Years;” it is a wonderful journey through the voice and style of a many times underappreciated artist.

It is an album that benefits from the production as they get the mix just right. It allows the instruments and vocals to each have clarity but not intrude upon each other.

Pride is a son of Chicago’s North Side and began singing in his local Baptist Church, while absorbing the local rhythm & blue scene. He spent more time on the concert stage than in the studio, which may have hindered his commercial success, but it enabled him to develop a sound and style that was among the best in the business.

Ain’t No More Love In This House is a fitting epitaph for a an artist who plied his craft for years. Hopefully it will bring him some belated notoriety.

Ray Charles Forever by Ray Charles

October 8, 2013


Every once in a while a record company has a good idea and so it was with the latest Ray Charles release. The United States Postal Service honored Ray Charles on September 23, with the release of his image on the Music Icons Forever Stamp Series. One day later Concord Records released Ray Charles Forever, a CD/DVD package.

Since his death, much of his music has been reissued and while most Ray Charles music is worth a listen, the material collected here is available elsewhere. Songs such as “A Song For You,” “Ring Of Fire.” “Till There Was You,” “Imagine” “Isn’t It Wonderful,” and his classic “America The Beautiful” provide a nice taste of his music from different periods of his career. On the other hand many of his signature albums have been re-released and are probably a better starting point for exploring his music but the songs here are a nice introduction.

The only surprise is the debut of the previously unreleased studio track, “They Can’t Take That Away From Me.” This cover of the George and Ira Gershwin composition is a treat as it finds a relaxed Charles at his near best.

The DVD is far more interesting for the Ray Charles fan. Included are live performances of “Imagine” from the 1998 Goodwill Games, “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” from Earth 1992, and “A Song For You,” recorded at the North Sea Jazz Fest, 1997. It is interesting to compare these live performances to the studio tracks contained on the CD. Also included are interviews taken from the BBC’s Live In London and Norman Seeff’s “The Session Project.” There are no startling revelations but they are interesting at least once.

The career of Ray Charles spanned just less than six decades, nearly 100 albums of different types, and over 10,000 concerts. He is remembered as an American icon who was one of the first rhythm & blues/soul performers to find massive mainstream success. Ray Charles Forever is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to his talent and music.

Another Saturday Night 45 by Same Cooke

August 29, 2012

Sam Cooke, 1931-1964, was one of the seminal music figures of the 1950s and early 1960s. He was a black artist who continually crossed-over to the mainly white pop charts. He had 29 top 40 pop hits during his all to short career. He was also one of the originators of the soul sound, which influenced the generation of artists that followed him.

He had a number of memorable hits. Songs such as “You Send Me,” “Chain Gang,” “Twisting The Night AWay,” and “I’ll Come Running Back To You” were some of the better singles of the pre-Beatles era.

“Another Saturday Night” was released during March of 1963. It topped the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Singles Chart and reached number 10 on the Pop Chart. It was another smooth performance from Cooke and will still leave you wanting more.

The Birds and The Bees 45 by Jewel Akens

August 28, 2011

Jewel Akens was born in Houston, Texas and during 1960, formed the the duo, Eddie and Jewel with Eddie Daniels.

By 1965 he was signed to the Era label as a solo single. His first release, “The Birds and The Bees,” became his only to 40 single. Released Jan. 23, 1965, it reached number three on the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE pop Singles Chart.

He had one more minor hit later that same year but that was the end of his commercial success. Still, he continues to tour and perform down to the present day.

Let me tell you about the birds and the bees, the flowers and the trees.” A memerable American single from the Beatles era.

For Once In My Life by Stevie Wonder

July 2, 2011

Stevie Wonder turned 18 years old during 1968. Since the age of 12 he had been producing hits and had become one of the most commercially successful artists for the Motown label.

Motown was known for the control of its artists and their output. Wonder, however, was beginning to establish his own identity and take control of his career. His contract with the label was coming to an end and Motown desperately wanted to sign him to a new one and so began giving him leeway in the producing and recording of his albums.

Wonder co-wrote or wrote eight of the 12 tracks on For Once In My Life, plus took production credit for the first time. Possibly more important was his initial use of a clavinet. This instrument quickly became a centerpiece of his music and would mark the beginning of his development as a noted keyboardist.

It was one of the four compositions credited to other songwriters that became the album’s title track and biggest hit. Ron Miller and Orlando Murden wrote “For Once In My Life” for the label and not specifically for Wonder. His version, however, would become the definitive one. Artists such as The Temptations and Tony Bennett would record the song in a ballad style. Wonder would change it into an exuberant, up-tempo, and soulful classic. It reached number two on the Billboard Magazine Pop Singles chart and number one of the Rhythm and Blues chart.

“I Don’t Know Why” marked the recording debut of Wonder on the clavinet. It is interesting to compare these first instrumental forays against the sophistication and increasingly complex sounds of what would shortly appear of his albums.

His own “Shoo-Be-Doo-Be-Doo-Da-Day” was a smooth mid-tempo song that looked ahead to the material of such albums as Songs In The Key Of Life. It was a Top Ten pop hit and another rhythm and blues chart topper.

A track that sometimes flies under the Wonder radar is the funky “You Met Your Match.” He co-wrote the tune and it showed that he was on the road to the rhythms he would use on his classic 1970s albums.

There is little filler on the album. The only two tracks that fall into the neutral range are covers of Bobby Hebb’s “Sunny” and Billie Holiday’s “God Bless The Child.” While they were not bad interpretations, they were not songs that fit his style and both will always be associated with their originators.

For Once In My Lifefinds a maturing Stevie Wonder progressing musically and stylistically toward becoming one of the unique stars of American music. While this album pales a bit today because of what would soon follow, it remains a nice slice of late 1960s soul.

Article first published as Music Review: Stevie Wonder – For Once In My Life on Blogcritics.

Taylored In Silk by Johnnie Taylor

May 7, 2011

Taylored In Silk by Johnnie Taylor is the second of the three initial releases of the Concord Music Group’s new reissue series, Stax Remasters. They are focusing on individual releases rather than compilation albums.

Johnnie Taylor (1934-2000) began his career during the mid-1950s as the third of three legendary singers for the gospel group, The Highway HQ’s. He replaced Lou Rawls, who had replaced Sam Cooke. His big career break occurred when he signed with the Stax Records label in 1966. He would remain with the label until it ceased operation in 1975. During his time there, he created one of the best soul and R&B discographies of the era.

Taylor was a recognized star when he went into the studio to record 1973’s Taylored In Silk. It would become one of his signature albums.

Taylor would depart from the norm at the Stax label and not record the album at their studios on McLemore Avenue in Memphis, TN. This would mean he did not use their noted house musicians as well. The majority of the album was recorded in Muscle Shoals with such musicians as keyboardist Barry Beckett, guitarist Jimmy Johnson, bassist David Hood, and drummer Roger Hawkins. The strings and horns were dubbed in at a later date. Taylor then added his smooth vocals. While the process was somewhat disjointed, it all added up to a smooth and polished album.

Taylor was able to appeal to a cross section of music fans. He placed dozens of singles on both the R&B and pop charts. “I Believe In You (You Believe In Me)” is a laid back, mid-tempo track. It combined flutes and strings with the lyrics of eternal love. “Cheaper To Keep Her” has a pulsating bass foundation and cynical lyrics, as the title would suggest.

“We’re Getting Careless With Our Love” contains an emotional and sexual vocal that translates the raw lyrics of cheating. Near the end, he slips in a clever mention of Billy Paul’s “Me and Mrs. Jones.”

He also raided the Stax vaults for a number of cover songs. Mel & Tim’s “Starting All Over Again” is a classic soul ballad with a simple but silky vocal. He turns Little Willie John’s “Talk To Me” into a full-blown, over the top classic, complete with strings, horns, and female backing singers. His interpretation of Dinah Washington’s “The Bitter Earth” has a smoky lounge feel.

There are six bonus tracks that formed the A and B sides of three of his singles issued near the same time as the album. “Hijackin’ Love”/”Love In The Streets (Ain’t Good As Love At Home),” “Standing In For Judy”/”Shackin’ Up,” and “Doing My Own Thing (Part 1)”/”Doing My Own Thing (Part 2)” are all representative of his sound at the time and makes a superior album better. The best of the three is the two-part “Doing My Own Thing,” which settles into a nice brassy blues groove.

The sound of all three releases in the series is clean and pristine, as they were remastered from the original tapes. The accompanying booklet gives a nice overview of Taylor’s life, career, and the album’s recording process.

Johnnie Taylor is a sometimes forgotten star of the 1970s and 1980s. Taylored In Silk is a superb introduction to his music and is well worth adding to your music collection.

Article first published as Music Review: Johnnie Taylor – Taylored In Silk on Blogcritics.

Ray Charles Live In Concert by Ray Charles

April 9, 2011

Ray Charles’ recording career, from the 1950s until his death in 2004, produced one of the finest catalogues in American music history, which elevated him to iconic status.

The Concord Music Group has been reissuing many of his classic albums. The latest to be chosen is his brilliant 1965 release, Ray Charles Live In Concert. Recorded at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, during September of 1964, it was originally released on vinyl with 11 tracks. It now returns as a remastered CD, with extensive new liner notes, and an additional eight tracks, seven of which were previously unreleased. My only complaint is the new material was interspersed among the original. I would have preferred the music to have been presented in the order, as originally released, which would have preserved the initial intent and flavor of the album. The new material could have been added as a second section.

As with any Ray Charles album, it all comes down to the music. Ray Charles live, in concert, was very different from in the studio. Here he is surrounded by his big band, with the Raeletts providing vocal support. It included a twelve piece brass section, plus the usual guitar, bass, and drums. The sax section included David “Fathead” Newman, Hank Crawford, and Leroy “Hog” Cooper. He provides his own expert piano and organ work.

The music from the original release is brought into the modern age thanks to 24-bit remastering. My favorite track is “Makin’ Whoopee,” which made its Ray Charles debut. It was a spur of the moment choice as the band is initially not sure what Ray is playing. This six minute version has an improvisational feel as the band settles into a song that had not been expected or rehearsed. “Hallelujah I Love You So” was a rhythm & blues hit for him back in 1956. Here he resurrects the song as a rousing gospel tune, with the saxophones providing the foundation. He just rocks his way through his own “I Got A Woman.”

While the bonus tracks may not completely fit into a unified concert concept, they are excellent in their own right. A seven minute version of his big hit, “Georgia On My Mind,” was recorded at the same time and is enhanced by some organ improvisation and flute lines which run counterpoint to the vocals. Another added treat was his cover of the old 1952 Clovers tune, “One Mint Julep.” He gives a saucy vocal, which gets the song just right. Another nice addition is his soulful vocal on “That Lucky Old Sun.”

Just about all of Ray Charles’ music from this period of his career is excellent, and these live performances fall into that category. Ray Charles Live In Concert catches him at the height of his career. An essential reissue that reserves a seat for you in the front row.

Article first published as Music Review: Ray Charles – Ray Charles Live In Concert on Blogcritics.

Soul & Inspiration 45 by The Righteous Brothers

November 8, 2010

The Righteous Brothers left Phil Spector behind and struck out on their own during early 1966.

They wisely recorded a Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil song as their first release for the Verve Label. Mann and Weil had written their previous number one smash “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling.”

The second time would prove the charm as well, as “Soul & Inspiration” would top The American singles chart for three weeks. It would also be number one in Canada and number fifteen in Britain.

They may have left Spector’s Wall Of Sound behind but they learned their leasons well as they filled in the sound with a female choir and sang together as a traditional duo more than they had in the past.

Sometimes this song is somewhat forgotten in their catalogue as most of the attention tends to focus on their Phillies Label releases which included “Unchained Melody.” “Soul & Inspiration” should not be ignored as it remains their most commercially successful release.

Genius + Soul = Jazz (Expanded Edition) by Ray Charles

April 10, 2010

The Ray Charles catalog is gradually being reissued and re-introduced to a new generation of music fans and some older ones who want to re-visit his music.

While he is best remembered as one of the premier rhythm and blues artists of his generation, he also issued a number of outstanding jazz albums during the course of his lengthy career. Genius + Soul = Jazz (Expanded Edition) has gathered four complete jazz albums onto this two disc release. His classic 1961 release Genius + Soul = Jazz, 1970’s My Kind Of Jazz, 1972’s My Kind Of Jazz II, and 1975’s My Kind Of Jazz Part Three have been digitally remastered and issued with extensive liner notes including those which were written for the original releases by Dick Katz and Quincy Jones.

The original 1961 release of Genius + Soul = Jazz is often overlooked as it was issued the year before his two monumental volumes of Modern Sounds In Country and Western Music. It was a major departure from the albums which he was producing at the time. He gathered the members of The Count Basie Orchestra to accompany him on organ and three vocals. The instrumentals have a jazz flavor while the vocal tracks fuse soul and jazz in a way that was unprecedented at the time.

The most memorable track is “One Mint Julip” which became a huge pop and R&B single hit. His pure soul vocal recorded with Count Basie’s sidemen in support is both unique and memorable. The other two vocal tracks, “I’ve Got News For You” and “I’m Gonna Move To The Outskirts Of Town,” were both R & B hits but his vocal travels in a blues direction.

The instrumental tracks are unique as he plays a Hammond organ rather than his usual piano. He blends beautifully with the brass on such tunes as “Birth Of The Blues,” “Strike Up The Band,” and “Stompin’ Room Only.”

His seventies jazz albums have rarely been in print and it is a treat to have the music available again. He surrounds himself with some of the finest jazz musicians of the day plus his own orchestra. He returns to his piano as the instrument of choice but it is his skill as the band leader which makes the music come alive. The rhythms and styles spread out in many directions; from a Latin beat to big band to even what one might call funky jazz.

My Kind Of Jazz contains “Booty Butt,” which is one of the funkier compositions of his career. It may be a little out of place here but it’s good fun. “Golden Boy” is a smooth rendition straight from Broadway while Horace Silver’s “Senor Blues” is five minutes of Latin based bliss.

Jazz Number II is Ray Charles at his instrumental best. It features an eclectic group of jazz composers. Teddy Edwards “Brazilian Skies” and “Going Home,” Thad Jones’ “Kids Are Pretty People,” and Luis Bonfa’s “Morning Of Carnival” are all stand-outs.

My Kind Of Jazz Part 3 finds him being supported by his own Ray Charles Orchestra. Included are compositions by arranger Alf Clausen, Horace Silver, and a brilliant interpretaion of Duke Ellington’s “I’m Gonna Go Fishin'” which is just a smooth ride. Interestingly the album would climb the R&B rather than the jazz charts.

Genius + Soul = Jazz (Expanded Edition) resurrects some of Ray Charles forgotten, unique, and best material. It proves that he was not only a rhythm & blues master but also a jazz genius. This reissue presents music that is an essential part of the Ray Charles legacy.

Stax: The Soul Of Hip-Hop by Various Artists

June 13, 2009

The Stax label was formed in 1957 and issued some of the finest rhythm and blues in music history. It was always the alternative to Motown’s smooth, soul sound (with apologies to Marvin Gaye). It was gritty, natural, energetic, and in your face. Artists such as Isaac Hayes, The Staple Singers, Sam and Dave, Otis Redding, Carla Thomas, The Bar-Kays, and Booker T. and The M.G.’s would all release unforgettable material that would prove influential in the development of American music.

The Fantasy label would purchase Stax in 1978 and would in turn be acquired by The Concord Music Group. They would re-activate the label in 2007.

The theory behind Stax: The Soul Of Hip-Hop is that the fourteen tracks included in this release directly influenced a number of modern day hip-hop artists. The liner notes dissect each song and make a direct connection as to their use by an artist. For example Big Daddy Kane used an instrumental loop from “Melting Pot” by Booker T. & The M.G.’s on “Another Victory” and LL Cool J’s use of the Dramatics “Get Up and Get Down” on his “Isn’t He Something.” Anyway you get the idea.

The Stax label did produce a lot of music that can be considered influential to the hip-hop style although it was a lot broader than the thesis of this release. The main point, for me at least, is that I don’t care. I did not obtain this album because of its influences but rather for the music itself.

Stax: The Soul Of Hip-Hop contains a number of tracks that rarely see the light of day and when the fourteen songs are taken together they form an excellent look into the Memphis or Southern style of soul music.

The first track sets the tone for the album. “Ghetto: Misfortune’s Wealth” by 24-Carat Black is an example of the political and sociological message that many group were creating in 1973. 24-Carat Black is an obscure group that deserved more attention at the time and its nice to have one of there better songs available again.

Isaac Hayes is represented by two
tracks. “Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic” from his classic Hot Buttered Soul album and the rarely heard “Hung Up On My Baby” from the soundtrack to the film Three Tough Guys show why he was such a cultural voice in the late sixties and early seventies.

Some other gems that are well worth hearing are “After The Laughter (Comes Tears)” by Wendy Rene, “As Long As I’ve Got You” by The Charmels, “Why Marry” by The Sweet Inspirations, and of course no album of this type would be complete without the funky styling of Rufus Thomas who is heard here with “Do The Funky Penguin (Part 1).”

I guess if you want to purchase or listen to this album for its historical significance that’s fine but for me it always comes back to the music itself. Stax: The Soul Of Hip-Hop may only provide a glimpse of what is in the label’s vast catalogue but what a wonderful taste it is.