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.