1973 Sussex Records (SRA 8027)
1 You Can’t Hide Love (Skip Scarborough) 3:19
2 Let Me In Your Life (Bill Withers) 3:03
3 Lovesville (Joe Thomas, Mike Stokes) 3:58
4 You’re Too Good To Be True (Joe Thomas, Mike Stokes) 3:29
5 Wild Flower (David Richardson, Douglas Edwards) 4:38
6 Magic Carpet Ride (John Kay, Rushton Moreve) 3:10
7 Who Is He And What Is He To You (Bill Withers, Stan McKenney) 11:40
8 Oh Love (Joe Thomas, Mike Stokes) 3:25
CREATIVE SOURCE IS
Recorded at GM Studios, East Detroit, MI.
Overdubs at Record Plant, Los Angeles, CA.
Arranged By – Paul Riser
Rhythm arrangments , Mike Stokes, Skip Scarborough
Vocal arrangements – Earl Thomas, Mike Stokes, Skip Scarborough
Engineers – Milan Bogdan, Phil Schier
Executive Producer – Bill Levenson
Mixed By – Don Blake, Mike Stokes
Producer – Mike Stokes
Mastered By – Bob “Loud and Clear” Dennis
Vinyl -> Pro-Ject RM-5SE turntable (with Sumiko Blue Point 2 cartridge, Speedbox power supply); Creek Audio OBH-15; M-Audio Audiophile 192 Soundcard ; Adobe Audition at 32-bit float 192khz; Click Repair light settings; individual clicks and pops taken out with Adobe Audition 3.0 – resampled (and dithered for 16-bit) using iZotope RX Advanced. Tags done with Foobar 2000 and Tag&Rename.
When I first heard this record I was knocked flat by the opening track, “You Can’t Hide Love.” I enjoyed the rest of the album with a few reservations but felt nothing quite regained that peak, and I had mixed feelings about the Bill Withers tracks. My first impressions weren’t too off base, but I’ve come to appreciate just about everything on here.
The thing about this group, at least on this record, is that Creative Source was very much a “producer’s project” and that becomes even more apparent as you pay attention. This includes the fact that the individual members don’t even get their damned names mentioned anywhere on the album. (** This post originally stated that the Barbara Lewis on this was the same as the Barbara Lewis of “Hello Stranger” and “Baby I’m Yours” fame, but as it turns out – see the comments thread – I was almost certainly mistaken. Don Wyatt and with The Fortunes and The Colts.**) The group was conceived and managed by former 5th Dimensions vocalist Ron Townsend, and it seems there was some idea about making Creative Source into a more adventurous version of that group for the new decade. What we get is a nice, solid mix of Northern Soul, funk, and pop-soul flavorings. Their second album, Migration, is probably a more solid record, but the stand out moments on this one stand out a little more.
My initial reaction to the Bill Wither covers was based on two things that made me uneasy. First, this album was put out by his label, Sussex, and it is well known that Withers barely made a dime from those classic and very lucrative records. As anyone who saw the Rodriguez doc will attest, it is also well known that label head Clarence Avant is a notorious crook, so the “convenience” of having several of his cash cow’s (Wither) compositions featured prominently here makes me wonder if Bill was even told about it before it happened, let alone got paid – and one of the Creative Source versions actually charted as a hit. Second, one of the defining characteristics of the early Bill Withers was the bare-bones, no-bullshit simplicity and directness of the execution and arrangements. His writing was emotionally complex but expressed in a very direct way. So hearing his songs arranged with sugary-sweet, lush strings (Let Me In Your Life) or an Isaac Hayes-treatment with trickles of funky harp, Clavinet, and oodles of wah-guitar (Who Is He And What Is He To You), at first made me uncomfortable. What have they done to Mr. Withers? Well I quickly got over that. Probably at about 2 minutes into the 11 minutes of “Who Is He…” It’s just too cool to resist any longer. If there is one good thing to be said for this approach, it is that they make no pretense at performing like Withers himself. The songs are rearranged and recontextualized, and regardless of how you feel about the results, they end up proving again just what a massive songwriter he really was when their essence still shines through, even under the heavy-handed treatments. “Let Me In Your Life” is still probably a crime against the original vibe created by Bill Withers, but on its own terms it works, and you have to give them credit for not going the easy route and just covering “Ain’t No Sunshine” like literally everyone else was doing in 1973.
Ditto for the odd but ambitious choice of covering Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride,” which is pretty cheesy and doesn’t really work. However it still sports a nice trippy opening and a hard, funky breakdown in the middle. “You’re Too Good To Be True” sound so much like Jerry Butler that if you dropped it into the middle of a mixtape I would actually be convinced it was in fact The Iceman. This is also what might be the most relevant criticism of Creative Source – they sort of lacked their own personality, at least on their two Sussex albums (I haven’t heard their Polydor records, oddly enough). The were an L.A. group who sometimes wanted to sound like Philly soul, sometimes like a Norman Whitfield project for Motown (Sussex was, after all, based in Detroit). The two Barbaras and Celeste Rose are horribly under-utilized on this record too. I would gladly have foregone the schmaltzy “Wildflower,” one of many songs with a male lead, for something featuring Ms. Lewis in its place. Bugs the hell out of me that we don’t get any album credits (unless my copy is missing an insert, in which case I guess I will look pretty stupid for saying this). I have no idea what session musicians played on this either although it’s fairly certain that Skip Scarborough (who worked with the Mizell Brothers, among others) graces it with his keyboard skills.
Like a ton of other groups on Sussex, Creative Source barely got any promotion or made any money (for themselves) so they were probably relieved when the label went belly-up, and they departed for greener, more financially-viable pastures. One of these days I will give those Polydor albums a try.