Labelle – Nightbirds (1974)

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LaBelle – Nightbirds
Released 1974
Epic (KE 33075)

1. “Lady Marmalade” (Bob Crewe, Kenny Nolan) – 3:56
2. “Somebody Somewhere” (Nona Hendryx) – 3:25
3. “Are You Lonely?” (Nona Hendryx) – 3:12
4. “It Took a Long Time” (Raymond Bloodworth, L. Brown, Bob Crewe) – 4:03
5. “Don’t Bring Me Down” (Allen Toussaint) – 2:48
6. “What Can I Do for You?” (Patti LaBelle, Hendryx, Sarah Dash, Edward Batts, James R. Budd Ellison) – 4:02
7. “Nightbird” (Hendryx) – 3:09
8. “Space Children” (Hendryx) – 3:02
9. “All Girl Band” (Allen Toussaint) – 3:50
10. “You Turn Me On” (Hendryx) – 4:37

Featuring – Meters, The
Guitar – Rev Batts, Leo Nocentelli
Organ – Arthur Neville*
Bass – George Porter, Jr.
Piano – Bud Ellison* (tracks: 4, 5, 9)
Producer [Executive] – Vicki WickhamProducer, Arranged By, Keyboards, Percussion, Guitar – Allen Toussaint
Alto & soprano saxophone,clarinet – Earl Turbinton
Alto axophone – Clarence Ford
Baritone, saxophone – Carl Blonin
Tenor saxophone, Flute – Alvin Thomas , Lon Price
Trombone – Lester Caliste
Trumpet – Clyde Kerr Jr. , Steve Howard

Recorded At Sea-Saint Studios, New Orleans

Engineer – Ken Laxton
Produced by Allen Toussaint

I think everyone on the planet knows the song “Lady Marmalade” unless they’ve been living under the proverbial rock. Actually I think even them, along with some basement dwellers, probably know this song and can even sing all the words for you. But much lesser known is the album that it came off. The first time I put this on my turntable, I didn’t bother to look at the credits, but by the second or third song I was thinking — damn the arrangements on this sure do sound like Allen Toussaint… And lo and behold, they are! In fact it is a strike against my musical credibility that I did not already know that he produced one of the biggest #1 funk / soul / proto-disco hits of the first half of the 1970s, and Labelle’s biggest album. His trademark keyboard and piano work is all over this album, as is his characteristically New Orleans brass sensibility. Hell, this album even has The Meters on it! By `74, Toussaint was producing them along with Dr.John, and this record has plenty of sweaty southern soul stank on it. The first six cuts on this are all fantastic, with a heavy vibe of Stax and Muscle Shoals but filtered through Mr. Toussaint’s bayou universe. A particular favorite of mine is the mellow Philadelphia soul of “It Took a Long Time,” just gorgeous, bittersweetly tender soul about finally meeting the “right” person. The tune makes great use of one of Labelle’s biggest strengths – the backing vocal harmonies of Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash singing a different set of complementary lyrics. Although it is the least funky of the bunch, it’s possible this song is my favorite track here – for me, it’s a perfect amalgamation of soul and pop music where everything about it works.

The album does have a few clunkers on it, but even those are enjoyable due to the great vocal and production work. Basically the first side of the original LP is just much stronger than the second half, where the songwriting just doesn’t quite make the cut. Opening up with the very strong “What Can I Do For You?”, which was their other hit tune off this record, the record kind of loses steam after that. Nona Hendryx is more than deserving of my respect and admiration but I’m just not too crazy about the title cut ‘Nightbirds’, penned by her, which incidentally seems to have stolen some of its melody from Neil Young’s “Old Man.” The tune “Space Children” is just plain silly, but I can’t help but like it in spite of myself mostly due to the way Patti sings “spaaaay-e-ahyy-e-ace childreh-heh-hehn” in a couple places. The lyrics are pretty disposable – they might be a critique of drug use, or of hippies, which would ordinarily score some points with me, but they just aren’t very good. But not as bad as Toussaint’s “All Girl Band”, which contains completely ridiculous lines like, “And there was Mary / Quit her job at they dairy / Took up the name Blackberry”…. Is this so bad it’s good? No, it’s just bad. Toussaint had some great work under his own name but he was a much better producer-arranger-musician than he was a songwriter (his ‘Don’t Bring Me Down’ fares better but still suffers from dumb lyrics and a cheesy hook). But not everybody can “do it all” — Donny Hathaway he is not…

The closing cut, “You Turn Me On,” is a slow soul burner that grows increasingly erotic as it goes on (“I cum like the pouring rain / Each time you call my name / It’s good what you’re doin’, what you’re doin’…”). This song is really, really good and essentially makes up for the mediocrity of the two (or three) songs in front of it. I don’t believe this blog features too many records than went Platinum. Even with its flaws, this one deserves the kudos.

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Labelle – Nightbirds (1974) in 320kbs em pee twee

Labelle – Nightbirds (1974)in FLAC LOSSLESS AUDIO

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Syl Johnson – Is It Because I'm Black? 1969-71 (2006)

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Syl Johnson – Is It Because I’m Black, 1969-1971 (2006)

I have had some requests for a repost of this record since the old link appears to be dead. The songs that make up the original album that gives this disc its title are just excellent. (Unfortunately packaged in a very confusing way and with a jumble of songs of dubious origins in terms of source tapes.. see original post below). The record opens with “Right On Sister” which owes a heavy debt to the Isley Brothers and James Brown, a nice long jam that references The Funky Chicken so you know it must be good. The next song is the bomb, though – “Is It Because I’m Black?”. Unfortunately some overpaid pundits (see reference to AMG in the original post, below) have been dismissive of Syl Johnson and insinuated that this record was an attempt to be contemporary with people like Marvin Gaye by incorporating social critique in his music. Without dissing Marvin Gaye at all, I have to say this is a ridiculous statement. “Is It Because I’m Black?” is a pretty damn courageous song and much more in the mold of “deep soul” than Motown, a slow southern burner laden with blues. When they first hit that minor-seventh right around 1 minute and 25 seconds, it just makes my backbone tingle. The lyrics tackling racial politics in the US are far more direct and confrontational than anything coming from most mainstream soul artists, with observations guaranteed to make white folks uncomfortable, today just as much as in 1970. The album has a fair share of cover tunes (Walk A Mile In My Shoes and Black Balloons both fit nicely thematically, Get Ready and especially Come Together.. not so much). But the real treasures for me are these two originals – the title track and “Concrete Reservation”, yet more biting, acid social critique but also a seriously huge song.

Near the end of this disc there is a weird remake of “Is It Because I’m Black” that references Wu Tang Clan, KRS-One, and Michael Jackson, followed late with a line of “Gimme My Money… I want to get paid.” !!. Basically he is castigating the people who famously sampled him and presumably neglected to pay his royalties. It’s kind of funny and sad at the same time, like the liner notes described below.

A classic album in a dubious reissue from an artist who never got his due and seemingly won’t be getting it anytime soon…

(original post…)
So the first 8 tracks of this CD make up what is a stone-soul classic of an album, a lost classic of Chicago soul at that. It really is nothing short of amazing, so forget about Richie Uberbooger’s characterization of “minor soul singer” (edit: I’ve deleted that review that was in the original post, because AMG is staffed with idiots..) Originally released in 1970, this album is long overdue for a deeper critical assessment. It should have made Syl Johnson into a household name. Unfortunately this reissue, put out by the Twilight Label (which, I think, is Syl Johnson’s own) presents the music well enough, but falls short of doing it justice. The “liner notes” tell us nothing about this landmark album, such as who plays on it or where it was recorded. For some odd reason the songs ‘Kiss By Kiss’ and ‘Get Ready’ sound like they were sourced from Mp3s Syl found on the internets (not here, I promise!), or was just mangled by Sonic Solutions No-Noise for No-Good reason, but are sandwiched between ‘Black Balloons’ and ‘Talk bout Freedom’ which sound great. No idea what is going on here but probably somebody dropped a flaming roach on of the master reels or something along those lines. The CD also contains no information whatsoever on the TEN (that’s right, TEN) extra tracks appended to the album, which seem to have been recorded at various times and restored from even less-than-stellar sources that the two mentioned above, probably at least a few from worn-out cassettes. The song “Ms. Fine Brown Frame” appears to be the song from an album in 1982, although there is no info here to prove it… What we DO get in the insert is a rambling account of how Johnson has been cheated out of his royalties much like his grandfather was cheated out of his land. Which is all good and well and no doubt true, but he could have had somebody proofread the thing first — It’s poorly written and filled with misspellings and typos. In fact its kind of a disgrace, detracting from the seriousness and high quality of writing of the title song, which has been covered by more people than I can shake my stick at. As much as I’d like to give him my money rather than some label that’s ripping him off, this is a sub-par package for what deserves a memorial edition release.

From what I can tell, Willie Mitchell and the gang at Hi Records had a huge hand in some of all this. There are no specific credits besides what is listed in the image above. Songs from his first album (“Dresses Too Short”) are also thrown on here.. All in all, this CD should have been a celebration, instead it’s a mess. In fact, the liner notes almost make me think that old Syl (at 70 years now) may be a bit drug-addled or absent-minded or in need of some cash or all of the above, because the whole thing is a pretty shoddy product. I’m glad I picked it up, because the music is incredible when the audio fidelity lets it shine through, but I’ll continue my search for the original LP or the old Charly pressing, which usually have pretty amazing mastering in spite of their no-frills presentation.

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Syl Johnson – Is It Because I’m Black? 1969-71 (2006) in 320kbs em pee tree

Syl Johnson – Is It Because I’m Black? 1969-71 (2006) in FLAC LOSSLESS AUDIO

Jerry Butler – The Iceman Cometh / Ice On Ice (1969)

1. Hey, Western Union Man
2. Can’t Forget About You, Baby
3. Only the Strong Survive
4. How Can I Get in Touch with You
5. Just Because I Really Love You
6. Lost
7. Never Give You Up
8. Are You Happy
9. (Strange) I Still Love You
10. Go Away — Find Yourself
11. I Stop by Heaven

Reflections on the Romantic Darwinism of Jerry Butler
By Flabbergast

Tomorrow is “Dia dos Namorados” where I live, a day for lovers, Brazilian Valentine´s day. As a person with each foot on a different continent this means I have to suffer through this godforsaken holiday twice in one year. Fuck.

I’ve been told that you don’t get over a heartbreak until you meet someone new, someone special who comes into your life and on and on, that you don’t forget one love until you find new love. Alright, cool, that’s all good and well but my question is — What am I supposed to do in the meantime? My solution has been: listen to tons of classic soul music. And play it loud. And make a lot of it Jerry Butler.

So I am dedicating this post to all the other lonely people, and those lover’s we can’t seem to get over.

These two albums hail from the historic pairing of Chicago soul doyen Jerry Butler and Philadelphia writing and production team Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. Had they continued this partnership I think they would have taken over the world, put an end to world famine, and brought down the Berlin Wall long before Ronald Reagan could take credit for it. “The Iceman Cometh” in particular is Jerry Butler’s finest hour, at his emotive best.

The ‘Collector’ Choice’ label reissue of these two albums is a mixed blessing. It’s criminal to think that they were ever out of circulation (they were packaged together for another collection called “The Philadelphia Sessions”, which I haven’t heard), but these albums deserve better in the way of mastering and presentation. There is however a decent set of liner notes based largely on recent interviews with the man himself that make me like the guy even more, in spite of the fact that he still won’t respond to my emails about *this album*… The sound is a mixed bag, and it’s hard to say why since all the songs were recorded around the same period in the same two studios. But a number of the songs were released as singles a year or so before they appeared on these long-players, so consistency becomes too confused for me to form an opinion about. The fact that “Ice on Ice” sounds MUCH more crisp and present makes me think they may have lost the master tapes for ‘The Iceman Cometh’, which would truly be criminal….

“Hey Western Union Man” is a nice, smart, upbeat number to get things moving. The attentive will notice its mixed in mono, as well. It’s clever and great and a lot of you have probably heard it at least once in your life. But things start really clicking for me in the confessional take of internal obsession and external denial that is “Can’t Forget About You, Baby”, which is just pure genius. A midtempo stride with beautiful, straightforward lyrics, kick drum and high hat intro with a short snap of snare drum, you know that Motown and Stax are feeling the heat from these guys after ten seconds of this magic. It basically tells my story for me. It probably tells yours, or will someday. Butler’s voice soars sweet one moment, turns a blue note the next ….. changed my life, completeleeeeeeeeeeeeeey. It all comes to a subtle climax with, “I’ve tried to fool everybody else…. ain’t no way to ….. fool myseeeelf..” Ah hells yeah. I feel like I am giving away the end of a good movie. It’s just too perfect of an arrangement. I just spoiled it for you, unless you started the song sample below before reading this.

This song gives way to another one, even more classic and eternal, treating the admixture of vulnerability and perseverance, of the contradictions of masculinity in the twentieth century, that make up Jerry Butler’s romantic darwinism. “Only The Strong Survive,” told from the position of a mother giving advice to her heartbroken son, has enough nuance to fill a thousand pages of analysis and enough simplicity to make all of that utterly unnecessary. What does it mean to “be a man” and “take a stand”? The emotional survival of the species is at stake, but am I evolved enough to really dig it?

The best thing about great soul music is that you can play it when you feel down and it makes you feel good. The other best thing about great soul music is that you can play it when you feel good and it makes you feel even better.

At this point I most draw your attention to the unbelievably ingenious production of Gamble & Huff on this record. To that end, I have drawn up a sophisticated diagram of the stereo field as you are listening to the song “Only the Strong Survive.” Please feel free to print this out and tape it to your wall while listening back to the song.

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From here out, every song will have slight variations on this, with the bass guitar moving mostly to the center of the stereo field (but the drums staying almost exclusively in the left channel throughout). It’s a mixing formula that works extremely well for these songs. Like baking a cake. A solid reliable base made with wholesome ingredients found in any kitchen (bass, guitar, drums), then topped with confectionary goodness (vibraphone, strings, horns), the icing, and of course a paraffin miniature of Jerry Butler standing on top of it all. Piano and organ, missing from “Only The Strong Survive”, are also present on a whole lot of it, usually piano in the left channel and organ in the right. This is all a very no-frills approach to a good stereo mix that foregrounds the SONG and not the arrangement itself, but if you are attentive to such things you will find yourself in aural bliss for the next hour.

“How Can I Get In Touch With You”
This song would have helped me out in a lot of situations where I was too timid to ask a girl for her phone number. Provided that I could break into song like Jerry Butler while asking her, everything would have turned out okay. Since that’s not the case I will have to resign myself to the timidity and loneliness. Still, I can revel in Jerry’s confidence. That is until he gets to “If you already have a lover… just let me be your friend.” aw c’mon Jerry, give me a break, do you really expect me to believe this? I expected better of you. After the last three songs you let loose with this hypocritical malandragem, macho double-standard bullshit disguised as sensitivity. Why, I’d sock you in the jaw, if I wasn’t so afraid of confrontation and all that.

“Just Because I Really Love You.” Love can make us into emotional masochists. Or perhaps emotional masochism leads us to love the wrong people. Or both. Or neither.

“Lost.” Another anthem, opens with blasts of trumpets heralding the arrival of an angel that is Jerry Butler’s creative genius. It’s enough to give me hope. Hope that three minutes later, there will be another great song.

These two albums are populated with classic songs that have been covered by other artists (Elvis, Aretha Franklin, Dusty Springfield) but my favorite of these is by far “Never Gonna Give You Up”, which was given the Isaac Hayes Treatment on Black Moses. You can totally see what Isaac, with his arranger’s ear, was drawn to in this song. Slow but not dragging, that kick-drum-bass-note cardiac pulse propelled by the movement of melody and its judicious use of vibraphone and a Hammond organ just barely tucked away in the right corner of your awareness. Another narrative that makes you ask yourself if the protagonist is faithfully dedicated, hopelessly obsessed, or immersed in masochistic self-punishment. Not that that I would know anything about that.

The next song asks the profoundly basic question of “Are You Happy?” , a reflective epiphany prompted by a chance remark from a waitress at a diner. The arrangement and the lyrics are pure poetry. I’ll take the liberty of dedicating this one to all those sustaining themselves on the superficial, using their outward beauty to help them avoid looking inward. Listen closely to this song and you too can contribute to the emotional evolution of the species.

Strange, I Still Love You. Damn, these guys were seemingly incapable of writing a bad song. And every intro to every tune is just perfection, perfection.

Go Ahead, Find Yourself. For the one who doesn’t know what she wants. But it probably isn’t you. But still you would welcome her back with open arms. Perhaps. The last line hints that maybe the protagonist is wising up after all.

I Stop By Heaven. Jesus himself would weep at this one. If you happen to be celebrating these Valentine-type holidays you could do worse than just sing this one for your partner. Or call up Casey Kasem and dedicate to her or him. Played as a waltz, I could imagine Willie Nelson covering this and making me weep even more with it.

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12. Moody Woman
13. Brand New Me
14. Been a Long Time
15. Close to You Love
16. Since I Lost You Lady
17. What’s the Use of Breaking Up?
18. When You’re Alone
19. I Forgot to Remember
20. Got to See If I Can’t Get Mommy (To Come Back Home)
21. Don’t Let Love Hang You Up
22. Walking Around in Teardrops

Okay, the opening number, “Moody Woman”, tells you right away that this album is just not as strong as “The Iceman Cometh.” I don’t know, a lot of people like this song, but its too Tom Jones for me. The album treads a lot of the same ground as its predecessor, which is obviously not a bad thing. But after the heights of inspiration of their first record, it’s kind of natural that their second work together would have trouble keeping up the momentum. I don’t want to prejudice anybody against it, because it’s great in its own right. But like any drug, if you are coming off the high of “The Iceman Cometh” you may just keep on enjoying yourself with “Ice On Ice” following it immediately afterward, or you may find yourself sobering up a bit. But there is a lot of electric sitar (Danelectro??) on this one, for whatever reason, so maybe it’s time to light a joss stick and roll one for the road and forget about reading the rest of this post. There are real gems here like “Brand New Me”, “Close To You Love”, and “Walking Around on Teardrops.” And also some moves in more heavy funk directions like “Been Too Long” and “I Forgot To Remember” (not to be confused with “I Forgot to Remember To Forget”), and a frantic gospel boogie in “Don’t Love Hang You Up” that will leave you praying… for more Jerry Butler. And once again, the production on this album is always tantalizing and flawless, and for whatever reason much fuller and “present” in its mastering on this CD two-in-one collection than “The Iceman Cometh” is. But even though “The Iceman Cometh” was pieced together from different sessions and songs released separately as singles, it hangs together much more as a cohesive piece of art. It plays with the quality of having an hour-long conversation with a friend, probably a friend wiser than yourself, about the trials and tribulations of love and romance. “Ice on Ice” is a healthy dose of soul music but it simply can’t match it, in my ears anyway.

Both albums released on Mercury Records, 1969.

Happy “Dia dos Namorados,” you bastards.

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Nina Simone – Nina Simone Sings the Blues (1967) Japanese K2 remastering

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As a rule I avoid weddings and funerals. They both represent transitional stages for which I’m not ready, and – if I had my way – would put off indefinitely. However I’ve often sat around thinking about what music I would like to have playing at both of them, should I be so unfortunate as to have them occur. In particular, *who* would play, since of course it would need to be live music. Having ruled out Madonna and Roberto Carlos as outside of my budget, I content myself with fantasies of being serenaded from beyond the grave. Disembodied spirits are relatively inexpensive. Sure, obtaining the necessary components for the blood sacrifice to get them to show up on time can be a lot of work, but think of all the money you will save on lodging and air transportation. Having established at least this much, I can move on to selecting which resident of the afterlife will perform at my wedding/funeral. Now is when it gets really tricky, because a lot depends on who I am marrying and/or the manner of my demise. Isaac Hayes, for example, would seem an ideal choice but I’m not sure I could live up to the turned-on expectations he would no doubt incur in my bride. She might even run off with him, across the great divide. And Black Moses singing at my funeral would be just, well, kind of weird. Then there are the artists whose palettes are truly universal. John Coltrane would work perfectly at either of these life ceremonies, for example. The list of these candidates is few in number, but among them is definitely my High Priestess, Nina Simone.

Nina could change from Broadway show tunes, to gospel, to blues, to soul and funk without making a big deal about it, without a lot of stylistic pomp to say “hey, look at me, I am going to sing some blues for you now.” Everything she did was done with conviction. It didn’t surprise me to learn recently that Nina suffered from some variety of bipolar disorder, what used to be called manic-depression. The electrically-charged highs and lows of her emotional range and vocal register were one and the same. Whether or not she is coyly telling you how fun it is to be kissed in the dark, or asking for more sugar in her bowl, you know better than to second-guess her sincerity. Whether she is singing Gershwin, or a twelve-bar blues arrangement, or the scandalously secular gospel-cry of “Real Real,” she is never anything less than completely present, in the moment, at the piano, on the microphone, transforming a studio into a dimly-lit smoke-hazed jazz club or a back-country house party. The empress between the pillars of light and dark, her suffering is also her wisdom, and you should thank the universe for being lucky enough to have HEARD her in your short lifetime.

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This album was the first long-player for Nina’s tenure with RCA/Victor after leaving the Philips label. If the studio staff had anything to do with assembling the backing band for this one –and I believe they did, as Rudy Stevenson is the only musician here that had been regularly playing with her, if I’m not mistaken — well, then they deserve some mighty thanks. Bernard Purdie. Bernard Purdie! Bernard PURDIE!! The man. ‘Pretty’ Purdie once again shows his ability to play to the song, hanging back in the mix. And one of my favorite under-rated guitarists, Eric Gale, was also on the sessions. There is also a collaboration with Langston Hughes on the socially-topical “Backlash Blues.”

This record isn’t exactly obscure, but if you are thinking, ‘Meh, I’ve already heard this one,” then think again. This is a Japanese pressing made using the proprietary K2 technology developed by JVC to avoid digital artifacts in the analog conversion and reduce jitter — meticulous care is taken at every step of the mastering and duplication process, held to very exacting standards. If all that doesn’t mean anything to you, just know this: the Japanese are obsessively and famously crazy about good audiophile-quality CD pressings, and have by and large not succumbed to the “loudness wars” that have plagued CD remasters in ‘The Occident’ wherein all dynamics are made ruler-flat so that everything will sound “good” (read: the same) on your Mp3 player or in your car. I’ve heard several CDs of this material and this one is by far the most sonically stunning.

There are few things quite as annoying to me than having the same music endlessly repackaged. This goes for many of the “new” high-definition formats being shoved down consumer’s throats lately (with little knowledge at the consumption end about the realities of any actual differences), but in fact it is part of a game the music business has played for at least a half century: how to milk the most revenue out of the same piece of recorded music. In the 1990s this took the form of CD reissues that threw together a bunch of material by an artist to give you the impression that you were getting something you didn’t already have, perhaps something previously unreleased. Such was the case with a European RCA/Novus collection of Nina Simone called simply “The Blues,” which has all the tracks on “Sings The Blues” with an additional seven songs. If I had been paying closer attention when I bought it impulsively, I might have been more wary of the fact that the first half was even in the same running order as “Sings The Blues,” but I was hell-bent on getting my hands on some kind of rarities, unreleased outtakes or live recordings or some such. In fact, the CD is just a repackaging of this album with some extra material thrown in. (To be fair, perhaps the original “Sings The Blues” was not available on CD at that time, but the packaging is ambiguous to put it mildly, and this title should probably have been deleted after proper reissues saw the light of day..) There is also a recent 2006 remaster that includes two bonus tracks. As a favor (if not quite a guide) to the perplexed, I am going to compile this material into another separate post, but for now let’s just enjoy Nina Simone Sings The Blues as it was meant to be enjoyed. The booklet for the 2006 pressing, which contains both original and new liner notes, is included just for kicks here.

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1. “Do I Move You” (Simone) – 2:46
2. “Day and Night” (Stevenson) – 2:35
3. “In the Dark” (Green) – 2:57
4. “Real Real” (Simone) – 2:21
5. “My Man’s Gone Now” (Gershwin, Heyward) – 4:16
6. “Backlash Blues” (Hughes, Simone) – 2:31
7. “I Want a Little Sugar in My Bowl” (Simone) – 2:32
8. “Buck” (Stroud) – 1:52
9. “Since I Fell for You” (Johnson) – 2:52
10. “The House of the Rising Sun” (Traditional) – 3:53
11. “Blues for Mama” (Lincoln, Simone) – 4:00

* Nina Simone: vocal, piano
* Eric Gale: guitar
* Rudy Stevenson: guitar
* Ernie Hayes: organ
* Bob Bushnell: bass
* Bernard Purdie: drums, timpani
* Buddy Lucas: harmonica, tenor sax

Jimmy McGriff – Soul Sugar & Groove Grease (1971)

Jimmy McGriff
Soul Sugar / Goove Grease
Two albums both released 1971 on Groove Merchant
Reissue on Groove Hut Records 2007 (GH66704)
McGriff

1 Sugar Sugar
2 Ain’t It Funky Now
3 Signed Sealed Delivered I’m Yours
4 Dig on It
5 Bug Out
6 Now Thing
7 You’re the One
8 Fat Cakes
9 New Volume
10 Spirit in the Dark

McGriff

11 Groove Grease
12 Bird
13 Plain Brown Bag
14 There Will Never Be Another You
15 Canadian Sunset
16 Mr Lucky
17 Moonglow
18 Red Sails in the Sunset
19 Secret Love

I think the only way these two records could make me happier is if they opened up with a soul version of “Yummy Yummy Yummy I’ve Got Love in My Tummy.” Since it does not I suppose I can accept “Sugar Sugar” in its place. If this disc was any more fun it would be illegal. Before Jimmy Smith thought of covering pop and soul hits with marvelously funky results, Jimmy McGriff was already laying down cuts to make the jazz purists wince while turning up their erudite noses. McGriff didn’t care and doesn’t seem to have been restrained by such labels, often positioning himself as more of a blues player anyway. I have been meaning to do a post here about another fabulous Groove Merchant disk he did with soul-blues singer Junior Parker that is just amazing. All in good time, even though I’ve been thinking about doing that post for over a year now…

Since a great deal of songs on these two albums are all-instrumental covers of hit songs, you can feel free to use it at your next karaoke party. That is if you are not only prepared to tread the same musical ground as James Brown, Stevie Wonder, Sly Stone, and Aretha Franklin, but also spar with the infectious chops of Mr. McGriff. My guess is that he will upstage you. But feel free to give it a go.

A glance at the lineup on these two platters may not cause any names to jump out at some of you. But his musicians here all have a pretty impressive pedigree, having played with the likes of Nina Simone, Eric Dolphy, Ahmad Jamal, Art Tatum, Stan Getz, Pharoah Sanders, B.B.King, Lonnie Liston Smith, Lonnie Smith, Charles Earland, among others and many more. Particularly noteworthy is bassist Richard Davis who just dominates these two albums like the monster he was. He sometimes plays with a phasor enevelope-follower effect on his bass that adds a nice subtle twist to his tone.

Both albums also have fabulously tacky blaxploitation jackets, the better to arouse you with.

Weird side note: according to a friend of mine, the first three tracks of Groove Grease on this reissue are HDCD encoded. Although it’s not uncommon to find HDCD coding on discs that don’t mention it on the packaging, it is somewhat mysterious why they would encode three tracks and stop. I actually have an HDCD player packed away in a storage shed full of audio gear but I am not about to drag it out to verify this. I will take my friend’s word for it, and pass it on to you for what it’s worth.

I think anybody with a pulse will find themselves enjoying this music. And I promise I will have that collaboration with Junior Parker here before the year is out..

McGriff

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Gwen McCrae – Rockin' Chair (1975) & Something So Right (1976)

This one goes out to Agnieszka in Atlanta, may this record steam your windows up babe.


Gwen McCrae

Rockin’ Chair
1975 Cat Records (CAT-2605)

1 Rockin’ Chair (Reid, Clarke) 3:25
2 Move Me, Baby (Alaimo, Casey) 4:55
3 He Keeps Something Groovy Going On (Reid, Kitts) 3:02
4 Let Them Talk (Thompson) 2:55
5 For Your Love (Townsend) 2:58
6 It’s Worth the Hurt (Reid) 2:21
7 90% of Me Is You (Reid) 2:52
8 It Keeps on Raining (Reid) 3:09
9 He Doesn’t Ever Lose His Groove (Hale) 2:59
10 Your Love Is Worse Than a Cold Love (Reid) 2:44 [single, CD bonus cut]


Something So Right
1976 CAT Records (CAT-2608)

1 Something So Right (Simon) 5:24
2 Tears on My Pillow (Lewis, Bradford) 4:00
3 Love Without Sex (Reid) 4:50
4 Mr. Everything (Reid) 3:42
5 Iron Woman (Reid) 4:12
6 Damn Right It’s Good (Reid) 4:00
7 Let Nature Take Its Course (Reid) 3:30
8 I’ve Got Nothing to Lose But the Blues (Reid) 4:42

Florida-native Gwen McCrae is best known for disco club rug-burners from the early 80s, but her first few long-players were cut for the southern soul label CAT records (subsidiary of TK Productions). And Southern Soul doesn’t get much better than this. It was hard for me to believe that the first of these, ‘Rockin’ Chair’, was not conceived as a cohesive record but as a collection of previously-released sides and some new material hurriedly assembled to follow up on the enormous success of that boisterous single. Let me be your rocking chair, indeed. There is not a dull moment on this record but by anyone’s reckoning “90% of Me is You” stands out in jaw-dropping soul-dripping sonic viscerality. An earlier 1973 single that did not appear on the album, “Your Love Is Worse Than a Cold Love” is a blistering anthem for anyone who has found themselves loving somebody who doesn’t know what or who they want, perhaps dividing them with someone else, and all the ambiguity, frustration, and tension that ensues. Just a beautifully perfect soul cut.

‘Something So Right’ is a much more downbeat, mellow affair that was put together in a more traditional way as an album. Two cover songs — the Paul Simon title cut, and Little Anthony & The Imperials “Tears on My Pillow” – open the album. Following that is the revolutionary “Love Without Sex” which, while written by a man and not nearly as flamboyant as Betty Davis’s work, is still a pioneering cut as far as articulating an assertive female sexuality in an industry and society dominated by men. It’s also a bad-ass song. The track “Mr. Everything” may have been written by producer Clarence Reid but it owes a flute chart to Isaac Hayes “Rock Me Easy Baby” released the same year (it could perhaps have flowed the other direction, I am not sure of the exact release dates..). The fine liner notes from Tony Rouse in this CD reissue argue that “Something So Right” is Gwen at her best, yet I still find the hodge-podge of the “Rocking Chair” LP to be a more exciting listen, especially when the non-LP singles are included with it as on this collection. Both albums are stunning and phenomenal, so much so that they testify to the injustice embedded in the politics of the record industry and its dependence on sexual and economic inequality that would keep an artist like Gwen McCrae from having – without one exceptional exception – much chart success and being lauded as the soul sensation she should have been in the 1970s. Don’t miss this one, most of the world did the first time around.

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