Aretha Franklin – Sparkle OST (1976) (with Curtis Mayfield)

Aretha Franklin – Sparkle
1976 Atlantic SD 18176
Produced and composed by Curtis Mayfield
This reissue by 2012 HDtracks

1 Sparkle –  4:13
2 Something He Can Feel –  6:21
3 Hooked on Your Love –  5:00
4 Look into Your Heart –  4:04
5 I Get High –  4:11
6 Jump – 2:19
7 Loving You Baby –  3:48
8 Rock with Me –  3:11

Recorded at Curtom Studios, Chicago
Remixed at Record Plant, Los Angeles

Arranged By, Orchestrated By – Rich Tufo

Backing Vocals – Kitty Haywood Singers
Recording Engineer – Roger Anfinsen
Horns – Lenard Druss
Photography By – Sam Emerson
Producer, composed and arranged  by Curtis Mayfield
Strings – Sol Bobrov


There have been no shortage of eulogies and retrospectives on the life and career of the great Aretha Franklin in the last few weeks.  Some well-done, some shallow and superficial.  But I’ve been happily busy “in the real world” and am well overdue for a blog post, and rather than add my own verbosity to the amen corner praising Aretha, I thought I’d just share one of her under-appreciated gems, a collaboration with the luminous Curtis Mayfield.  These two titans both managed to be pioneers in their field, voices for civil rights and black liberation, and tremendously successful commercially, so they are on the short list of artists who can tick all those boxes.  The first track that really jumps out at you from this album is “Giving Him Something He Can Feel,” which – if I am completely honest with my readers, and when am I not? – I almost definitely first heard as the cool remake by En Vogue in 1992.  They also covered (less memorably) ‘Hooked On Your Love’ from this album.  I’ve never seen the film and am not in a huge hurry to see it: this was the era of soundtracks being exponentially better than their associated films, after all.  Apparently, the film was remade in 2012, which I didn’t even know until making this blog post.

Mr. Palmer’s original review of the record is pretty spot-on so I am including it here (even his observations of Curtis’ production “formula” by the mid-70s is on point — I just happen to still really like his formula.)

 

Review by Robert Palmer, Rolling Stone, August 12, 1976

The instrumental tracks Curtis Mayfield produces at his Curtom Studio in Chicago always sound a little contrived. There’s a swirling harp every time you turn around, the syncopated horn figures lie just so against the bass and drums, and there is often a surfeit of trebly percussion instruments like bells, chimes and cymbals. But Mayfield understands the gospel roots of the most powerful black pop vocalists as well as, if not better than, any producer alive, and he’s carried this understanding from his earliest sides with the Impressions right on up to his latest work with the Staple Singers and, now, Aretha Franklin. Mavis Staples and Aretha are probably the most distinctive singers in the field, and although Mayfield’s work with them has suffered somewhat from sameness of material and of instrumental sound, he has understood their voices.

 

Sparkle, which consists of Mayfield’s tunes from the motion picture of the same name and a few extra originals, could easily have been a cheap shot, a momentary deviation from the mainstream in Aretha Franklin’s career. Instead, it is her most consistently exciting album in some time. It never quite scales the heights of the early Atlantic sides, which were recorded in the South and often sounded like off-the-cuff testifying from the back of the church. They weren’t, of course. They were as carefully put together as any great pop records, but the seams didn’t show. Sparkle is more obvious — one often feels a certain tension between the singer and the prerecorded tracks — but ultimately its manufactured sound isn’t very important. Aretha may be singing with tracks which are slick and occasionally overproduced, but she is singing her heart out.

 

The most satisfying aspect of the spectacular vocal performances that dominate the album is Mayfield’s channeling of their energy. Aretha has always sung with passion, but here, due no doubt to the producer’s directions, the passion rises and falls along carefully plotted curves. When she ad-libs, which is often, the results don’t just mark time between verses, they carry the song further along its developmental path. This may sound terribly calculated for an artist as emotive as Aretha, but the most successful pop producers have always known how to channel excitement. Energy that’s let out at a performer’s whim can dissipate into the air; energy that’s shaped and guided has the power to move an audience like nothing else.

 

A track-by-track rundown of Sparkle‘s high points would be tiresome, but one Franklin/Mayfield collaboration, “Rock with Me,” deserves special praise. It’s a deliberately paced, walkingtempo tune that avoids most of Mayfield’s songwriting and production clichés and steams along irresistibly, rising several times into the hottest hook Aretha has had to work with in some time. The rest of the album is only slightly less stirring; you can listen from beginning to end without coming upon any inappropriate filler material or lackluster vocal performances. Sparkle, even more than the Staples/Mayfield match on Let’s Do It Again, deserves an encore.

 


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100% Pure Poison – Coming Right At You (1974)

100% Pure Poison
Coming Right At You
Released 1974 EMI-UK

A1 You Keep Coming Back (3:24)
A2 No More City, No More Country (6:54)
A3 Boarding Pass (3:46)
A4 Holes In My Shoes (3:42)
A5 My Little Someone (4:28)
B1 Windy C. (5:35)
B2 (But You Say) You Want To Make It With Me (4:31)
B3 Don’t Let Your Pride, Overpower Your Love (4:37)
B4 (And When I Said) I Love You (5:15)
B5 Puppet On A Chain (3:53)

Bass: Lawrence Reynolds
Composed By: Danny Leake , Lawrence Reynolds , Marvin Daniels
Guitar: Danny Leake , James Williams
Keyboards: James Williams
Organ: Steve Maxwell
Percussion: John Jackson, Pie Harrison
Producer: Danny Leake , Rick Hartung
Saxophone: Jackie Beard
Trombone: Slide Beard
Trumpet: Marvin Daniels
Vocals: Jackie Beard , Marvin Daniels , Pie Harrison , Slide Beard

Produced by Danny Leake and Rick Hartung

RIPPING INFO (Euripedes)

Original UK LP 1st pressing, EMI International, INS 3001, Matrix Numbers: A: INS 3001 A-2 1 R / B: INS 3001 B-2 1 M RJL
Equipment:
Vpi HW-17F Record Cleaning Machine
Technics SL 1210 Mk II
Rega RB 300 tonearm (Origin Live! mod)
Denon DL 304 M/C Cartridge
NAD 3101 (M/C phono section)
Outboard M-Audio Profire 610 Multichannel A/D
Adobe Audition 3.0

The song “Windy C”

This legendary album has long been out of my financial reach on vinyl and I have had to content myself with the a 2002 CD reissue. Kudos to Soul Brother for releasing it and making it accessible to a broader public beyond greedy collectors with deep pockets, but the sound quality was pretty much crap. I must say that the record gained a new lease on life when I found a really nice needledrop from a skilled vinyl ripper. I don’t typically like sharing other peoples’ vinyl rips here but the quality of both the music and the audio, coupled with the fact that I will most likely never own an original copy, compelled me to break my loosely-held rule. So, all credit goes to Euripedes for the transfer.

The band 100% Pure Poison, formed by US serviceman while stationed in Germany, only recorded this one record. I knew nothing about their back story until reading the liner notes on the reissue, and in fact I had always thought they were a Chicago band based on the track “Windy C.” The great playing and funky grooves on the album would have been enough to get the crate diggers reaching for their charge cards, and the quality songwriting helps put it a cut above the rest. The record opens with the very dance-worthy bit of Northern Soul, “You Keep Coming Back,” an immediately catchy tune that ought to be on all the AM radio dusties stations but isn’t. About half the songs here are sweet soul ballads, which personally makes things drag a bit in places for me, because as might be expected I prefer the funkier stuff on here. And that material does not disappoint. “No More City, No More Country,” is like.. Post-modern funk or something, where all categories of the black american experience, rural and urban, are declared passé and “everything is space, man.” Complete with a jazzy scat break at the end of every verse. Listen to the way the organ is mixed waaaaaaay in the background in a cushion of reverb. It’s the loosest and most jam-oriented of the tracks here and sort of a mind blower after the tightness of the opening track. “Holes In My Shoe” brings more funky northern goodness, but “Windy C” makes the obvious center-piece of the album. Both because it really is splat in the middle of the album but also because it shows off the group firing on all its creative cylinders – soul tunefulness, marinaded in heavy funk, and brushed with jazz before serving. “Don’t Let Pride Overpower Your Love” may be a mouthful of a title, but it might be my favorite ballad on the record, structured with crescendos that leave the tune positively soaring. The secret weapon of the whole album, though, may be “Puppet On A Chain” which hits all my pleasure centers relentlessly. The arrangement is both lush and lean – horns and strings and guitars and electric piano and Persian carpets of reverb in just the right places. Great lyrics and vocal performances. Four minutes of perfect. The kind of a track that has to go at the end of an LP because there just isn’t any way to follow it up. Thank you and goodnight!
You can do an A/B of the two versions for yourself, but makes sure to give Euripedes’work a listen.
2002 version
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Terry Callier – Occasional Rain (1972)

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Terry Callier
Occasional Rain
Cadet Records, 1972
This reissue, 2008 Verve (B0011107)

 1. Segue No. 1 – Go Ahead On
2. Ordinary Joe
3. Golden Circle
4. Segue No. 5 – Go Head On
5. Trance On Sedgewick Street
6. Do You Finally Need A Friend
7. Segue No. 4 – Go Head On
8. Sweet Edie. D
9. Occasional Rain
10. Segue No. 2 – Go Head On
11. Blues For Marcus
12. Lean On Me
13. Last Segue – Go Head On

    Bass – Sydney Simms
Contralto Vocals – Shirley Wahls
Drums – Robert Crowder
Engineer – Gary Starr
Guitar – Terry Callier
Harpsichord, Organ, Producer – Charles Stepney
Piano – Leonard Pirani
Soprano Vocals – Kitty Haywood, Minnie Riperton

Recorded at: Ter-Mar Recording Studios, Chicago, Illinois.

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This Sunday past I heard from a friend that Terry Callier had passed away at his home in Chicago.  I don’t know why or how when some performer’s leave us, they leave behind a bigger sense of loss than others.  Maybe it’s because with Terry there was always the feeling that he still had a lot more to say, and maybe the assumption that he would just keep on saying it at his own leisurely pace.  The news is too sudden for me to digest fully.

Whenever a person hears a Terry Callier record, they ask themselves how it is that they had never heard him before that moment.  Of course there are plenty of artists who never got their due during their lifetime, but it is hard to fathom how Terry’s early records could have been eclipsed by so much pedestrian music of lesser quality at the time.  At least his story had happier ending, with his work finding recognition many years later and drawing him out of musical retirement to make a handful of satisfying records.  Not to diminish his second flowering, but his albums on the Cadet label will always be the ones many of us cherish the most.  There just hasn’t been anything quite like them before or since.

Although I have tended to favor “What Color Is Love”, probably because ‘Dancing Girl’ was the first of his songs I ever heard, the album Occasional Rain (which preceded it, but only slightly) is really every bit it’s equal, and set the tone for the rest of his career.  How could any artist put out two records of this astounding caliber in the same year?  This one has almost a concept-record feel to it due to the songs being strung together by acoustic guitar/vocal segments of folk blues (“Go Head On”) that recall Terry’s coffee-house days (captured on the album “The New Folk Sound…”)  His voice still has the heavy vibrato, a common enough trait among folk singers of the 60s, but the similarilty pretty much begins and ends there.   The Cadet recordings show the flowering of Callier’s participation in Jerry Butler’s songwriting workshop in Chicago.   The song “Do You Finally Need A Friend” actually debuted the previous year on the fantastic “Jerry Butler Sings Assorted Songs With The Aid of Assorted Friends and Relatives” (Mercury ST-61320) on which he also appears uncredited along with Curtis Mayfield.   Butler also has a writing credit on  “What Color Is Love” and workshop members Larry Wade and Charles Jones contribute to that album as well as this one.

Looking at those album credits I got to thinking that we should just be grateful we had Terry Callier walking amongst us mere mortals for as long as we did.  Jumping out off the page were two names of his colleagues who left us far, far too young. Keyboardist, producer and arranger Charles Stepney, who would later work with Earth Wind & Fire on their most interesting records and was also a  founding member of The Rotary Connection, died in his 30’s from a heart attack.  And then there is fellow Rotary alumnus Minnie Riperton, who I had never really noticed in the credits until Sunday, and who sings beautifully as always in Stepney’s choral arrangements.  She died in her 30’s from breast cancer.  Another Rotary Connection member, Shirley Wahls, also sings on the record.  Phil Upchurch, one of Cadet’s ubiquitous session players, is absent from this session but would play on Terry’s two following efforts with great results.

Stepney deserves massive amounts of credit for the power of this album and Terry’s other Cadet recordings.  And he has received that credit, especially from Terry himself.  If you need convincing, you can check out earlier versions of some of these songs on the collection “First Light.”  Those versions are impressive because they show the intensity of Callier’s songwriting and highlight (by virtue of his absence) just how much Stepney helped him realize his musical vision.  “Occasional Rain” is the most ‘produced’ of his three Cadet albums, but that isn’t a negative in this case because these are artists on the same wavelength.   (Contrast this with the desultory rerecordings of some of these songs on the Electra release “Turn You To Love.”) The psychedelic baroque-pop of Ordinary Joe probably has Stepney’s “producer’s stamp” most clearly on it, opening the record with strong stylistic overtones of Rotary Connection and mixed as if it could be a huge hit.   But this was no ordinary song, and too extraordinary and unclassifiable for mass consumption even in an era of relative experimentation in popular music.  Groovy harpsichord and some churchy organ; that infectiously catchy melody – how could this song NOT be huge in a fair world?  Maybe it was the brilliant lyrics and vocal delivery that swings from soul, to scat singing, to a blues shout.  It was just too real for the radio.  As a lyricist-poet Callier had a special talent for oscillating between earthy grit, tender nuance, and cosmic musings, sometimes all in the same song.  The intimacy of “Golden Circle,” the darker burned-out realism of “Trance On Sedgewick Avenue” – Terry could make ordinary moments into something transcendent, then turn around and translate the abstract and spiritual into familiar, achingly human terms in the next tune.    And it is no hyperbole to call him a genuine poet.  You could try just reading the words to “Occasional Rain” to a room full of people and hear their cadence, see how they work as compositions even separated from the music:

There was rain today
And crystal blue was hidden by a cloudy gray
A sudden shower come to chase the sun away
Occasional rain
Damn the weatherman
He seems to work against me any way he can
And he’s been dealing tear-drops since the world began
And occasional pain

And blue you, don’t believe I’m talking to you

The light is shining through you- still you will not see
Blue you- think I’m trying to undo you
When I only want to seek the Truth
And speak true

I can’t tell you when

But someday soon we’ll see the sun re-born again
And there’ll be light without as well as light within
And occasional rain 

Fucking brilliant, isn’t it?

The record closes with the majestic “Lean On Me” that is arranged like a series of crescendos leading to one massive climax.  It is kind of ironic that this record was released the same year as Bill Wither’s massive hit of the same title and of similar sentiments.

Speaking of which, the irony did not escape me of listening to this record over and over while the entire northeastern seaboard of the US was being drenched by a hurricane.  It also struck me how listening to Terry Callier is like being sheltered from the storms of the world.  His work had a certain warmth in common with other writers from the frigidly cold metropolis of Chicago, placed at the crossroads of Memphis and Detroit, New York and L.A., always a few steps removed the hype and the drama, and always carrying himself with grace.

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Curtis Mayfield – There’s No Place Like America Today (1975)

CURTIS MAYFIELD
There’s No Place Like America Today
Released 1975 on Curtom
Reissue on Charley / Snapper 2001

1 Billy Jack 6:07
2 When Seasons Change 5:23
3 So In Love 5:10
4 Jesus 6:10
5 Blue Monday People 4:45
6 Hard Times 3:42
7 Love To The People 4:06

   Arranged By – Rich Tufo
Bass – Lucky Scott*
Design – Lockart*
Drums – Quinton Joseph
Engineer – Roger Anfinsen
Guitar – Phil Upchurch
Illustration – Peter Palombi
Keyboards – Rich Tufo
Keyboards, Guitar – Curtis Mayfield
Percussion [Congas And Bongos] – Henry Gibson
Producer, Written-By – Curtis Mayfield

_____________________________

(Special Independence Day post for our United States readers…)

It’s hard to pick a favorite Curtis Mayfield album, and my judgment is
surely clouded by the fact that this album was under-celebrated at the
time and still often overlooked.  But as speaking objectively as I can,
this is surely Mayfield at the top of his game.  And possibly my
favorite album.  Clive Anderson’s liner notes on this Charly reissue may
be a bit pretentious, opening up with a citation from Wordsworth, but
they do pretty much nail the album and do it justice.  The album is truly like
an extended meditation on the American underclass, and particularly the
despair in the Black communities of the mid-70s.  He is right to point
out that (unlike previous albums, like his landmark Superfly), this
record “refrains from excoriating Black Americans for their
predicament.”  Gone are the warnings about self-destruction, as well as
the anthems of ‘racial uplift’ like Move On Up or Miss Black America.
It’s as if the utopian optimism born in the Civil Rights movement, and
its counterpart in revolutionary consciousness like that found in the
Panthers, have fizzled out into a resignation to grim realities.
Still, the record may be spare and solemn, but it’s not bleak.  Music
can still get you through the Hard Times, and Mayfield manages to show
us the redemption found in everyday moments and daily struggle, of
turning to the people close to you when everything else has let you
down.

It’s worth pointing out that the song ‘Hard Times’ was
first recorded by Baby Huey on his one and only album, produced by
Mayfield.  And even if it’s one of the funkier cuts on the record, it’s
still downbeat, much more so than the Baby Huey’s frantic version.  Also
there’s no adlib about living on Oreos and drinking Thunderbird.
Further testament to Mayfield’s genius that he could recast his own
compositions into such different contexts and wring two different
stories out of them.

this is also one of the BEST SOUNDING CD’s I OWN.  It makes me want to find the other Charly pressings of Curits’
stuff, because the Rhino reissues sound really harsh by comparison.  I have the vinyl too and this Charly / Snapper is as close as you’ll get to perfection short of that.

 

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Terry Callier – What Color Is Love? (1972)

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TERRY CALLIER
What Color Is Love?
Originally Released 1972 on Cadet Records
This reissue, 1998

1 Dancing Girl (Callier) 9:02
2 What Color Is Love (Callier) 4:06
3 You Goin’ Miss Your Candyman (Braxton, Callier) 7:20
4 Just as Long as We’re in Love (Callier, Wade) 3:41
5 Ho Tsing Mee (A Song of the Sun) (Callier) 4:21
6 I’d Rather Be with You (Butler, Callier, Wade) 6:40
7 You Don’t Care (Callier, Wade) 5:28

A very beautiful record, sent out to my beautiful friends out there in the blogosphere who have request a repost of this in FLAC. This album deserves a new write-up from me, because it truly is an essential record that does not bear easy comparison to anything else. With one foot still tangled in his folk roots, and the other in the Chicago soul scene (Callier participated in Jerry Butler’s composers’ workshop), it is one of those genre-transcending gems that was probably destined to go over most peoples’ heads until being “rediscovered” for the work of genius it is, decades later. The first track hits so hard and is so gripping that it takes repeated listens to appreciate the strength of some of the other material. Here is the text of my original post:
———————————
The first time I heard the song “Dancing Girl”, I stopped whatever it was I was busying my hands with at the time and just stood still as stone, listening. And then I sat down. I’d never heard anything quite like it before, and really haven’t since. Even in the repertoire of Callier it is a singular thing. To say it “defies categorization” is beside the point, as accurate an observation as that is. This song actually stands outside of time, still as stone, while making razorsharp cuts in and out of the landscape of the 1972 united states. It’s a sound sculpture, with an almost transparent artistry that deflects your ear away from its own strangeness. Again, there is little need to wax poetic over this — just listen to it yourself. This review, from Mojo magazine, fills in the pertinent details about Callier and this album.

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