Archive for the ‘Soul’ Tag

John Gary Williams- review   Leave a comment

[Note: Prior to May, I had never heard of John Gary Williams, nor had I knowingly heard The Mad Lads. However, I have spent considerable time ‘catching up,’ purchasing all The Mad Lad tracks I could locate on iTunes and eMusic. So, yes again—a review that costs me money; there is something wrong with this model! Worthwhile exploration, though; glad I did it.]

John Gary WilliamsJohn Gary Williams John Gary Williams Stax

One of the summer’s most eagerly received soul/R&B albums comes with a distinctively 70s vibe, for good reason.

If you’ve grooved to Charles Bradley, Leon Bridges, or the late Miss Sharon Jones, you owe yourself the opportunity to hear John Gary Williams eponymous album from 1973. Recently reissued as part of Stax Records 60th Anniversary, during its concise 32-minutes, this eight-song release pulls the listener back more than 40 years.

Williams was in his early thirties when his sole album was released on Stax, already a veteran of the music business not to mention life. Williams was lead singer of Memphis group The Mad Lads, high school friends signed to Stax subsidiary Volt, and who had limited chart success through the mid-60s. The Mad Lads never came near to the upper half of the US pop charts (1966’s “I Want Someone” hit #74, which had more success as a R&B hit, peaking at #10), but also had significant appearances on the R&B charts with “Don’t Have To Shop Around” (#11, 1965) and other songs, last hitting the chart with a shattering take of “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” in 1969. In the midst of the group’s existence, Williams left The Mad Lads to serve in the Vietnam War, and upon returning to the group found himself completing a jail sentence after being involved in a shooting (according to what I’ve read, Williams wasn’t the shooter, but took the blame.)

In 1973, largely producing the album himself, Williams released John Gary Williams. And the record sunk with little trace. While Stax hit #1 in 1973 with both The Staple Singers and Johnnie Taylor, the label was floundering and gave Williams’ effort scant support. Forty-four years later, it again sees the light of day including on 180-gram vinyl, which (unfortunately) was not available for my review, which is based on provided download.

Listening to this album, one imagines Williams saw a different future for American society, one with more promise than has been delivered, one perhaps without gerrymandered Congressional districts, targeted voter suppression, and young black men shot while driving with their family. The story goes that Williams returned from service more politically aware, ready to give voice to his increased social consciousness.

The Mad Lads approached southern soul, as a vocal group, a bit differently than some. The Mad Lads’ earliest records had more in common with doo-wop and Frankie Lymon than they did boundary-pushing contemporaries such as The Temptations. Later songs reveal appreciably more sophistication, and this is where we join Williams in 1973.

Bookended by two songs of considerable significance, John Gary Williams is an incredible listen. Obviously a song of faith, with reference to sweet chariots, baptism, and the conflicts of the light and dark, “I See Hope“—”we’ll be able to walk down the streets in peace and harmony,” Williams sings, “and we’ll be able to experience equal opportunity”—calls for improvements in this life, not beyond it. The album’s coda, “The Whole Damn World Is Going Crazy,” is as relevant today as when composed. A lush number of Williams’ observances of promise—

“It take my breath away, to see people live from day-to-day,
without respect for each other, without love for their brothers—
without a second of kindness, or a minute to be reminded,
that we all have a common cause, and together we could conquer all—”

—we are left instead, with what we now experience. These are two beautiful, uplifting songs, ones that hit the listener right upside the head intellectually while also encouraging one to dance about the room (or drive a little faster.)

Between these concrete indications that the world hasn’t progressed far since the 1970s are six songs that assuredly reflect the soundtrack of their day. Bobby Goldsboro’s “Honey” is given a gentle love loop that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Lou Rawls or Donny Hathaway lp. “Loving You (Just Ain’t Easy)” is absolutely perfect, a performance that should be heard on oldies radio as often as “Let’s Stay Together” and “You Are the Sunshine of My Life.” With a bit of funk coming through, it is a poetic, visionary, and romantic expression of its time.

The album sways with lush strings, innovative guitar flourishes, and rhythms that keep the listener fully engaged. Slow jam shuffles, highlighted by Williams’ soaring falsetto, provide a complementary sample of R&B of the early 70s. And, that voice. Amazing–I could listen to it all day, and today I have. Effortless, and yet fully committed. Not necessarily groundbreaking, Williams’ interpretations of songs like “Open You Heart (And Let Love Go)” and “Ask the Lonely” reveal how unjust it is that this album isn’t remembered as a classic of its era.

Reissued previously in 2010, perhaps the third time around will be kinder to John Gary Williams. Extraordinary. Give this version of “Don’t Need to Shop Around,” from 1975, a view.

 

 

Posted 2017 July 19 by Donald Teplyske in Uncategorized

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Stax Classics- reviews   Leave a comment

As someone who came to William Bell via William Broad, to Sam & Dave by way of ZZ Top, and Carla Thomas through a (most outstanding and life-changing) Rachel Sweet single, I have spent more than 35 of my years listening to select soul and R&B, with the disparate sounds of Northern Soul (still not sure what counts as N.S. and what doesn’t), southern soul, Memphis soul, Muscle Shoals, and 60s and 70s ‘urban’ music becoming a bit of an obsession the last decade. As a rhythm-less man from Alberta, I do spend most of my time writing about bluegrass, roots, and folks music, but this ‘other side’ of Americana is as natural to me as any dusty troubadour’s latest, metaphor-heavy anthem.

STAX_60_Poster_FrontCelebrating 60 years, the reinvigorated Stax imprint is having select titles re-issued and repackaged this year. Some titles are being issued on vinyl (which I haven’t heard—except as noted, all impressions are based on provided downloads or streams) while a handful of single-artist compilations have also been released and are the focus of today’s writing. Regardless of format, there are several reasons to celebrate these releases.

The single-artist CD compilations are nicely but not lavishly packaged, and are accompanied by informative liner notes providing context, credits, and release and chart details. [Only The Dramatics physical CD release was received for review; presuming the rest of the releases follow similar packaging.] As hinted earlier, William Bell, Sam & Dave, and Carla Thomas have their Stax output distilled to 12-track sets. Additionally, Otis Redding, Booker T & the MGs, Isaac Hayes, The Staple Singers, Johnnie Taylor, and Albert King, and The Dramatics are included in the initial slate of Stax Classics.

Depending on personal experience and preference, some of these artists are likely more familiar than others, and the Stax output of Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Isaac Hayes, and several others are readily encountered digitally, on various compilations, and within the used market. Others within this series will be more revelatory.

Stax DramaticsPersonally, The Dramatics were a group I had little heard. While the others are staples (see what I did there!) on oldies radio as well as satellite outfits including SoulTown on Sirius/XM, I had not knowingly encountered The Dramatics previously; a couple songs revealed themselves as vaguely familiar upon listening. Recording for the Stax subsidiary Volt, included here is their initial single for the label, 1969’s “Your Love Was Strange” (which failed to chart) as well as later Billboard Top 10 hits “In the Rain” (#5 in 1972) and “Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get” (#9, 1971.) By my count, and confirmed via Wikipedia, six of these songs hit the R&B Top 20 between 1971 and 1973.

Featuring Dennis Coffey’s signature guitar electricity, the group’s vocal manner is uniformly impressive across these dozen tracks. William Howard is a terrific lead vocalist, and Willie Ford gets real low in some spots. At times funky—”Gimme Some (Good Soul Music)” and “Get Up and Get Down”—and at other times lush and headin’ for the covers—”Thank You For Your Love” and”  “Feel For You”—the group also sends messages with “Hey You! Get Off My Mountain” and “The Devil Is Dope.” How I went this long without “And I Panicked” is another indication that there are always new things to discover. Recommended if the Isley Brothers are your sort of thing.

Stax CarlaIf Carla Thomas had only recorded the Hayes/Porter classic “B-A-B-Y,” I do believe it would have been enough to set her in my sights given my affection for Rachel Sweet’s stunning and very different 1978 rendition. Thomas’s “B-A-B-Y” is about as perfect a three-minutes of breezy, pop-soul as has ever been committed to wax. While her biggest hit came in 1967 with Otis on “Tramp,” The Queen of Memphis Soul had considerable pop and R&B chart success with Stax and, with the exception of “Gee Whiz (Look In His Eyes)”, a solid overview of Thomas’s recorded output is distillated herein ranging from 1964’s “I Got No Time to Lose” through to 1969’s “I Love What You’re Doing to Me.” For me, I want more of Thomas and will stick to the albums, but for casual listeners this set will suffice.

Stax HayesThe 54-minute Isaac Hayes Stax Classics album provides a concise peek into one of soul’s true innovators. The hits are included (“Theme from Shaft,” “Never Can Say Goodbye,” “Do Your Thing”), but I prefer the album versions of “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” and “Walk On By” to  the truncated renditions included. Positively, all 9-plus glorious minutes of “Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic” are here. Any artist having had the lengthy not to mention influential and important a career as Hayes had cannot be expected to have the definitive contained within a single-disc set. Rather, this package is a mighty introduction for those just coming to Hayes.

Stax AlbertThe strongest representation of the blues presented in these Stax issues comes from Albert King, the man who popularized William Bell/Booker T. Jones’ “Born Under A Bad Sign,” and whose definitive versions of “Cross Cut Blues” and “The Sky Is Crying” either became (depending on perspective) overshadowed by Stevie Ray Vaughn’s emergence, or were brought to greater attention because of it. King’s most successful album for Stax may have been I’ll Play the Blues For You, but only two tracks from that release are included, “I’ll Play the Blues For You, Part 1” and “Breaking Up Somebody’s Home.” The seminal and readily available Born Under A Bad Sign album is well-represented. What we are presented with here is a nice little summation of King’s importance to both Stax specifically and the blues in general. Aficionados will already own the albums, but again—a solid introduction.

Stax TaylorJohnnie Taylor could sing. Most known for his 1976 monster hit “Disco Lady,” as with all the artists contained within this Stax series, there is more to explore beyond the best known material. While Stax had gone bankrupt and missed out on “Disco Lady,” included on this set are the pop and R&B hits “Who’s Making Love,” “Jody’s Got Your Girl and Gone,” “Take Care of Your Homework,” and the very groovy, “Love Bones.” “Cheaper to Keep Her,” “I Believe In You (You Believe In Me)”, and “Steal Away” are additional songs that helped make Taylor one of Stax’ most important acts.

Stax Bell“I Forgot to Be You Lover.” “Born Under a Bad Sign.” “You Don’t Miss Your Water.” “A Tribute to a King.” Just four of the William Bell classics included on his Stax Classics album. A couple numbers with Judy Clay, including the funky “My Baby Specializes,” help shape this too brief examination of Bell. Bell didn’t have as broad-based chart impact some of the other artists included in this series did, although he had his successes, but I would argue that his music has aged the best. Every track here is essential. Then again, Bell is my favourite soul singer. With his current resurgence, thanks to the Grammy-winning This Is Where I Live, I need the full albums—you may be satisfied with this wonderful wee set.

With crystal clear sound, the Stax Classics albums appear to be selling for $7 or $8 in the US (double that plus in Canada) and are available digitally for either $5.99 or $9.99 on iTunes Canada. Well worth the investment, I believe. All are highly recommended as introductions to the label and the artists, and provide excellent but limited overviews of the highlighted artists.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald

A Year of Stax? Yes, please.   Leave a comment

I very deliberately don’t normally reprint press releases at Fervor Coulee. Those of you who come here are looking for my Roots Music Opinion, not reposting of news releases that you can see in other places. But, today and only today, I am making an exception. I am really excited about the plans made by Concord Music Group and Rhino Entertainment to celebrate the music of Stax Records, one of my favourite ‘historical’ labels, not to mention a label that is back with some force, having nabbed a Grammy this year for William Bell’s absolutely brilliant (and John Leventhal-produced) This Is Where I Live, one of Fervor Coulee’s Top Ten favourite roots albums of last year.

The folks at Concord and Rhino have significant plans for re-introducing the timeless music of Stax to the marketplace, and their presser-pasted below-goes into details that I would simply be repeating if I was to attempt to rewrite- so why bother? If and when I am able to review some of these releases, I will get my Roots Music Opinion up here and/or at Lonesome Road Review. Although classic soul isn’t really within the LRR wheelhouse, it is well within ‘my’ definition of roots music. I can’t wait to hear what Concord and Rhino have promised, especially the Isaac Hayes set (detailed below) and the Otis/Carla vinyl if they come my way; let’s hope the packaging is as beautiful as the music!

Here is the presser, and watch for updates here and on Twitter as I hear the music-

Los Angeles, CA – Concord Music Group and Rhino Entertainment, Warner Music Group’s catalog division, are proud to announce a joint campaign celebrating the 60th anniversary of iconic soul label, Stax Records. This unique partnership marks the first marketing collaboration of the Stax recordings which have been divided since Atlantic Records split with Stax Records in 1967.

StaxHonoring historic Soulsville, USA in Memphis, TN, curated collections of some of the greatest Stax music will be released on new hits compilations, vinyl LPs, digital hi-resolution remasters and deluxe boxed sets. These releases will showcase timeless Stax hits, plus rare tracks from many of the label’s legendary artists including Otis Redding, Booker T & the MGs, Isaac Hayes, The Staple Singers, Carla Thomas, Rufus Thomas, Johnnie Taylor, Eddie Floyd, William Bell, Sam & Dave, Albert King, Mable John, The Mad Lads and many more.

The collaboration between Rhino and Concord will kick off with the May 19th launch of the Stax Classics series — announced exclusively on Rolling Stone (4/26) — which consists of ten wallet-friendly collections, each highlighting one of the label’s biggest stars with 12 choice tracks and insightful new liner notes. Available on CD and at all digital retailers and streaming services, these albums will celebrate the prolific Stax careers of Otis Redding, William Bell, Johnnie Taylor, Carla Thomas, Booker T & The MGs, The Dramatics, Albert King, Sam & Dave, Isaac Hayes and The Staple Singers.

Throughout the year, both Concord and Rhino will reissue a variety of iconic Stax albums on vinyl, including a 50th anniversary pressing of Otis Redding and Carla ThomasKing & Queen (Rhino), Melvin Van Peebles’ soundtrack to the groundbreaking Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (Concord), rarity John Gary Williams from The Mad Lads front man (Concord) and Otis Redding’s 1965 classic The Great Otis Redding Sings Soul Ballads (Rhino). Also, the forthcoming 4-CD anthology Isaac Hayes: The Spirit of Memphis (1962-1976) will be released in August, 2017 to coincide with the multitalented artist’s 75th birth anniversary. In addition, both labels will collaborate on a three-CD Stax 60th set, plus a new installment in the critically acclaimed Complete Stax Singles boxed set series. Volume Four will focus on the diverse nature of the label’s catalog, featuring singles released not only on Stax and Volt, but also Enterprise, Hip, Chalice, Gospel Truth and more. Both Rhino and Concord will also continue an overhaul of digital releases, re-delivering a handful of popular titles in high-resolution and Mastered for iTunes formats, as well as making many albums available to streaming and digital services for the first tim

This soulful partnership marks a special moment in history for the label, and both Rhino and Concord are proud to have the opportunity to collaborate after nearly 50 years. “The Stax catalog features some of the greatest and most culturally significant albums and singles of all time and continues to resonate with music fans 60 years later,” says Mark Pinkus, President of Rhino Entertainment. “We are thrilled to be partnering with Concord’s team on a wide array of new releases fitting of such an important moment in the Stax legacy.”

Sig Sigworth, Chief Catalog Officer of Concord Bicycle Music, Concord Music Group’s mother company, also notes that “Stax has a great history of bringing people together—songwriters, musicians, singers and fans from around the world.  It’s in this same tradition that we are very pleased to work with Mark and his team to bring together both sides of this incredible catalog while celebrating 60 years of Soulsville, US

Founded in 1957 by Memphis banker and fiddle player Jim Stewart, the Memphis label was a labor of love for Stewart, who oversaw operations initially with his sister Estelle Axton and then associate Al Bell. “On the anniversary of Stax Records’ 60th, this Concord/Rhino collaboration signals the beginning of the end of a bitter-sweet relationship between Stax and Atlantic,” says Stewart. “It’s long-overdue and a good omen for the unending popularity of the very best of Memphis Soul music.” “Stax Records,” Mr. Stewart continues, “was my baby.  Stax music was and always will be inspirational. I am so pleased that the music we created and recorded at Stax is still being discovered, and it continues to reside in the hearts of devotees everywhere that know the joy and power of ‘real’ music.”

Stewart and Axton, who changed the name of the label from Satellite Records to Stax in 1960, soon had a self-contained soul music powerhouse, complete with its own recording studio, a growing staff of A&R personnel, songwriters, producers, an inimitable house band, as well as Stax Publicist, Deanie Parker, who continues to fortify the legacy of Stax in Soulsville, USA. “Through the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, the label’s rich musical and cultural history can be studied, felt and enjoyed,” Parker offers. “Stax’s iconic hits and artists come to life through students at the Stax Music Academy and live on thanks to The Soulsville Charter School. And now, partners Concord and Rhino are unleashing some of the first R&B songs from the womb of Stax Records—music that we’ve grown up loving for more than half a century. It’s free at last,” Parker adds.

During its 15-year run, Stax released more than 800 singles and nearly 300 LPs, winning eight GRAMMY® Awards, plus an Academy Award along the way. The label placed more than 167 hit songs in the Top 100 pop charts, and a staggering 243 hits in the Top 100 R&B charts. Today, the original site of Stax Records is home to The Soulsville Foundation, which operates the multi-million dollar campus that houses the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, as well as the Stax Music Academy and The Soulsville Charter School, both of which serve primarily at-risk, inner-city youth. The Soulsville Foundation aims to impart the spirit and soul upon which Stax Records was founded: using the power of music and opportunity to shape a young person’s life, rebuild a community and keep valuable history alive forever.