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Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Unlikely Tribute to Nada Surf

The advent of the tribute album — that is, a bunch of contemporary musicians performing new versions of classic songs by a legendary band or singer — is hardly a new trend in the music industry. Actually, with the increase in downloading and streaming in recent years, you don’t see that many tribute albums released any longer. From the record company’s perspective, I guess it’s no longer a marketable idea.

Thus, seeing the recent release of Standing at the Gates: The Songs of Nada Surf’s Let Go was an unexpected but joyous one. Not only is Nada Surf a relatively obscure band, but to pick a single album by them was a daring but brilliant idea. Except for Aimee Mann and Ed Harcourt, chances are you have never heard anything by most of the other artists on here, but rest assured they all do these songs proud; this a thoroughly wonderful album. Then again, the original Let Go was packed with solid songs, so to hear the great new versions of those songs is not so far-fetched a proposition.

I’m almost reluctant to choose highlights from this album, seeing as how I love every track, but special mention has to go to the opening track, Manchester Orchestra’s version of “Blizzard of ‘77”, The Texas Gentlemen’s take on “Inside of Love”, Rogue Wave doing a faithful cover of “Blonde on Blonde”, The Long Winter tearing it up on “Hi-Speed Soul,” an equally torrid version of “The Way You Wear Your Head” by Charly Bliss”, and Aimee Mann’s tender take on “Paper Boats”. But my favorite track on this album is the instrumental version of “Neither Heaven Nor Space” by William Tyler. Imagine the guitar sound of Chris Isaak morphing into something magically atmospheric like what Vini Reilly could do with the Durutti Column and you have an idea of how special this sounds. I’m transported every time.

 

Another incentive to buy this album (and I would urge all music lovers to support the artists and BUY as much music from musicians and retail stores as you can) is that proceeds from the sales of this album go to the ACLU and the Pablove Foundation, a very worthy non-profit organization that helps children that are suffering from cancer.

And while I’m at it, I can’t neglect mentioning Nada Surf’s own tribute album, the batch of cool covers that constituted their wonderful If I Had a Hi-Fi album from 2010. For this album they choose songs by the likes of the Dwight Twilley Band, Arthur Russell, Kate Bush, the Go-Betweens, Depeche Mode, the Moody Blues, and a handful of more obscure artists. The result, as expected, was sheer musical bliss. If you haven’t heard anything by Nada Surf before, get this one, or any of their other studio albums. They are all worthwhile listens.

http://www.nadasurf.com/standing-at-the-gates-the-songs-of-nada-surfs-let-go/

 

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Soul Singer Supreme: Teddy Pendergrass

There were many great vocalists to come along during the 1960s and 1970s when I was growing up. I was a middle-class white kid but I always felt a special affinity for the black singers of that period, great soulful male voices such as Otis Redding, Al Green, Curtis Mayfield, Isaac Hayes, Percy Sledge, Wilson Pickett, Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffin of the Temptations (not to mention their solo stuff), Levi Stubbs of the Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, Aaron Neville, Barry White, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Jackie Wilson, Sam Cooke, Bobby Womack, Lou Rawls, and yes even the young Michael Jackson. I could venture further into deep soul territory and mention guys like Major Lance, Walter Jackson, General Johnson of the Chairman of the Board, George Jackson, James Carr, Sam Dees, Joe Simon, Syl Johnson, Lenny Williams from Tower of Power, Donny Hathaway, and Otis Clay. No doubt I’m leaving off many other deserving male soul singers from those years, but you get the idea: there were truly a bunch of great voices that emerged from those magical decades. And I barely touched on the many classic male vocal groups from that era such as the Spinners, O’Jays, Dramatics, Stylistics, and so many more. I’ll say it again; what a great era for music.

I recently read an online list of the “Greatest Singers” of that period and one noticeable omission was the late Teddy Pendergrass. What a great, great voice! Strong and passionate, full of fire and soul, and also capable of singing sweet love songs. Versatile and memorable. Teddy first gained fame as the lead singer of Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, the Philadelphia International vocal group that were one of the more successful of the Gamble & Huff production projects of the 1970s. Songs such as “The Love I Lost”, “Bad Luck”, “Don’t Leave Me This Way”, “If You Don’t Know Me By Now”, and “Wake Up Everybody” were stone soul classics that still sound vibrant today.

But after that string of big hits Teddy bolted from the comfort of the Blue Notes and went solo, releasing his self-titled debut album, Teddy Pendergrass, in 1977. That album, and 1978’s Life is a Song Worth Singing were full of more great songs, but they didn’t enjoy the same crossover pop success that he had enjoyed with Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes. Nevertheless, Teddy continued his solo career, always charting high and racking up hits on the R&B charts, even if major Top 40 success proved elusive.

And then came the tragic accident. In early 1982, while driving home late one night in Philadelphia, Teddy lost control of his car, hitting a guard rail and two trees. He was trapped inside the car for nearly an hour. He suffered spinal cord injuries in the crash and was paralyzed from the waist down. That could have signaled the end of his singing career, but Teddy persevered, undergoing physical therapy (although he would never walk again), signing to a new label, and releasing several more studio albums in the late 1980s and into the 1990s. Sadly, he died of respiratory failure at the still young age of 59 in 2010.

When I was in Kuala Lumpur last month, I picked up a very good collection of his music, titled The Real … Teddy Pendergrass, a 3-CD set (issued by Sony Music) that includes material from his time with Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes plus wonderful tracks from his early solo albums for Philadelphia International. But that’s only one of many fine collections that feature his music. Any of them are worth owning if you are a fan of soul or R&B music. Soul deep indeed!

And I have a personal Teddy Pendergrass story to add, although I never met the great singer. I was working at a record store in Orlando, Florida back in the late 1970s and his third solo album, simply called Teddy, had been released. The record company sent us a life-sized cardboard standup display of Teddy to promote the album (note: this was indeed a vinyl record, well before the advent of CDs, downloads, and streaming). The manager of my shop at that time was a young black guy named Jimmy (a really cool guy who turned me onto some great music) who bore a very slight resemblance to Teddy. Well, Jimmy did something to piss off the owner and was fired one day. The owner, a grumpy old character named Nate, called me up the next morning and asked me to meet him at the shop so he could give me a set of keys. Upon arrival we walked up to the shop and Nate peered into the dark interior. “Jimmy! What the hell are you doing in there?  Open up!” Well, it wasn’t Jimmy inside the shop; it was that darned Teddy Pendergrass cardboard stand-up. I refrained from laughing right then and there, but that story became a classic among us record store workers for many years afterwards!

Music on the Road: August 2019

I’m always listening to music. I need it as much as the air that I breathe and the water that I drink. It’s my life. At work, at home, and even when I travel I always have some tunes playing. I’m an album sort of guy, so I prefer listening to entire CDs or albums all the way through. Here are the musical friends that kept me company during my recent trip to Kuala Lumpur:

Steely Dan – Countdown To Ecstasy

Another from a very long line of Becker and Fagen masterpieces in the 1970s. Pick any song off this album. They are all gems! Pure songwriting genius, not to mention masterful musicians.

 

Maceo and All the King’s Men – Doing Their Own Thing

This, of course, is James Brown sidekick Maceo Parker blowing his horn and having a blast with a different bunch of musicians, Funky as expected, but also flourishes of jazz and some sweet soul. A real treat.

 

Gene Clark – Two Sides to Every Story

The ex-Byrds member released MANY fine solo albums during his short but brilliant career, and this relatively unsung effort from 1977 is among his very finest. Let the power of these songs move your soul.

 

Various Artists – Quiet About It: A Tribute to Jesse Winchester

Yet another singer-songwriter who should have been MUCH better known, Jesse Winchester mostly plied his craft from the 1970s through the early 2000s (after a Vietnam War-era hiatus in Canada), releasing several fine albums, the songs from which were covered by many other artists over the years. This “tribute” album, compiled when he was very ill, features a stellar cast of musicians including James Taylor, Rosanne Cash, Jimmy Buffett, Allen Toussaint, Lyle Lovett, Lucinda Williams, Elvis Costello, Vince Gill, and more. Great songs and great performances.

 

Puss N Boots – No Fools, No Fun

This is Nora Jones, shedding her jazzy ways, joining two other talented female musicians and rocking away full throttle, with some lovely pop and folk garnishes. Covers of songs by the Band, Wilco, Neil Young, and more cool tunes, combined with fine originals written by band member Catherine Popper. What a pleasant surprise!

 

Bruce Hornsby – Here Comes the Noisemakers

This 2-CD set comprises performances from tours between 1998 and 2000. If you thought Hornsby was some sort of one-hit wonder (“The Way It Is”) think again; this set showcased his piano chops, songwriting skills, deft cover choices, and a crack band. Musical brilliance.

 

Various Artists – Largo

A very unlikely combination of artists makes for a thoroughly wonderful album, sort of “tribute” to composer Antonin Dvorak without the bombastic classical bits. Start off with the blues legend Taj Mahal, add Levon Helm from the Band, Cyndi Lauper, Joan Osborne (who sings the stunning “”An Uncommon Love”), rock vet Willie Nile, members of the Irish legends the Chieftains, some guys from 80s hitmakers The Hooters, and a dash of  Carole King. Simply an outstanding album that defies categorization. I wish more people had heard this album.

 

David Crosby – Sky Trails

Another ex-Byrds member, and more famously a founder of Crosby, Still & Nash, has been a real roll with a string of very strong solo albums this decade. On this one it sounds like he’s been listening to Joni Mitchell and Steely Day. And that’s a good thing!

 

Pink Floyd – Animals

What more can you say? Another rock classic from the 1970s. Pigs on the Wing!

 

Phoebe Snow – Phoebe Snow

One of those old chestnuts that still sounds great after all these years. Her debut album from 1974 had the hit “Poetry Man” but also plenty of other cool songs with a pop, jazz and soul flavor.

 

Bennett Wilson Poole – Bennett Wilson Poole

I hesitate to call this is a super-group, mainly because you’ve probably never heard of the other bands these guys are from but rest assured this is a wonderful lineup of very gifted singers and musicians. It features Danny Wilson from Danny and the Champions of the World (who have recorded a number of fine albums), Tony Poole from Starry Eyed and Laughing, as well as Robin Bennett who has played with Saint Etienne and the Dreaming Spires. The result is sheer pop brilliance with a laid back ‘70s vibe. A review in Mojo Magazine raved that their music “is rooted in late-60s country psyche, their heart in the LA canyons, and their talent somewhere in Americana nirvana.” And yet they hail from the UK. You can hear the influence of bands like the Byrds and CSN. Addictive stuff!

 

Poco – Head Over Heels

This influential country-rock group put out a lot of fine albums over the years. Even after losing one of their original members they carried and on and recorded this wonderful album in 1975. Chock full of one great song after another. It’s my favorite Poco album of all time.

 

Jackie Leven – Elegy for Johnny Cash

Ah, the voice of an angel! The ex-Doll By Doll singer put out a ton of fine solo albums over the past 20 years and never got the proper acclaim he deserved. This was another keeper, full of intelligent, soulful pleasantl subtle rock tunes. Hey, even Ian Rankin was a big fan!

 

Tasmin Archer – Great Expectations

One of the great unheralded voices from the 1990s. Great soulful pop songs propelled by that powerful voice. Should have been a monster hit.

 

Various Artists – Me, Myself & Irene (music from the motion picture)

Take a silly Jim Carrey movie but pump up the volume with some ultra-cool music — mostly covers of classic Steely Dan songs — and you end up with one winner of a soundtrack. The covers of Steely Dan songs by the likes of Wilco, Ivy, Ben Folds Five, and the Brian Setzer Orchestra are nothing less than joyous, plus original material by Pete Yorn, Hootie  the Blowfish, and even the Foo Fighters are also top notch.

 

Bo Deans – Joe Dirt Car

A very energetic and fun double live album by one of the more underrated “alternative” bands from the late 1980s and early 1990s. Listen to the audience feedback and it’s obvious that their fans adored them.

 

Lyle Lovett – Step Inside This House

This 2-CD set is Lovett’s tribute to the songs from other great Texas singer-songwriters of the past 40 years He covers songs by familiar names such as Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, and Michael Martin Murphey, plus more obscure guys like Steve Fromholz, Willis Allen Ramsey, and Robert Earl Keen. Lovely, lovely stuff.

 

Blue Rodeo – The Things We Left Behind

Yet another double album, this one by the veteran but underrated Canadian band. They do “Americana” in the vein of the Jayhawks; catchy songs with stirring harmonies. Always a good thing.

 

Deacon Blue – Ooh Las Vegas

Once again, a 2-CD set, this one comprised of covers, B-sides, soundtrack songs, and other rarities that the excellent Scottish band recorded during the 1980s and 1990s. If you liked Raintown or any of their other fine albums, don’t miss this goldmine of rare tunes too. Soulful pop and songs that stick in your head.

 

Josh Rouse – Under Cold Blue Stars

Maybe not his very best album (I still have a soft spot for Dressed Up Like Nebraska) but still a very solid and enjoyable set of songs. Rouse is one of the better but lesser known American singer-songwriters to appear in the past 20 years and you can’t go wrong with any of early albums including this fine set of pop majesty from 2002.

 

Amazing Rhythm Aces & Russell Smith

I suppose it’s inevitable, given my own advancing age and the passage of time, but it seems as if every week I notice another musician that I like has passed away. Last week we lost Russell Smith, the lead singer of the Amazing Rhythm Aces. He was 70 years old

If you are one of those people of a certain age, like me, who cut their musical teeth in the 1960s and 1970s, you will recall the Amazing Rhythm Aces, especially their bit hit “Third Rate Romance.” But in addition to that tune the band had plenty of other great songs, and many fine albums too. Stacked Deck, the album that contained “Third Rate Romance”, was their best selling one, but my favorite was the follow-up effort, Too Stuffed To Jump, a terrific album that contained my very favorite song by the band, the majestic “The End is Not in Sight.” And my soul cries out for rest … and the end is not in sight. Beautiful stuff.

The description of the Amazing Rhythm Aces found on Wikipedia is an apt one:

“The band’s music is distinguished by its eclectic scope, literate and often quirky lyrics, and distinctive vocals by lead singer and songwriter Russell Smith.”

 

And eclectic they were. The band was often labeled as “Southern Rock” or “Country Rock”, but they effortlessly blended country with generous dollops of blues and soul, as well as touches of gospel and even reggae. And it all worked. Great musicians, and as noted in other reviews, Russell Smith was a helluva good singer. Not to mention an outstanding songwriter. After the breakup of the band he enjoyed many years of success writing hits for various other country acts. After the Aces called it quits (for the first time; they later reunited) in the early 1980s, Smith went solo and released several good albums, although in my opinion none of them captured the magic of the Amazing Rhythm Aces.

I had the privilege of seeing the Amazing Rhythm Aces in concert at the Great Southern Music Hall in Orlando, Florida back in the late 1970s. Man, they put on a fabulous and very energetic show. Smith himself was very personable and charming onstage. Honestly, I don’t think he and the band ever got the proper respect and attention they deserved. They were certainly much more than one-hit wonders.

 

After the breakup of the Aces, Smith also released another interesting side project in the early 1990s, called Run C&W (a tongue-in-cheek poke at the popular rap group Run DMC). Dubbed by one reviewer as a “parody bluegrass” group, Run C&W’s two albums, Into the Twangy-First Century  and Row vs. Wade, gloriously blended county/bluegrass and vintage soul music, covering (mostly) classic Motown songs such as “Reach Out, I’ll Be There”, “My Girl” and “Hold On, I’m Comin’.” Good fun!

Yes, once again, we have lost another great songwriter and musician. In recent months Dr. John and another New Orleans legend, Dave Bartholomew (who was 100!) also passed away. Gone but never forgotten.

Eugene McDaniels sends a “Love Letter To America”

I’ve been listening to Outlaw, a wonderful album by Eugene McDaniels a lot in recent months. One song in particular, “Love Letter To America” struck a chord with me. Here are some of the lyrics:

 

“Hey America

You could have had it

Any way you wanted it

You could have been a real democracy

You could have been free, oh

 

Hey America

Could have had me for your friend

And not your enemy

Through your perversion

You insist I have to be

Your enemy, oh

 

Hey America

The only thing you can respect

Is violence now

You lost the gift of love

Don’t ask me why

But you’ve lost it now, oh”

And there’s plenty more. McDaniels astutely wrote about subjects such as racial profiling and police violence … and this was back in 1970 when Outlaw was first released. For those in the math class, that was 47 years ago! Considering the sad state of racial relations and the pathetic people running the country these days, that song and the other pieces that McDaniels so deftly composed could just as well have been written this past year instead of in 1970. A very sobering realization. One has to wonder: Has America really “progressed” in the past forty years?

In addition to “Love Letter To America”, Outlaw is packed with plenty of other potent tunes too, including the classic “Silent Majority.” A real gem of an overlooked album, as is his other collection, Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse. Rumor has it that one song on that album so angered President Richard Nixon and Vice-President Spiro Agnew (back in 1971), that they tapped McDaniels’ phone and asked Atlantic Records to pull the album from circulation! Ain’t that America, indeed!

If you are a fan of the late great Gil Scott-Heron, Eugene McDaniels is also someone you need to hear. One review I read called his music “a boundary-defying fusion of funk, jazz, rock, and soul.” Throw in protest folk and a bit of psychedelia, and you have a wonderfully vague idea of what this guy was all about. Any way you label it, this was impressive stuff.

McDaniels was also a gifted producer and songwriter for many decades, and many of his songs have subsequently been sampled by various hip-hop artists. He wrote “Compared To What?”, which was a Top Forty hit for Eddie Harris and Les McCann, and “Feel Like Makin’ Love”, which was a hit for Roberta Flack. In his earlier years he recorded under the name Gene McDaniels, enjoying a minor hit himself with “A Hundred Pounds of Clay.” Sadly, he is seldom mentioned among the greats of music, a distinction he most certainly deserves. He passed away in 2011.

http://eugenemcdaniels.com/

Living on Neil Young’s Earth

When I was in Kuala Lumpur a few months back, I packed up a trio of recently released Neil Young CDs, including The Monsanto Years and Earth. Both albums are highly recommended and feature Neil playing with his new band, Promise of the Real. That band, interestingly enough, features two of Willie Nelson’s sons, Lukas and Mikah. And these guys rock as hard as Crazy Horse, the legendary outfit that played on so many of Neil’s best albums.

 

To my ears, Neil and Promise of the Real are a great fit, merging tight musicianship with Neil Young’s distinctive guitar playing and of course the equally distinctive vocals of the man himself. And, as you would expect, the lyrical content makes a statement too. Plus, on Earth, which is a live recording, the songs are supplemented by the sound of crows cawing, and a few other barnyard sound effects. If that sounds weird, well hey, it’s just Neil Young being Neil Young, and the crow stuff actually enhances the vibe and works pretty well. Thank heavens we have still have Neil Young out there and making vital music and caring about what happens to our environment. More people should listen to him and ignore all the bloated politicians spewing their dated rhetoric and other nonsense.

 

Speaking of Kuala Lumpur, I picked up the Neil Young CDs at the Victoria Music outlet in the Amcorp Mall in Petaling Jaya. On weekends at Amcorp Mall you can also find many dealers selling vintage vinyl and used CDs at the indoor “flea market.” While in KL I also made my pilgrimage to a few of the Rock Corner branches, the number of which are sadly on the decline. After the closure of their branches in KLCC, the Mid-Valley Megamall, and 1 Uttama, the store at the Curve also closed, and now the ones in Bangsar Village and Subang Jaya are also slated to shut by the end of this month. After that retail decimation, the only branch open will be the one in the Gardens, the smaller shopping center adjacent to the Mid-Valley Megamall. Considering how difficult it is for retail music shops to operate in these downloading, streaming times, it’s not shocking to see those wonderful establishments shut their doors, but it really depresses me all the same. Meanwhile, here are the other albums that have me pumping my fists in the air and doing silly dances in the living room:

 

Patty Loveless – Sleepless Nights

The talented singer-songwriter turns the tables and does an album of classic country songs, covering tunes made popular by George Jones, Emmylou Harris, Hank Williams, Dolly Parton, Conway Twitty, and more. Delightful stuff.

Bash & Pop – Anything Could Happen

BNQT – Volume One

The Velvet Crush – Heavy Changes

Nada Surf – Peaceful Ghosts

 

Billy Butler – The Right Tracks: The Complete Okeh Recordings 1963-1966

Jerry Butler’s brother shows that he was a fine singer in his own right on these vintage Okeh label songs. Plenty of great soul tunes, many of them written and produced by Curtis Mayfield, plus some groovy unreleased backing tracks.

Eugene Record – The Eugene Record/Trying To Get To You

The Brian Setzer Orchestra – Vavoom!

Bonnie Raitt – Dig In Deep

The Primitives – Echoes and Rhymes

 

Drive By Truckers – It’s Great To Be Alive!

Can I call these guys the best band working in the USA? I’m gonna do it anyway. They’ve been through several lineup shuffles over the past decade or so, the band does indeed keep on truckin’, thanks to the outstanding songs of Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley. And some impressive guitar playing too. The live setting on this sprawling 3-CD set only makes their songs all the more powerful. Life affirming music.

Joe Haywood – Warm and Tender Love

Mary Chapin Carpenter – The Things That We Are Made Of

Teddy Thompson & Kelly Jones – Little Windows

Cait Brennan – Third

 

Khun Narin Electric Phin Band – Khun Narin Electric Phin Band

From Thailand’s Northeastern Isaan region, Khun Narin’s band is back with another intoxicating collection of instrumentals. They fuse traditional Thai morlam music with a propulsive, almost psychedelic groove. This album changes tempos more than their last one, but still plenty of tunes to get your booty shaking. Check out their videos of YouTube! Lively up yourself!

Kenny Burrell & Jimmy Smith – Blue Bash!

Natural Four – Heaven Right Here On Earth/Natural Four

Dexter Wansel – Stargazer: The Philadelphia International Records Anthology 1976-1980

Calexico – Edge of the Sun

 

Rozetta Johnson – A Woman’s Way: The Complete 1963-1975

Where did this lady come from? Listen to hear belt soulful song after soulful song and you wonder why she didn’t make bigger waves in the music industry. Great songs and a great voice. Dig in and love it!

Various Artists – One Track Mind: More Motown Guys

John Jarvis – Something Constructive

Walter Jackson – It’s All Over: the Okeh Recordings Vol. 1

Royksopp – In Inevitable End

 

Artful Dodger – The Complete Columbia Recordings

The underrated and now defunct power-pop group from the US get a justly deserved 2-CD retrospective of their 1970s recordings. Catchy as hell.

Over the Rhine – Discount Fireworks

Chuck Berry – Chuck

The Feelies – In Between

Aimee Mann – Mental Illness

 

Various Artists – Next Stop Soweto Vol. 4: 1975-1985

Subtitled “Zulu Rock, Afro-Disco and Mbaqanga, this is another impressive collection of vintage South African music, the fourth in this series from Strut Records.

Jimmy Castor Bunch – Butt Of Course/Supersound/E-Man Groovin’

Father John Misty – Pure Comedy

Cotton Mather – Wild Kingdom

Shawn Colvin – All Fall Down

 

John Holt – 4000 Volts of Holt

This must have been where UB40 got the idea for their “Labour of Love” albums. Pop and Soul hits covered by the sweet-singing John Holt. It’s not all fabulous, but you’ll find plenty to like on this 2-CD set.

Gerry Beckley – Horizonal Fall

The Well Wishers – How I Won the War

Isaac Hayes – Out of the Ghetto: The Polydor Years

The Jesus and Mary Chain – Damage and Joy

 

Pat Thomas – Coming Home: Ghanaian Highlife & Afrobeat Classics 1964-1981

Another underrated African musician, this time a guy from Ghana who played in several groups before going solo. Another fine 2-CD reissue from Strut Records.

Chet Ivey – A Dose of Soul: The Sylvia Fun Recordings 1972-75

Charlie Haden & Pat Metheny – Beyond the Missouri Sky

The Creation – Action Painting

Don Covay – The House of Blue Lights

 

Various Artists – Afrosound of Colombia: Volume 2

I loved this first volume of this series, highlighting the extensive catalog of Colombia’s Disco Fuentes label, and this one is equally as fun. A lively stew of Salsa, Boogaloo, Afro-Beat, Cumbia, Soul, and Funk.

The Fantastic Four – Alvin Stone/Night People

Link Wray – 3-Track Shack

Various Artists – Highlife on the Move: Selected Nigerian and Ghanaian Recordings 1954-1966

Dionne Warwick – The Essential Dionne Warwick

New Orleans Legends You May Have Never Heard

bettyharris

I recently picked up a compilation of 1960s recordings by Betty Harris titled The Lost Queen of New Orleans Soul. That’s a bold claim, considering all of the great music that has come from that musically-endowed city, but Harris is so good that she does indeed deserve such a moniker. All of the songs on this 17-song collection were written and produced by Allen Toussaint, the legendary singer-songwriter and pianist-producer who sadly passed away about this time last year (a few songs are credited to Naomi Neville, but that’s an alias that Toussaint used for a few years when he was in legal limbo. That was also his mother’s maiden name!).

In addition to Toussaint’s magic touch, the other special ingredient on these songs — recorded from 1965 to 1969 — is the backup band; none other than another legend of New Orleans music, the mighty Meters. But the real highlight is Betty Harris herself. She was a bold soul sister before such a classification even existed. Imagine a sassy, sultry, funky cross between Tina Turner and Irma Thomas, and that’s close to what Betty Harris sounds like. Good for your soul, indeed!

bettyharris_now

Oddly, Betty Harris never released a full album all those years ago. Most of these songs were released as singles on the Sansu label, but none were ever big hits, and her career stalled. After a national tour with Otis Redding and Joe Simon — curtailed by the tragic plane crash that killed Otis — in 1967, Harris recorded a few more songs with Toussaint but in 1970 she decided to retire from the music business and start a family. But the story doesn’t end there. Betty Harris is still alive and singing, and since 2005 she has resumed performing again.

hardesty

Also on the subject of the Crescent City, I’ve been listening to The Domino Effect, an album from veteran New Orleans musician, Herb Hardesty. For many years Hardesty was the saxophone player in Fats Domino’s band. He also played sessions and went on tours with many other recording artists, including Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and even Tom Waits. He recorded a solo album himself, back in 1958, but that album was never released … that is until four years ago, when Ace Records finally put out that album along with some other sessions that Hardesty recorded in the early 1960s. The Domino Effect is a mostly instrumental collection that showcases Hardesty’s vibrant sax playing. With song titles such as “Sassy”, “Rumba Rockin’ With Coleman”, “Herb’s in the Doghouse”, “Feelin’ Good”, “Bouncing Ball”, “Beatin’ and Blowin’”, and “The Chicken Twist” you can pretty much guess that this is one very upbeat and fun set of songs. Plenty of rockin’ R&B with some nifty jazz and blues flourishes.

Herbert Hardesty acknowledges the audience in the Blues Tent during his set at the New Orleans Jazz Fest Saturday, April 27, 2013.(Photo by David Grunfeld, Nola.com | The Times-Picayune)

Herbert Hardesty acknowledges the audience in the Blues Tent during his set at the New Orleans Jazz Fest Saturday, April 27, 2013.(Photo by David Grunfeld, Nola.com | The Times-Picayune)

In an earlier version of this story I was going to mention that, like Betty Harris, Herb Hardesty is also still alive and still playing shows, but sadly he passed away earlier this month, on December 3, at the age of 91. But even in his advancing years, Hardesty was still playing live shows around New Orleans, including an enthusiastically received set at the 2012 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. They say that music keeps you young and I’m a strong believer in that adage.

Meanwhile, here are the other albums I’ve been playing on a daily basis and keeping me company on those lonely nights lately:

urgentjumping

Various Artists – Urgent Jumping: East African Classics

Wilco – Alpha Mike Foxtrot: Rare Tracsk 1994-2014

Ramones – Too Tough To Die

4th Coming – Strange Things 1970-1974

Dan Penn – Close To Me: More Fame Recordings

 

monkees_good

The Monkees – Good Times!

Cannonball Adderley – What Is This Thing Called Soul: Live in Europe

Parquet Courts – Human Performance

Various Artists –Come Back Strong: Hotlanta Soul 4

Sneaky Feelings – Positively George Street

 

milkncookies

Milk ‘N’ Cookies – Milk ‘N’ Cookies

Jimbo Mathus – Dark Night of the Soul

Baby Huey – Living Legend

Michael Carpenter – Hopefulness

Jimmy Eat World – Integrity Blues

 

prine_forbetter

John Prine – For Better or Worse

The Edge of Darkness – Eyes of Love

The Fantastic Four – The Lost Motown Album

Sunburst – Ave Africa

David Crosby – Lighthouse

 

dieuf-dieul

Dieuf-Dieul de Thies – Aw Sa Yone Vol. 2

Various Artists – Celestial Blues

The Independents – Just As Long: The Complete Wand Recordings 1972-74

Santana – Santana IV

Dexter Johnson – Live At Letoile

 

flatfive

The Flat Five – It’s a World of Love and Hope

Robert Ellis – The Lights From the Chemical Plant

Waco Brothers – Freedom and Weep

Various Artists – Super Funk Volume 4

Various Artists – Dave Hamilton’s Detroit Dancers: Vol. 2

 

afrosound_colombia

Various Artists – The Afrosound of Colombia: Vol. 1

Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial

Songs: Ohia – Magnolia Electric Company (Deluxe Edition)

Hank Ballard – You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down

Bill Lloyd – Lloyd-ering

 

afterschoolspecial

Various Artists – Afterschool Special: The 123s of Kid Soul

Arthur Alexander – The Monument Years

Danny & the Champions of the World – Danny & the Champions of the World

Close Lobsters – Firestation Towers 1986-1989

Stiff Little Fingers – Original Album Series (5-CD Box)

 

orlandojulius

Orlando Julius – Super Afro Soul

Johnny Clarke – Ruffer Version

Black Heat – Black Heat

Nada Surf – Live in Brussels

Various Artists – Senegal 70

 

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