musings on music, travel, books, and life from Southeast Asia

Posts tagged ‘Chris DIfford’

Stax Records and the Last Days of Soul

The Memphis-based Stax Records was a powerhouse of a label in the 1960s, ranking only behind the mighty Motown Records in terms of churning out hits on the R&B and Pop charts. But many fans of soul music would argue that Stax was actually miles ahead of Motown in terms of quality, boasting a roster of singers and musicians such as Otis Redding, Booker T & the MG’s, Sam & Dave, Isaac Hayes, the Bar-Kays, Carla Thomas, The Staple Singers, William Bell, Johnnie Taylor, Eddie Floyd, Little Milton, and dozens of others.


But as the decade ended and the 1970s arrived, the hits became fewer and fortunes of Stax declined. However, a compilation of songs on Stax released by the Kent label in 2012, Nobody Wins: Stax Southern Soul 1968-1975, reveals that even though the hits might have dried up, the label was still releasing plenty of great tunes. Because of their legal problems and a dispute with CBS (the label’s very important distributor), by 1975 Stax had a cashflow problem and many of their “name” artists had left the label. According to the liner notes that come with the CD, “To fill the gap in the release schedule members of the back room staff were encouraged to make records.”

Man, what a talented back room staff that must have been! Among those unheralded artists was a guy known as Sir Mack Rice. Rice may not have been a known entity as a recording artist, but he was a very respected songwriter, having penned tunes such as “Mustang Sally” (a monster hit for Wilson Pickett), “Respect Yourself” (which the Staples Singers turned into a hit), and “Cheaper to Keep Her” (one of Johnnie Taylor’s biggest hits). He ended up recording three songs for Stax in late 1974, one of which, “Nobody Wins ‘Til the Game Is Over,” is included on this CD. It’s a gritty, soul shaker with that classic sound you associate with Stax. The liner notes call the song “very much in the Hi (label) sound”, but I actually think the following tune on the CD, “Groovin’ on My Baby’s Love” by Freddie Waters, sounds more like a vintage Hi Records tune, like something in the style of Al Green as produced by Willie Mitchell. Yep, it’s that delicious.

There are plenty of other great songs on this CD, both from “no-name” artists such as Charlene & the Soul Serenaders, Inez Foxx, and Calvin Scott, to veteran acts such as Little Milton, the Soul Children, William Bell, Eddie Floyd, and Mabel John. Another one of my favorite tracks on this collection is “Make a Joyful Noise” by Bettye Crutcher, a sweet soul masterpiece that recalls some of the best “joyful” tunes of the era. Crutcher worked at Stax for many years as a songwriter (in fact, she co-wrote several of the songs on this CD) until she finally got a chance in 1974 to record her own material, resulting in a most pleasing album, Long as You Love Me.  As with all CD compilations from the Kent and Ace team, Nobody Wins: Stax Southern Soul comes with a deluxe booklet that has a history of the label and details about these recordings, along with artist bios and vintage photos. Another “must have” for fans of 60s and 70s southern soul. Meanwhile, here are the other CDs that are keeping me afloat during this rainy month in Bangkok.


Bettye Crutcher – Long As You Love Me

Tedeschi Trucks Band – Made Up Mind

I See Hawks in L.A. – New Kind of Lonely

Grant Hart – The Argument

Kings of Leon – Mechanical Bull


Various Artists – Diablos Del Ritmo: Colombian Melting Pot

Michael Fennelly – Love Can Change Everything

Various Artists – Late Night Tales (selected by Midlake)

Gene Clark & Carla Olson – So Rebellious a Lover

Terry Adams & Steve Ferguson – Louisville Sluggers


Various Artists – The Big E: A Salute to Steel Guitarist Buddy Emmons

Propaganda – Secret Wish (25th Anniversary Edition)

Booker T – Sound the Alarm

Michael Chapman – Trainsong: Guitar Compositions 1967-2010

World Famous Headliners – World Famous Headliners


Alton Ellis – Mr. Soul of Jamaica

Lou Donaldson – Here ‘Tis

Z.Z. Hill – The Brand New Z.Z. Hill

Various Artists – Country Funk 1969-75

Menahan Street Band – Crossing


Benny Soebardja – Lizard Years

Kenny O’Dell – Beautiful People

Bert Jansch – A Rare Conundrum

James Iha – Let it Come Down

Deerhunter – Monomania


Dan Greer – Beale Street Soul Man

Richard X. Heyman – Actual Sighs

Skatalites – Foundation Ska

Francis Dunnery – Let’s Go Do What Happens

O.M.D. – English Electric


Chris Difford – The Last Temptation of Chris

Samuel Purdey – Musically Adrift

Angel City – Face to Face

Pete Donnelly – When You Come Home

Woody Shaw – Stepping Stones: Live at the Village Vanguard


Freddie Roach – Good Move!

Local Natives – Hummingbird

Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion – Wassaic Way

Lee Morgan – Rumproller

Jeb Loy Nichols – Days Are Mighty


Neil Young Never Sleeps

I just finished reading Neil Young’s autobiography, Waging Heavy Peace. I can’t say that it’s a great book — too many clichéd phrases and repetitive references to Neil’s various side projects  dampen the “wow factor” — but for any diehard Neil Young fan, it’s still a must read. Like the man’s music output, you never know what expect from one chapter to the next — and that’s part of the fun. If you can tolerate Neil’s copious references to his car collection and the “PureSound” audio project he is obsessed with launching, you’ll enjoy reading most of this book. It’s packed with fascinating anecdotes and honest recollections of his life, both inside and outside of music. Particularly touching are the passages in the book that reveal Neil’s love and devotion to his handicapped son Ben, and also to his wife, Pegi. At times I think this book could have used a strong editor, one who could have cut out some of the weaker and sillier parts, but then again those parts are just Neil being Neil, staying true to his soul, and this book gives the reader a better idea of what he thinks and cares about. And in that context, the book hits the mark.


Last year Neil released two excellent albums with his longtime band Crazy Horse. The first one, Americana, was billed as “a collection of classic American folk songs.” That may have been the case, but in the hands of Neil and his band, those songs were turned inside out and re-energized. The album included songs such as “Oh Susannah”, “Clementine”, “Tom Dooley”, “This Land is Your Land” and “Waywarin’ Stranger.” But these were definitely not laid back, traditional arrangements of these old songs. Each one was electrified and transported by Neil’s new arrangements and the presence of Crazy Horse. There was also a clear social and political slant to the song selection, all of which made the album even more of a vital listening experience. If that “comeback” (it was the first Neil Young and Crazy Horse album in nearly 9 years) wasn’t enough, Neil and the Horse returned later in the year with Psychedelic Pill, a two-CD set of all new material. Not only was this a double album, but the songs themselves were sprawling opus-like creations. The opening track, “Driftin’ Back” was 27-minutes of electric guitar bliss, enhanced by Neil’s wacky lyrics. Pure genius. There are several other tracks that break the 10-minute barrier, so don’t go expecting a bunch of short, sweet folk tunes or a reprise of Harvest. All in all, there is nothing ground breaking on Psychedelic Pill, following familiar Crazy Horse territory. But if you are a fan of Neil’s other Crazy Horse recordings, you’ll love this one too. The energy and raw power is both thrilling and comforting. These guys, even in their 60s, can still deliver the goods!


In addition to Neil Young’s Psychedelic Pill here are the other CDs I’ve been playing in heavy rotation lately:


George Jackson – Let the Best Man Win: The Fame Recordings Vol. 2

Todd Rundgren’s Utopia – Live at the Hammersmith Odeon ‘75

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – Live from Alabama

Various Artists – Titan: It’s All Pop

The Low Anthem – Smart Flesh


Daryl Hall – Sacred Songs

Lee Morgan – Lee-Way

Jim Boggia – Safety in Sound

UB 40 – Signing Off

Jackie Leven – For Peace Comes Dropping Slow


Ronnie Dyson – One Man Band

Roy Harper – Songs of Love and Loss

Miracle Fortress – Miracle Fortress

Alabama Shakes – Boys  & Girls

Fun. – Aim and Ignite


Aimee Mann – Charmer

Cannonball Adderley – Money in the Pocket

Cabaret Voltaire – The Original Sound of Sheffield: Best of 1983-87

Elvis Costello – Kojak Variety

Lyle Lovett – Release Me


Alphonse Mouzon – Mind Transplant

Robert Glasper – Black Radio

Larry Young – Locked Down

Dr. John – Unity

Etta James – Rocks the House


Various Artists – Eccentric Soul: Outskirts of Deep City

Freddie Hubbard – First Light

Bill Fay – Life is People

Groundhogs – Thank Christ for the Bomb

Augustus Pablo – Skanking Easy


Taj Mahal – Hidden Treasures: 1969-1973

Miles Davis – The Birth of the Cool

J. Tillman – Year in the Kingdom

Hank Crawford – Roadhouse Symphony

Dusty Springfield – A Very Fine Love


Chris Difford – Cashmere if You Can

Various Artists – Hip Hammond & Soulful Grooves

Eddie Money – No Control

Bloomfield/Kooper/Stills – Super Session

Ken Stringfellow – Danzig in the Moonlight


Year End Listening

With this year almost wrapped up and ready for tossing away, I was tempted to compile a “Best Of” list, albums that I enjoyed listening to the most in 2012. But as much as I’ve tried to keep up with “worthwhile” new releases, I feel like I haven’t properly sampled enough of the cream of the crop. I haven’t, for example, listened to a fraction of the many CDs that I bought in Kuala Lumpur earlier this month, and there are more than a few other notable 2012 releases that I’m still aiming to buy. Plus, I keep going back and discovering new “old” albums that I like. Thus, any attempt to compile an annual “Best” list would be woefully incomplete. So, in place of a yearly roundup, here is another one of my regular lists, CDs that I’ve been playing the most often the past two months.


Neil Young – Americana

Patterson Hood – Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance

Calexico – Algiers

Dexys – One Day I’m Going to Soar

Various Artists – Eccentric Soul: The Capsoul Label


Various Artists – Lost Soul Gems from the Sound of Memphis

Ben Folds Five – The Sound of the Life of the Mind

Electric Light Orchestra – El Dorado

Marshall Crenshaw – Jaggedland

The Wallflowers – Glad All Over


Chris Difford – I Didn’t Get Where I Am

Rick James – Urban Rhapsody

Dylan LeBlanc – Cast the Same Old Shadow

Dyke and the Blazers – We Got More Soul

Ben Kweller – Changing Horses


Freddie Hubbard – Open Sesame

Jackie McLean – Capuchin Swing

Andrew Bird – Break It Yourself

Donald Fagen – Sunken Condos

4 Way Street – Pretzel Park


Wondermints – Bali

Milt Jackson & John Coltrane – Bags & Trane

Cass McCombs – Dropping the Writ

Band of Horses – Infinite Sums

Lee Morgan – Tom Cat


David Ruffin – David (Unreleased LP and More)

Joe Bataan – Anthology

Two Door Cinema Club – Beacon

Elliott Smith – Figure 8

XTC – Apple Venus


Iain Archer – Magnetic North

Shack – H.M.S. Fable

BoDeans – Joe Dirt Car

Barclay James Harvest – Gone to Earth

Joe Henderson – Mode for Joe


The Explorer’s Club – The Grand Hotel

Kenny Dorham – Afro-Cuban

Frankie Miller – That’s Who!

Cut Copy – Bright Live Neon Love

Durocs – Durocs


Carolina Chocolate Drops – Leaving Eden

I See Hawks in L.A. – Shoulda Been Gold 2001-2007

Leon Spencer – Legends of Acid Jazz

Jimmy Buffett – Havana Daydreamin’

The Vapors – Vaporized


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