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

Posts tagged ‘Eccentric Soul’

The Soul of Johnny Mathis

“Who is that singing?” asked one of my customers last week, referring to a CD that I was playing in the shop at the time.

“Johnny Mathis,” I replied.

“No kidding? I used to listen to him when I was in high school. That was back in South Dakota,” said the man, who added that he’s 76-years-old. “How old is Johnny Mathis now? He must be about ninety!”

Well, not quite. Although Johnny Mathis has seemingly been around forever — he recorded his first song in 1957 — he won’t turn 80 until September next year. It’s reported by the Guinness Book of World Records that Mathis has sold over 350 million records worldwide, ranking him as the third most successful recording artist of the 20th century. While recording legends such as Elvis Presley and the Beatles are at least names known to children born this century, I expect only a miniscule percentage have even heard of Johnny Mathis, much less heard any of his songs.


Granted, Johnny Mathis doesn’t possess the “cool factor” of Elvis or the Beatles, but you can’t ignore the fact that he was an outstanding vocalist. Mathis has one of the effortlessly smooth voices that sound good no matter what type of material he is singing. Mathis often gets lumped into the “easy listening” category of vocalists but he’s recorded an impressive and versatile canon of music during his long career, ranging from pop and country to jazz and soul, not to mention copious movie themes and Broadway show tunes.


The CD that I was playing in my shop was I’m Coming Home, an album recorded in 1973 that represented a “comeback” of sorts for Mathis, who after so much success in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, was finding the new decade a more difficult proposition as far as selling records. The album was produced by the legendary Thom Bell, and reflected Bell’s “Philly Soul” background. In the long line of Johnny Mathis albums, this one wasn’t a big seller and tends to get overlooked by many fans, but the lack of sales certainly wasn’t due to lack of quality. The album was chock-full of great tunes, most of the material written by Bell and his partner, Linda Creed, along with a couple of cover tunes. Mathis’s version of “I’m Stone in Love With You” (a big hit for the Stylistics) and “Life is a Song Worth Singing” (a solo hit for Teddy Pendergrass a few years later), along with the scintillating title track rank as some of the best songs that he ever recorded. I’m Coming Home is an album well worth checking out for fans of Mathis and those that enjoy early 1970s soul music.

Meanwhile, here are the other great and groovy CDs that I’ve been listening to repeatedly in recent weeks:


Steve Miller Band – Anthology

Nick Heyward – From Monday to Sunday

Charles Earland – In Concert

Various Artists – Super Funk 2

Eddi Reader – Vagabond



Various Artists – Memphis 70

Paulo Nutino – Caustic Love

Richard X. Heyman – X

Johnny Cash – At Folsom Prison

Jonathan Wilson – Fanfare



Dee Dee Bridgewater – Red Earth: A Malian Journey

Daryl Hall & John Oates – Our Kind of Soul

Grant Hart – Good News for Modern Man

Robin Trower – State To State: Live Across America 1974-1980

Tommy Guerrero – A Little Bit of Somethin’



Various Artists – Eccentric Soul: The Way Out Label

Chicago – Live in Japan

White Denim – Corsicana Lemonade

The Ovations – One in a Million: The XL and Sounds of Memphis Recordings

The Merry-Go-Round – Listen, Listen: The Definite Collection



Johnny Otis – That’s Your Last Boogie

Kelly Willis & Bruce Robison – Cheater’s Game

Parliament – The 12-Inch Collection and More

The Voices of East Harlem – Right On Be Free

Churches – The Bones of What You Believe



Peter Green – Very Best of Peter Green and the Splinter Group

Eric Clapton & Friends – The Breeze: An Appreciation of J.J. Cale

Counting Crows – Somewhere Under Wonderland

Boogaloo Joe Jones – Legends of Acid Jazz

Joe Henderson – State of the Tenor: Live at the Village Vanguard



Richard Hawley – Coles Corner

Various Artists – Hall of Fame Volume 3: More Rare and Unissued Gems from the Fame Vaults

Low – The Invisible Way

Jimmy Eat World – Damage

Paul Revere & the Raiders – Greatest Hits



Brenda and the Tabulations – Right on the Tip of My Tongue

Arcade Fire – Reflektor

Gordon Lightfoot – A Painter Passing Through

Various Artists – Late Night Tales: Groove Armada

Willie Nile – Places I Have Never Been


Disc Battles

Are vinyl records really making a comeback? More and more, even here in Bangkok, I hear people talking about collecting records, and raving about the superior audio quality of vinyl versus that of compact discs. I used to have a sizeable record collection when I lived in Florida, but once CDs became the format of choice in the mid 1980s, that’s pretty much all I bought and listened to the rest of that decade and beyond. When I moved to Thailand in 1996, any records I still had were given to friends.


Despite the larger artwork on record covers and the general consensus that vinyl sounds better, I really don’t miss my old records. It was always annoying when records would accumulate scratches so easily, were prone to warping, took up lots of space, and were damn heavy when you boxed them up. I’m no audiophile, so the “superior sound” of vinyl records goes right over my head … or in and out my ears. Some people might wish for a return to the glory days of vinyl, but I’ll stick with CDs, thank you. I don’t doubt that there’s a difference in sound quality, but I don’t notice it enough for it to factor in my own listening habits. For me, the bottom line is the music. It doesn’t matter if I listen to the songs in mono, stereo, or on a cheap unit with a single speaker. I’m more moved by the rhythm, the lyrics, or the emotional impact of the recording rather than sonic resolution or high fidelity dynamics. And don’t even get me started on the subject of downloads. I realize that many people enjoy the convenience of mobile devices nowadays — or are just addicted to those devices — but how could anyone be passionate about collecting sound files? If you can’t touch it or sniff it, why bother?


Keeping the music theme in today’s post, here are the CDs getting the most play at my place lately. As usual, it’s a hearty diet of tunes covering various genres; some new releases, many old gems, and a few compilations and live recordings.


Bobby Womack – The Bravest Man in the Universe

Lou Ragland – I Travel Alone

Robert Forster – I Had a New York Girlfriend

Ian Gomm and Jeb Loy Nichols – Only Time Will Tell

Gene Ammons – Live in Chicago


Kelly Hogan – I Like to Keep Myself in Pain

Stanley Turrentine – Don’t Mess with Mr. T.

The Waterboys – In a Special Place

Redd Kross – Show World

Chuck Prophet – Temple Beautiful


Little Feat – Rooster Rag

John Hiatt – Mystic Pinball

Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros – Rock Art and the X-Ray Style

The Gaslight Anthem – Handwritten

Mark Knopfler – Privateering


Father John Misty – Fear Fun

The Diggers – Mount Everest

The Black Keys – El Camino

Cannonball Adderley Sextet – Dizzy’s Business

The Magnetic Fields – The Charm of the Highway Strip


Shoes – Ignition

Paul Kelly – Deeper Water

Eddie Henderson – Heritage

Joe Walsh – Analog Man

The Neville Brothers – Live on Planet Earth


Jacobites – Robespierre’s Velvet Basement

Baby Face Willette – Face to Face

Duke Ellington – Money Jungle

Steve Goodman – Artistic Haircut

Ike & Tina Turner – Funkier than a Mosquito’s Tweeter


Lee Morgan – Search for the New Land

Ben Folds & Nick Hornby – Lonely Avenue

Mitty Collier – Shades of Mitty Collier: The Chess Singles

The Sound – From the Lion’s Mouth

The Pale Fountains – Pacific Street


Various Artists – Eccentric Soul: A Red, Black & Green Production

The Cramps – Off the Bone

Les McCann & Eddie Harris – Swiss Movement

Belle and Sebastian – Push Barman to Open Old Wounds

Small Faces – Ultimate Collection


Willie Wright – Telling the Truth

Primatons – Don’t Go Away: Collected Works

Eric Dolphy – Out to Lunch

The xx – Coexist

Black Heat – Keep on Runnin’


Tag Cloud