Reviews

MINNIE RIPERTON: 'Perfect Angel - Deluxe' (Virgin/UMC)

Saturday, 25 November 2017 10:46 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

 

                     altA prodigious talent who died too soon and too young, Minnie Riperton was a singer unlike any other. Renowned for her sweetly soulful voice with its five-octave range and ability to hit glass-shattering high notes,  Chicago-born Riperton - the youngest of eight children - studied opera before joining a vocal group called The Gems in the mid-1960s, who did background sessions for Chess Records. They even recorded a few sides together before Riperton went solo and cut a 45 as Andrea Davis for Chess. She then joined Chess's psych-soul group, Rotary Connection, between 1967 and 1971 and then released her solo LP, 'Come To My Garden,' in 1971 for GRT. After the album - helmed by noted Chicago arranger/composer/pianist Charles Stepney, which is now considered a cult classic - bombed, she put music on the back burner and concentrated on bringing up her two children. Fortunately, though, Epic Records heard one of her demos and were prompted to sign her in 1974. Her first choice as producer was Stevie Wonder, who agreed to record her, though because of his Motown contract was credited as  El Toro Negro, but he also composed two songs for the album - the title track and 'Take A Little Trip.'  

It's 43 years since 'Perfect Angel' was first released. It proved to be Minnie Riperton's most popular album - topping the US R&B albums chart - thanks mainly to the success of the single, 'Lovin' You,'  a gentle lullaby where Riperton hit some occasional stratospheric high notes to the accompaniment of twittering birdsong. The album is now owned by Universal and has just been remastered for this deluxe reissue to commemorate what would have been Minnie Riperton's 70th birthday.  The original album is expanded to a double set that includes an alternative version of the LP (called 'A More Perfect Angel') compiled from different, previously unheard takes. Offering longer renditions and sometimes, radically different versions from those on the original LP,  it proves to be a fascinating listen.

Without doubt, the most radical alternate version is of Riperton's signature song, 'Lovin' You.' The released version was minimalistic compared with this take one (dubbed 'Band Version'), which has a Latin-style rimshot-backbeat and prominent guitar - and, crucially, an absence of birdsong noises, which makes it less twee than the original. The Stevie Wonder-penned 'Take A Little Trip' is also remarkable because it is reconfigured into a duet with its writer on lead vocals on the chorus sections while Riperton handles the verses. There's also some studio chatter between Wonder and Riperton on the intro segment to a stripped-back acoustic version of 'Seeing You This Way.'

The country-style ballad 'It's So Nice (To See Old Friends)' is double the length in its alternate form, running to almost nine minutes and includes a tasteful lap steel guitar solo from Sneaky Pete Kleinow (whose contribution was uncredited on the original album). One of the rockier tunes on the album, 'Reasons,' is also longer, with Riperton trading high notes with Marlo Henderson's guitar before the track falls away to reveal Reggie McBride's lone bass. There's also a much longer version of the title song with a disco bass and drums breakdown near the end.

Appended to this alternate album is an unused outtake from 'Perfect Angel,' a jaunty track called 'Don't Let Anyone Bring Me Down,' with Hubert Laws on flute and some weird synth notes at the end. As Riperton fans will know, the song was straightened out and re-recorded on the singer's next LP, 1975's 'Adventures In Paradise.'

Sadly, we'll never see or hear the likes of Minnie Riperton again. She was a unique singer whose music, as 'Perfect Angel' reveals with its amalgam of rock, country , funk, and R&B flavours, often defied categorisation. 'Perfect Angel' may well be perfect as it is but the inclusion of an alternate version of the album offers us the chance to see its songs in a new light.

(CW) 4/5

Last Updated on Saturday, 02 December 2017 14:51

 

WILSON PICKETT: 'The Complete Atlantic Albums Collection' (Atlantic/Rhino)

Friday, 24 November 2017 12:42 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                altIf there's one song that defines the driving, energetic style of this raspy-voiced Alabama soul singer, it's 'In The Midnight Hour,' which topped the US R&B charts in 1965. But as this magnificent 10-CD box set reveals, there was so much more to the man they dubbed 'Wicked' Pickett than his anthemic signature song.  

Though gospel-reared Pickett didn't start his recording career at Atlantic - he scored three charting R&B singles for Harold Logan and Lloyd Price's Double-L  Big Apple indie label in the early '60s - it was where his musical vocation truly took flight, allowing him to reach a wider audience and register on the radar of the mainstream public. His tenure with the label lasted seven years (from 1965 to 1972), and during that fertile time he racked up almost fifty charting singles in the USA and released ten albums, which can all be found presented in mini-replica LP sleeves in this clam shell-style box set.

Given that 'In The Midnight Hour' was Pickett's debut smash for Atlantic, it was no surprise that his inaugural album for the label had the same title. Though just 24 at the time, in terms of his searing vocal performances and magnetic stage presence, he seemed much older than his years. That was probably due to the experience he gained from his apprenticeship in the Detroit R&B band, The Falcons. Other highlights of his Atlantic debut album, which, significantly, was recorded at Stax studios in Memphis,  included the hits 'Don't Fight It' and 'I Found A Love.'

Pickett's next album, 1966's 'The Exciting Wilson Pickett' - featuring the classic smash hits '634-5789 (Soulsville USA)' and 'Land Of 1,000 Dances' - was recorded at Fame studios in Alabama and did better than his debut. In 1967, the singer released two albums- 'The Wicked Pickett,' another hit album packed with gems (among them the perennial favourite, 'Mustang Sally,' and 'The Sound Of Wilson Pickett,' which included  the chart-topping single, 'Funky Broadway.' He covered four Bobby Womack songs on 'I'm In Love,' released in 1968, whose gentle title cut was a Top 5 US R&B hit and demonstrated that Pickett was more than a soul shouter and could play the role of accomplished balladeer as well.

His second album of 1968, 'Midnight Mover,' also had considerable input from Pickett's songwriting buddy, Womack, again, and they wrote the LP's strutting title track together. The Womack-co-penned 'I Found A True Love' is also another high point on the LP with its raucous energy and Pickett's blood-curdling screams.  

Up to this point, all of Wilson Pickett's Atlantic LPs had nestled comfortably in the Top 10 of the US R&B albums but 1969's 'Hey Jude,' could only make #15. Its title song was a mellow, soul-infused cover of The  Beatles' epic 1968 ballad, complete with the 'Na-Na-Na' sing-along chorus at the end, with Pickett wailing over the top like a banshee. The growing influence of rock can be felt on an energised cover of Steppenwolf's counterculture anthem, 'Born To Be Wild,' which expressed a sentiment that the volatile Pickett could no doubt relate to. 1970's 'Right On' LP also found Pickett tackling rock (Hendrix's 'Hey Joe') and pop (the Archies' 'Sugar Sugar'), which some commentators perceived as a sign that the singer was losing his way.

That was probably a fair assessment but just when Wilson Pickett's career seemed to be losing momentum and direction, he unleashed a masterpiece in the shape of 'In Philadelphia,' recorded under the aegis of rising production duo, Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff, who had helmed hits for Jerry Butler in the late-'60s and would go on to found Philadelphia International Records in 1972. In terms of its production and lush orchestral arrangements, 'In Philadelphia' was eminently more sophisticated than his previous LPs. Yielding the memorable hits 'Engine No. 9' and the searing ballad, 'Don't Let The Green Grass Fool You,' it proved to be one of Pickett's most cohesive artistic statements and still sounds potent today.  

The final album in the collection is 1972's 'Don't Knock My Love,' which mopped up earlier singles (1971's R&B chart-topping title cut and Top 10 smash, 'Call My Name, I'll Be There') and also included an R&B reconfiguration of British blues-rock group Free's 'Fire & Water.'

After this, Wilson Pickett made a move to RCA in 1973, but it signalled the start of an artistic decline from which he never truly recovered - and when the disco era came along, it put paid to any chances of a full-blown career renaissance. This box set, though, captures Wilson Pickett during a fertile 7-year spell when he was at the apex of his powers. Though the absence of a liner note commentary and non-album bonus material, is a tad disappointing, it doesn't detract from the importance of this set, which contains some of the most powerful and committed old school soul performances ever committed to tape. Retailing at around 25 quid, 'The Complete Atlantic Albums Collection' is an absolute steal. Truly wicked.

(CW)  4/5

Last Updated on Friday, 24 November 2017 15:01

 

ESTHER PHILLIPS: At Onkel Po’s Carnegie Hall (NDR)

Thursday, 23 November 2017 15:03 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altEsther Phillips was a unique talent but, sadly, her life was a roller coaster of ups and downs. She found fame early – as "Little" Esther Phillips, but the grind of touring the chittlin' circuit in the 50s and early 60s took a toll. Addicted to heroin and linked with many of the music biz's less savoury characters, her burgeoning career nose-dived. Country singer Kenny Rogers, of all people, helped her make a comeback when he persuaded his brother Lelan to sign her to his Lennox Record label. Hits and acclaim followed; then a major deal with Atlantic Records... but again drug ravages hit hard.

In the early 70s Ms Philips enjoyed a second renaissance with Kudu Records; then a stint with Mercury. But her lifestyle came with a price and in 1984 she died aged just 48. Long-term drug abuse had caused major organ failure and despite the fame she'd enjoyed Esther Phillips was buried in a pauper's grave... a sad and wasteful end.

Esther Phillips, though, left a sparkling, soulful – if at times - harrowing music legacy and most of her material is fairly easily accessible to collectors. Now that legacy is enhanced with the release of 2 CD live album that was recorded at Hamburg's famous Onkel Pö's Carnegie Hall club in 1978. In terms of chronology, the singer was in her Mercury period, so the big hits were well established and those songs form the bulk of the concert's material. The show begins with her version of Eddie Floyd's 'I've Never Found A Man (Woman)' and also included are treatments of songs like 'Native New Yorker' (an epic 12 minute plus version dedicated to the band – all New Yorkers), 'One Night Affair', 'Stormy Weather', 'Cherry Red' and 'What A Difference A Day Makes' That tune, her biggest, hit ends the show and is another extended 12 minute workout, allowing the aforementioned band – Henry Cain (piano), Wes Blackman (guitar), Bill Upchurch (bass) and James Levi (drums) - to stretch out.

There was no place in the set for 'Home Is Where The Hatred Is' but there's darkness with an 18 minute, self-penned song simply called 'The Blues'. Sung and spoken, in many ways it can be seen as an epitaph for the talent that was Esther Phillips.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Thursday, 23 November 2017 15:17

 

DEE DEE BRIDGEWATER: 'Memphis...Yes, I'm Ready' (OKeh/DDB Records)

Saturday, 18 November 2017 09:49 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                      altThough from the age of three she was raised in Flint, Michigan (where her late mother came from), feted jazz chanteuse Dee Dee Bridgewater was born in Memphis. This new, very personal,  album (her eighteenth) celebrates her 'Bluff City' heritage (her father, Matthew Garrett, was a DJ and teacher there) and finds the singer revisiting a cache of Memphis-associated songs that she listened to in her youth. What results is 67-year-old Dee Dee's most soulful and R&B-oriented musical offering in a long, long time. It's fitting, perhaps, that it was recorded in Willie Mitchell's legendary Royal Studios in Memphis with Mitchell's son, Lawrence (aka 'Boo'), on board as a co-producer alongside another noted Memphian, saxophonist, Kirk Whalum. Hi Records studio veteran, organist Charles Hodges, is also on hand to provide some authentic Memphis seasoning.

In terms of her material, Dee Dee puts her spin on soul tunes with a deep Memphis connection - like the Staple Singers' Why (Am I Treated So Bad), Carla Thomas's 'B.A.B.Y.', Otis Redding's 'Try A Little Tenderness' and Ann Peebles' 'I Can't Stand The Rain' - alongside rock and roll (Elvis's 'Don't Be Cruel,' revived as a jazzy shuffle with a funk undertow), rhythm and blues (a mellow but sassy version of Big Mama Thornton's 'Hound Dog'), and funkafied blues songs (B.B. King's 'The Thrill Is Gone'). All of these are rendered with respect to the originals but add something  unique thanks to inventive arrangements and splendid vocals.

Also thrown into the mix and given a Memphis makeover are Barbara Mason's Philly classic, 'Yes, I'm Ready' (which was recorded at Stax by Carla Thomas a year after Mason's original), Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong's classic Motown tune, 'I Can't Get Next To You,'  which Al Green covered for Hi Records, and Van McCoy's dramatic, blues-steeped power ballad, 'Giving Up.'  The album closes on a sanctified note with a piece of pure gospel - '(Take My Hand) Precious Lord,' complete with rolling churchy piano chords, ethereal organ, and a soulful gospel choir counterpointing Dee Dee' stirring lead vocals. It concludes this splendid revival of classic material on an uplifting note.  

(CW) 3/5

Last Updated on Saturday, 18 November 2017 16:47

 

JEFF CASCARO: Love & Blues In The City (Herzog Records)

Friday, 17 November 2017 12:54 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altProper soul fans know a thing or two about German singer/trumpeter Jeff Cascaro. They have fond memories of his 'The Other Man' and 'Mother And Brother' albums and now the professor (right! - he leads the jazz faculty at Germany's prestigious Franz Liszt Conservatory at Weimar) offers something a little different with this –his latest ten tracker. Herr Cascaro says: "The time was ripe to record a more jazzy and intimate album. I wanted to put a stronger emphasis on the voice and its delicacies."

Hear if Jeff's succeeded as he works his way through a set of seven covers and three originals. Highlight of the covers is a six minute version of Marvin Gaye's 'Inner City Blues'. It rides a loping, bass line (Christian von Kapehengst), is garnished with crystalline piano (Henrdik Soll) and topped with a horn solo from Jeff himself. It completely captures the melancholy hopelessness that Gaye intended when he wrote the song. Other delights include the gentle twist on 'Since I Fell For You', the imaginative take on 'A Taste Of Honey' and the biting version of Bobby Bland's 'Ain't No Love In The Heart Of The City'.

The original 'Hold On To Now' maintains the melancholy while the other two "new" songs – 'I Love You Baby' and 'It's Alright' are sprightlier. 'I Love You Baby' (a duet with Fola Dada) is particularly jaunty and like the other two self-penned numbers allows Cascaro to flaunt his Michael McDonald flavoured vocals.

Listen and find out more @ www.herzogrecords.com

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Friday, 17 November 2017 13:07

 

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