North Carolina’s Brook Benton is responsible for one of soul’s greatest moments… his 1969 tear-jerking version of Tony Joe White’s ‘Rainy Night In Georgia’. Released on Atlantic’s Cotillion subsidiary, it remains the definitive reading. Prior to Atlantic Benton had recorded for RCA and Warner Brothers but his most successful time was with Mercury where he enjoyed 30 hits and 14 best selling LPs most in the MOR crooner idiom. When he arrived at Atlantic they attempted to reinvent him as a soul man (albeit with a country slant) and of course, with ‘Rainy Night’ they patently succeeded. Little wonder then that after that massive success Benton and his Atlantic team decided to plough a similar furrow – recording material that was soul inclined but like ‘Rainy Night’ with a home-spun, melancholic flavour.
You can hear some of the best of that material on this new twofer reissue from SoulMusicRecords.com. The 21 tracker pairs Brook’s 1970 ‘Home Style’ and ‘Story Teller’ from the following year.
‘Home Style’ was recorded down in Miami with Arif Mardin in the producer’s chair and the Dixie Flyers providing the backing music. The material included songs by people like Bob Dylan, Mac Davis and Tony Joe White (again) and his ‘Willie And Laura Mae Jones’ (with vocal support from the Sweet Inspirations) is one of the album highlights. Elsewhere a version of Albert King’s ‘Born Under A Bad Sign’ shows the direction Atlantic pointed Benton in while a treatment of the perennial ‘It’s All In The Game’ harks back to his earlier career.
‘Story Teller’ offered a similar menu – easy on the ear country soul, best typified by ‘Shoes’ – a classic offering of down home philosophy. Other highlights include a catchy ‘Poor Make Believer ‘(a Homer banks/ Don Davis song by the way) and a cover of ‘Save The Last Dance For Me’. This reissue offers one bonus track – the A side to a 1971 single, ‘The Black Child Can’t Smile’. The song tackles the difficult issue of sickle cell anaemia and is perfectly suited to Brook Benton’s lugubrious, melancholic style.