When critics and soul folk compile those lists of the best ever soul records, Brook Benton’s 1969 tear-jerking version of Tony Joe White’s ‘Rainy Night In Georgia’ is guaranteed a podium finish! The Cotillion recording remains the definitive version of the song and it helped revive the veteran’s career.
That career began way back in the fifties when, signed to Mercury, he scored something like 18 top 30 hits. Stylistically they were an amalgam old school R&B, embryonic soul and MOR crooning but, whatever, the North Carolina-born Benton carved himself a decent little niche.
When the hits started to dry up Benton moved over to RCA, then onto Reprise and eventually to the Atlantic subsidiary Cotillion where uber-producer Arif Mardin re-invented him as a smooth soul man (with a hint of country) and the gamble paid off as ‘Rainy Night’ stormed the charts.
There is any number of Brook Benton Mercury compilations out there and SoulMusic.com Records have recently reissued a couple of Benton’s Cotillion long players (see our reviews archive). The singer’s Reprise output and indeed several of his Cotillion sides have evaded the reissue labels… till now! Here Real Gone Music offer a 2 CD 31 tracker that collects together all Brook Benton’s’ Reprise and Cotillion singles…. all the As and all the Bs!
The album starts with the six sides of Benton’s three Reprise singles. Reprise was owned by Frank Sinatra and execs tried to pitch Benton in the same MOR mould… witness his version of ‘The Glory Of Love’, while the take on ‘Lonely Street’ treads the same path that Ray Charles had taken on his acclaimed C&W albums.
The pack’s remaining tracks are from the Cotillion years beginning with a Bacharach styled version of Leiber and Stoller’s ‘Do Your Own Thing’ and ending with 1972’s ‘Movin’ Day’. Of course, ‘Rainy Night In Georgia’ remains the jewel in the Cotillion crown. Other highlights include ‘Shoes’ (a Don Covay song) and ‘She Even Woke Me Up To Say Goodbye’. Dip in anywhere though and enjoy quality country-inflected soul (much recorded in Miami’s Criteria Studio or down in Muscle Shoals). The secret seems to be in the way Mardin selected songs that he knew would perfectly match Benton’s world-weary, melancholy voice.