CARLA THOMAS: Sweet Sweetheart (Stax)


Carla Thomas was one of Stax’s first stars. There from almost the beginning when the label was still called Satellite, she eventually racked up something like 20 hits but she never really achieved super star status… the kind of status that comes from breaking away from the image of esoteric, Southern soul diva. To rectify that situation, in 1970 Stax VP, Al Bell despatched Carla to Chips Moman’s Memphis American Studios to cut an album of “serious”, breakout music. Moman – who’d worked with Carla back in the old Satellite days – was hotter than hot at the time. He’d help revitalise the career of Elvis Presley and singers from across all kinds of genres were queuing up for his services. Bell was confident that the combination would do the trick.

Throughout the late summer of 1970 Chips and Carla cut 10 songs, sourced from a variety of writers and the putative long player was to be called ‘Sweet Sweetheart’. To test the water Stax issued a single, pairing ‘I Love You Like I Love My Very Life’ with Goffin and King’s ‘Hi De Ho’ (That Old Sweet Roll)’ but when it flopped – and with no other explanation – the whole album was consigned to the vault… never to be released –till now.

Thanks to Ace’s deal, with Concord/Stax, ‘Sweet Sweetheart’ has just won release and as with most stuff that collectors labels dig out of dusty archives the question is always “why was it never issued in the first place?”. We’ll never know the answer, of course, but at least we can enjoy it all now – along with a plenty of bonuses – more of those later.

Stax had wanted a “serious” album and ‘Sweet Sweetheart’ is certainly more serious that much of Carla’s earlier work –try her version of Free’s rock anthem, ‘Heavy Load’ to hear what I mean. There are also covers of James Taylor’s ‘Country Road’, Ray Stevens’ ‘Everything Is Beautiful’ and the Bee Gees’ ‘To Love Somebody’ … those and the aforementioned ‘Hi De Ho’ will give you the flavour of where the album was aimed. Naturally, Ms T delivers them impeccably but she sounds more at home on Toni Wine’s ‘I Think I Love You Again’ and the album’s title cut – another Goffin/King number to which Moman gives a lovely, jaunty, soulful treatment.

This release boasts 12 bonus tracks – all taken from earlier Stax sessions and never previously available. They include the first take of her hit ‘B A B Y’, a cover of James Brown’s ‘Try Me’ and a great slowed-down version of ‘Good Good Lovin” – a classic Brill Building song. Again, you’ll wonder why tracks of this quality have languished in the vault for so long.

(BB) 4/5