GEORGE JACKSON: In Memphis 1972-1977 (Label: Kent)

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GEORGE JACKSON: In Memphis 1972-1977

Many a masterpiece has come from the pen of legendary Mississippi tunesmith, George Jackson. Now in his seventies, Jackson wrote R&B chart smashes in the late-’60s and early-’70s for the likes of Candi Staton, Wilson Pickett and Clarence Carter. Moreover, he penned a number one Stateside pop hit for The Osmonds in the shape of ‘One Bad Apple’ in 1971 – it was originally written with the Jackson 5 in mind – and supplied hirsute US rock singer, Bob Seger, with a couple of chart entries in the shape of ‘Old Time Rock and Roll’ and ‘Trying To Live My Life Without You.’ Running alongside Jackson’s songwriting endeavours was a parallel career as a recording artist, though despite a succession of 45s for myriad labels between 1958 and 1977, the man from the town of Greenville in the Mississippi Delta only made Billboard’s charts on two occasions – his second and final US R&B chart entry was ‘Aretha, Sing One For Me,’ released on Hi Records in 1972. It’s the lead off track on a new 21-track compilation from the redoubtable Kent label that collects a clutch of singles that Jackson released for Hi, Chess, MGM and ER in the 1970s. Not only that, but the collection is bolstered by some previously unissued tracks the singer/songwriter cut for the Sounds of Memphis label during the same timeframe. Compiled by expert crate digger, Dean Rudland – renowned for exhuming esoteric jazz and funk – it proves to be a compelling CD that will genuinely excite fans of vintage Southern Soul. Jackson’s genius as a songwriter lies in how he conveys a good story in simple language (usually his songs explore the vicissitudes of love, sex and romance) and how he marries that story and the sentiments it evokes with strong melodies and catchy hook lines. There’s also a universality to Jackson’s writing and his themes that everyone can identify with. The plaintive, yearning, gospel-hued quality in Jackson’s own voice imbues his songs with an added poignancy – when he sings ‘Talking About The Love I Have For You’ (an ER single from ’77) or ‘How Can I Get Next To You’ (an excellent 45 for MGM from ’74) you can feel the soulful sincerity of his words and music. ‘Walking The City Streets’ evokes a sense of loneliness that while not as intense or cathartic as, for example, James Carr’s ‘Dark End Of The Street,’ still conveys an existential despair that has great potency. Other gems on this collection come in the form of ‘I Don’t Need You No More,’ and ‘Things Are Getting Better.’ Jackson’s versatility is demonstrated by the funky blaxploitation-style groove, ‘Willie Lump Lump’ and the strutting, harmonica-infused ‘Smoking & Drinking,’ with its bluesy, bar room grit. Ironically, the set ends not with a Jackson original but with a cover version – Jackson’s soul-infused version of the Paul Williams/Roger Nichols song ‘We’ve Only Just Begun’ (it was made famous by The Carpenters, of course, though its authorship is erroneously attributed to Bacharach-David in the liner notes). A fabulous tribute to one of Southern Soul’s greatest songwriters.
(CW) 4/5