MARY GRESHAM: ‘Voice from The Shadows: The Story Of A Muscle Shoals Soul Sister’ (Label: Soulscape)

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MARY GRESHAM: 'Voice from The Shadows: The Story Of A Muscle Shoals Soul Sister'

I guarantee that Mary Gresham is an unfamiliar name to 99.9% of soul fans. Indeed, even the most erudite of soul aficionados will appear non-plussed at the mention of her name. However, fans of late-’60s Southern soul might recall a husband-and-wife duo called Chuck and Mariann Cooper, who recorded briefly for the Abet label, which issued the 45 ‘Let’s Walk Down The Street Together’ in 1968. Mariann was, in fact, the stage name of Alabama-born gospel-reared singer, Mary Gresham, who eked out a living as a Muscle Shoals’ session vocalist in the 1970s (she also earned a crust doing voice-overs for radio jingles and ads). Thanks to excellent detective work from Soulscape supremo, Garry Cape – who also provides illuminating liner notes about this obscure chanteuse – forgotten singer, Mary Gresham, can step out of the shadows and enjoy her place in the limelight. Cape discovered a slew of old Gresham tapes (many of them demos recorded to provide guide or reference vocals for other artists) in the Muscle Shoals’ archives. Now, thanks to the dedication and enterprise of Cape’s backroom studio team that repaired and cleaned-up time-worn master tapes, the glory of Mary Gresham’s amazing voice can be heard on CD for the first time. This 24-track collection kicks off with Gresham’s work in the guise of Mariann Cooper and includes the powerful Finley Duncan-produced duet ‘Let’s Walk Down The Street Together.’ Perhaps the most ear-catching part of the CD is the music represented on tracks 11-18, which were produced by Terry Woodford and Clayton Ivey and intended for release in album form on Clarence Avant’s Sussex label. Sadly, Sussex succumbed to financial problems and the LP never came out. From those sessions is a fine version of Bill Wither’s ‘Use Me’ and Gresham’s impassioned takes on the songs ‘You’ve Been Doing Wrong For So Long’ and ‘I Want To Be Loved,’ both of which were recorded by another obscure Southern Soul heroine, Ann Sexton. The remainder of this compilation is comprised of material cut at Muscle Shoals in the late-’70s when Gresham was cutting demos – one of those songs, ‘Promises Are Not To Be Broken’ was co-written by Gresham and her brother, James, for Annette Snell. Perhaps this collection’s strongest cut, though, is the plaintive slow ballad, ‘Stay There & Try To Be Strong,’ a country-hued slice of deep soul that sends chills down the spine. Full marks to Soulscape for bringing Mary Gresham – who’s still alive and well – out of the shadows into the light. An essential purchase.
(CW) 4/5