Friday, March 27, 2015

... Sonya naked


… At least Freddie was still snug in his inner sleeve. Along the way poor old Sonya Spence had lost her cover and her inner sleeve – there she was, in the crazy mixed up box of vinyl, naked! This album is titled In The Dark, but that is one thing it wasn’t! Considering the circumstances it is in remarkably good condition.

 I was not familiar with Sonya but the label sort of said reggae to me and when I noticed the name Pottinger in the credits I knew it would be. What sort of reggae though? I thought there would be a fair chance it would be tepid lovers rock. It’s not quite that though. The first side I think has a bit more of a hard edge to it than average lovers rock fare and contains one killer track - Peace And Unity – which is more roots than anything else. Side two has a different feel and I would say is hardly reggae at all. How can I describe it? – na├»ve melodies? Certainly simplistic, and with no pronounced reggae beat. I think I detect more of a calypso feel to a couple of the tracks. Whatever, all the tracks have a certain charm that really draws me in. The album contains a version of John Denver’s Jet Plane which, after a bit of research, I understand was a hit in Jamaica and brought Sonya to the listeners’ attention back in 1978.  

Sadly, neither Sonya Spence nor Sonia Pottinger are still with us. But in one 
sense of course they always will be – in the record grooves.


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Freddie in his underwear...


Spring is in the air – the car booters are starting up again. At the weekend one of them actually had some records worth looking through too. I came away with a mixed bag – 10 records in all that set me back the sum total of £4. In amongst these was one album without a cover, and one with no cover or inner sleeve. After a quick play through them all (except a 78 which takes some logistics to be able to play) it is these two sartorially challenged discs I am most happy with!

Freddie Hubbard’s Echoes Of Blue is the album with no cover. There is no date on the label but when I picked it up I guessed it to be mid-Seventies. Worth a punt but the chances were, I thought, the grooves would contain some pleasant but ultimately tepid jazz-funk. After all, plenty of Fifties and Sixties jazz luminaries did wander off down the jazz-funk path in the 70s. I didn’t really know whether Freddie Hubbard had been one of those. When I got it home and played the album I found it to be full of mainstream jazz – bop, post-bop? I’m no expert in the fine details but I do know I am really enjoying it. So Freddie had not strayed down any side paths and got lost in a mess of jazz-funk? Well, it seems the critics were grumbling at the time that he had sold out and deserted his pure jazz roots and it turns out that the album Echoes Of Blue, although released in 1976, is in fact an amalgam of two of Freddie’s albums from the Sixties – Backlash and High Blues Pressure - featuring three tracks a piece from those albums. A slightly odd format choice for a compilation, but no matter. All is clear now, I think?! I thought it sounded Sixties.

This Freddie album maybe shivering a bit in only its underclothes, and the lack of a cover may have had me puzzling for a while about what I exactly had on my turntable, but in the end it goes down as a good score, a very good score.     



... next, the album in the nude! ... 

Friday, March 20, 2015

Hiding in plain sight


In the never ending search for my next soul fix it's too easy to go off in pursuit of the obscure (not easy at all to find the obscure of course, but you will get my drift hopefully). Too often I tend to overlook the catalogs of the relatively well known and more prolific artists. Gene Chandler is a case in point.

I was probably first aware of Gene Chandler through his late Seventies hits which started with the Disco smash Get Down (one of my early 12” purchases - in pink vinyl), and followed with When You’re #1, and an enduring favourite Does She Have A Friend? I couldn’t help, also, to be aware of his early hit Duke Of Earl. I have never really thought before to explore his output between those singles – i.e. most of his career!

This single I picked up recently at an occasional little record fair that’s in town – the one where contrary me can be found digging for soul in a sea of early rock & roll, teen, hillbilly and the like. Not bad for a pound I think. It spurred me on to explore more of Gene Chandler’s later Sixties releases, and I have discovered a few more that are now installed on my want list. They were hiding in plain sight all the time.


Unmistakably Chicago – don’t you just love those strings?



More of a Southern feel to this one. 

Friday, March 13, 2015

9

It’s birthday time again. This blog is nine today. More and more blogs seem to be falling by the wayside lately, with not many new ones coming through to replace them, it seems the format has sort of had its day. The hit count on the blog continues a slow decline but I would like to say thank you to all who continue to drop by, and the comments are always appreciated. I still get a kick out of sharing and writing about the music I love, and knowing I have at least a few faithful followers makes it an even bigger pleasure.

Larry, with Funky16Corners, recently made the big 10 (big congrats to him), and as I’m so close now to double figures it would be rude not to continue for at least another year.

This blogs birthday of course marks another one, so, as is the tradition here on this particular day:


Happy Birthday Candi!


When Alabama came to Somerset!

Friday, March 06, 2015

Bonnie Bonnie

Spring is in the air – the local charity shops finally have some new stock. I picked up Bonnie Pointer’s solo debut on Motown among others today. It’s a great album with quite a few talking points.


The first side is generally solid pop soul. The opener is the weakest track on the album in my opinion. Yes,  When I’m Gone is the Brenda Holloway original, written by Smokey, and with Eddie Hazel on guitar here, but is not much more than throwaway pop really. I really like Free Me From My Freedom (Tie Me To A Tree, Handcuff Me). With that title it surely deserves some revive plays with Fifty Sheds Of Grey doing the rounds in the cinemas at the moment J. It also contains a banjo solo! There follows a worthwhile version of the Elgins’ Heaven Must Of Sent You, which went Top 20 Pop in the USA in 1979, and the side closes with Ah Shoot, which is a grittier funkier number and is my favourite on the side.

Now, this is very much an album of two sides(!) because turn it over and you get a completely different feel – much more acoustic and laid back, and very un Motown. The intro on More And More actually reminds me of Lindisfarne’s Fog On the Tyne! And while we’re at it the piano on My Everything – “I am not afraid of dying”, I will say no more.  Oh, and also on My Everything Bonnie gets a little bit Billie Holiday on us in places. Don’t let these thoughts make you think it all sounds a bit dog’s dinner and put you off, all four tracks on side two are top drawer and give space to Bonnie’s great voice. They also sound very contemporary to me. All four tracks are credited to Jeffrey Bowen and Donald Baldwin. You can read more about these guys here, suffice to say they already had pedigree. (Donald Baldwin plays the acoustic guitar on both the tracks below, and bass as well on More And More) . By the time this album hit the charts in 1978 Bonnie and Jeffrey Bowen were married.   
    


    

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Opposites attract


I usually feel a bit short changed by a single whose B side is merely an instrumental version – often simply the backing track - of the A side. So am I short changing you today? Well read (and listen) on.   

Linda has just finished recording the A side and needs a break. She pops out of the studio for a cigarette – actually that will help her vocals for the B side she wants to lay down as she wants her voice to sound huskier for this track. Meanwhile back in the studio her backing band Soul Express continue to mess around and, after Linda’s dead slow song, fancy a bit of fun and a work out. While Linda smokes outside, Soul Express are smoking in the studio. They play so loud and fast it triggers the tape machine and, wow!, that’s one for the can. “Hey Linda”, they say, “have another cigarette, save your voice for another day – the B side’s sorted”!

OR

Soul Express have had a long day in the studio. They’re happy with a breakneck little instrumental they’ve laid down but they’re whacked now. Linda, the tea lady, comes in with some refreshments (in truth, something a little stronger than tea). She’s been pestering the studio guys for a while now – “I can sing”, she says, “let me get behind that microphone, I’ve got a little song Mr. Billups wants me to sing”. As I said, it has been a long day for the Soul Express guys. But Linda’s refreshments are helping them unwind and they’re feeling mellow right now. “Go ahead Linda”, they say, “but we got to take this one at a slow place, OK?”. Linda kills it. The unanimous feeling around the studio is that a star is born, and her song is going on the A side.   
    
Howver it came about, this is one 45 with an instrumental side that is definitely worth picking up because all is not as it seems.

Why does a certain (or should I say uncertain) Mr Billups gets his name in big writing on this 45? He is in the writing credits but was he a member of Soul Express? His brother, Shorty, has stated that Eddie was a keyboard player. So just possibly it is Eddie on the organ on these tracks. Mainstream picked up this 45 from a local label HELPP which it is possible Mr Billups was connected to. You can read more about him (or his brother) in this little piece of mine from last year.





Monday, February 23, 2015

That Ella


I spent an hour listening to Ella Washington on Deezer through my Sonos the other evening. To be honest I was surprised to find Ella on Deezer, but a number of her compliation CDs are there. In fact I have been consistently amazed at what I have found to be available on Deezer since I activated my free subscription at the beginning of the year.

One of her tracks that really grabbed me during that enjoyable hour was I’m Losing The Feeling, a song better known performed by Gwen McCrae. This went unreleased at the time. It is obviously a demo, and benefits from that I think, the recording is understated and beautiful for it.     



 Now, what prompted me to suddenly go looking for Ella? Ah, I remember, Mr Finewine played one of her earliest records – The Grass Is Always Greener… - on Downtown Soulville recently. It is one of her 45s I don’t have, but hearing it prompted me to bump up its priority on my wants list. Deep Miami soul - Ella putting giving us a really polished vocal (taking Betty Wright's territory!), Little Beaver on guitar, and just listen to those haunting horns. I have overlooked this record too long.      



I was feverishly acquiring Ella’s 45s a few years ago. Now I realise the last time I featured one of them here was back in 2008. That’s longer ago than I thought, and I’m not sure I have listened to any of those 45s in the ensuing years. Silly boy! It was good to give her some air time again. My music consumption habits have been increasingly all over the map lately, listening to Ella Washington was like coming home and made me realise that Southern Soul is really still where it’s at for me.   

Ella has a fine voice that should be heard more. Nearly all her recordings were made within that golden age for soul music ('66-'72 in this case) and capture the classic Southern Soul sound – those horns, those guitars, those churchy background vocals: heaven.

I dug out my Ella Washington 45s and picked this one to share today. It also features the song's writer - Bobby Womack - on guitar.



*Originally issued in 1967 it made another appearance as the B side to Trying To Make You Love Me in 1970. 

You can read more about Ella Washington at Sir Shambling's place (of course you can).

This looks like a good CD compilation.