BILLY PAUL: ME & MRS JONES: THE ANTHOLOGY (SOULMUSIC RECORDS)
Now this is an interesting 31-track package as it spans the ten studio albums between 1969-1985 by a man who’s considered to be one of the top soul/jazz stylists of our age, and one of the most distinguished names on the Philadelphia International artist roster. Mr Billy Paul, known to the world for his 1972 chart topping single “Me & Mrs Jones”, recorded powerful political songs alongside the tenderest of love tunes, with a sincerity that convinced the listener Billy suffered or enjoyed every moment. Telling of an extra-marital affair between and man and his lover, who meet in secret ‘every day at the same café’, “Me & Mrs Jones” tugged at millions of heart strings; some experiencing the same situation or others wishing they could. With a nice pulsating beat, “Bring The Family Back” is slightly overshadowed by “Brown Baby”, with its subtle support vocals melting into the hookline. While Paul McCartney took a personal view in his composition “Let ‘Em In”, Billy Paul pulls back the shutters to take on a civil rights stance with explicit lyrics, snippets of speeches from Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, alongside mentioning past civil rights leaders like the Kennedy brothers and Elijah Muhammad. A landmark release, but not the only one to carry a message: check out “We All Got A Mission” or “False Faces”. Then, on the other hand, Billy re-works Elton John’s “Your Song” to the extreme, by dramatising and, perhaps, soul-ising the pop song, with the added attraction of over-vocalising in sections.
This Anthology features all thirteen American hits for Philadelphia International, like, the up tempo funky, message laden “Am I Black Enough For You”, the follow-up to “Me & Mrs Jones”; “New Day, New World Comes” and “Thanks For Saving My Life”. I was instantly drawn to his version of Jerry Butler’s “Only The Strong Survive” which, lyrically alone, begs attention. Of the ballads, there’s “This Is Your Life”, or “Sexual Therapy” which respected/acknowledged his friend Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing”. So, there’s a mood, lyric and style for everyone here; political statements and love whispers, so what’s not to like?
THE BAR-KAYS: THE DEFINITIVE COLLECTION (ROBINSONGS)
This is a mammoth Bar-Kays release across a 3-CD package covering 1967 – 1989, combining releases on Warner Brothers, Volt, Stax and Mercury, tracing the Bar-Kays evolution from a raw Memphis-based unit into a global, headlining act. Of the 46 tracks here, all their top ten R&B hits are included like, of course, their evergreen anthem “Soul Finger”, their debut single. Reviewing their career would cover pages but suffice to say it covered “tragedy to triumph, plane crash to gold discs, Otis Redding to Isaac Hayes” – and they survived all to tell the tale and play on. Some titles also crossed over into the US mainstream chart, including “Son Of Shaft”, a top sixty hit in 1971; “Shake Your Rump To The Funk”, top thirty in 1976; “Too Hot To Stop”, top eighty, a year later; “Move Your Boogie Body”, top sixty in 1979; “Today Is The Day”, top sixty, a year later; and “Freakshow On The Dance Floor”, top eighty, 1984, from the film “Breakin’”. And there’s so much more here that highlight the changing styles of a dedicated bunch of musicians, like “Dirty Dancer” and “Let’s Have Some Fun”.
From a studio session group at Stax Records, the Bar-Kays were chosen by Otis Redding as his backing group, exposing them to growing audiences. Throughout the years, their membership altered for various reasons, but the music continued from early R&B through to the funk years of the seventies. Next to Motown’s Funk Brothers, the Bar-Kays rose from nowhere to everywhere, with musical visions that went a long way to define the music we love.
TOMMY HUNT: COMPLETE MAN – 60s NYC SOUL SONGS (KENT RECORDS)
It was Dusty Springfield’s version of “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself” that encouraged me to seek out more from Tommy Hunt, who, as you know, recorded the original during 1962. Then, when the Four Tops recorded “It’s All In The Game”, I looked some more. Tommy’s early life wasn’t easy. When he was ten years old he was released from reform school to move to Chicago with his mother, where, following a stint in the US air force, he deserted to be with his then dying mum. He subsequently served a prison sentence, then pursued his love of music. He formed The Five Echoes, which later led to him joining The Flamingos, where he enjoyed several hit singles including their top twenty pop hit “I Only Have Eyes For You” in 1959. Leaving them a year later, following musical clashes, Tommy met Luther Dixon who signed him to the Dynamo label. Here the pop-slanted “The Parade Of The Broken Hearts” with the slowie “Human” on the flipside, was released. His deeply rich and powerful voice, coupled with his smooth talking ways and the hippest of struts, he became very much in demand.
Although his British success had been limited to the soul market, Tommy excelled as a headlining act at several Northern Soul events, and following a deal with Spark Records, went on to savour a couple of UK mainstream hit singles, “Crackin’ Up” and “Loving On The Losing Side”, followed by “One Fine Morning” during the mid-seventies. Anyway, back to this release which is a kaleidoscope of goodies. “One Of These Days” is a cool ballad of note, while the real romantic side of the man seeps through with songs like “Girls Are Sentimental”. The beat escalates with “The Work Song” and “The Pretty Part Of You”, and of the unissued Scepter recordings, there’s “What’s The Matter Baby” previously only released by The Shirelles. Tell you what, if you’d like to know more about this intriguing singer, do check out his autobiography “Only Human – My Soulful Life”, published by Bank House Books in 2008. Words with music, a great combination!
SLY & THE FAMILY STONE: RARE GROOVES (WIENERWORLD)
“Dance To The Music”, “Everyday People”, “Family Affair” – can’t be anyone else can it? Headed by Sylvester Stewart, this group of men and women was one of the first racially integrated units, who were a pioneering force in the development of psychedelic soul. Their music, therefore, was a melting pot of funk, rock/soul and psychedelia with huge influences from Stax and Motown thrown in for good measure. With their recognisable fuzz bass and wah-wah guitar, they enjoyed a hugely successful career. As Sly Stone became lost in the world of drugs, so the band suffered until it disintegrated during the seventies, whereupon Rose Stone recorded a solitary eponymous album for Motown under the name Rose Banks in 1976 and supported Marvin Gaye on tour. “Rare Grooves” is their re-named ‘comeback’ album “Back On The Right Track” from 1979 for Warner Brothers, with the bonus track “Somebody To You”. Singles “Remember Who You Are” and “The Same Thing (Makes You Laugh, Makes You Cry)” were poor sellers and, of course, this reflected on the album’s sales. Nonetheless, with several of the original members on board like, Rose, Pat Rizzo and Cynthia Robinson, Sly captured much of the group’s original funk/soul magic, without meandering into their previous darker social commentary. Check out the opening track “It Takes All Kinds” or “Sheer Energy” and you’ll see what I mean. A very worthwhile and enjoyable release for sure.