Monday, December 10, 2007
A Fusion of Jazzy Blue Beats With Equal Parts Soulful Heat
"Leave Him"---Don Covay (zShare)
"Leave Him"---Don Covay (savefile)
In keeping with the other nearly forgotten artists and musicians I prefer to spotlight, Don Covay is amongst the ranks of the most underappreciated soul men of all time. Not only was he a gifted singer/songwriter, he was also associated in one way or another with some of the most legendary artists in music history. It would be a fool's errand to attempt mentioning all of his achievements within the range of a single post, so in the interests of providing a brief overview I've extracted a few highlights of his career that you may find interesting:
*Covay's first gig as a vocalist was with the Cherry Keys, his family's gospel quartet. He later crossed over into secular music by joining The Rainbows, one of Washington D.C.'s pioneering doo-wop groups. Although it's frequently stated that The Rainbows' line-up also included Marvin Gaye and Billy Stewart, there are conflicting accounts which suggest that the two actually only occasionally filled in for absent members during the group's live performances.
*Covay's solo career took off after he took a job chauffeuring Little Richard, and was then invited to be his opening act as well. Richard went on to produce Covay's 1957 solo debut, "Bip Bip Bip", a single that was credited to Pretty Boy (Richard's nickname for Covay).
*After jumping from one label to another for several years, Covay eventually signed to the Rosemart label in 1964. His debut single there (with the Goodtimers as his backing band) was "Mercy Mercy", a legendary recording that featured a young Jimi Hendrix on guitar. After Atlantic picked the single up for distribution, the song sailed its way onto the Top 40 charts. The track greatly impressed The Rolling Stones, who released a cover of the song in 1965 on their Out Of Our Heads LP. In fact, lead singer Mick Jagger's persona is said to have been greatly influenced by Covay's phrasing, swagger, and overall style.
*Although The Soul Clan may have never reached the epic supergroup proportions that were originally intended, the one single that the group did record is one of soul music history's absolute gems. The group was comprised of Covay, Solomon Burke, Joe Tex, Ben E. King, and Arthur Conley. The project (which at one time was also meant to include Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding) was the brainchild of Covay, who also wrote both songs the group recorded with an uncredited Bobby Womack. The A-side of the single was "Soul Meeting", while the flip side was the amazing "That's How It Feels". I posted the latter track some time ago...you can still download the mp3 I posted here.
*In addition to writing "Chain Of Fools" for Aretha Franklin, Covay's compositions have been recorded by Otis Redding, Gladys Knight & The Pips, Solomon Burke, Steppenwolf, Gene Chandler, Etta James, Bobby Womack, Wilson Pickett, The Small Faces, Chubby Checker, Grant Green, Jerry Butler, Little Richard, and more. Although he managed to score a few hits as a performer, he was infinitely more successful in his role as songwriter.
While many soul fans would argue that Covay's most monumental work came out of the 1960s, his Super Dude LP (Mercury, 1973) has probably gotten more spins on my turntable than any of his other albums. There's no denying that much of his best material was recorded for Atlantic Records, but his first set on Mercury deserves its own nod of unapologetic approval. Although some of his audience undoubtedly grieved the raw intensity that was a hallmark of his earlier recordings, I never found that the more polished arrangements and production on Super Dude compromised the irresistibility of Covay's material. It still provides a generous helping of stunning southern soul mixed with a twist of gritty funk.
Super Dude was intended to be somewhat of a comeback album for Covay, and it did generate a hit record for him---the unforgettable tale of promiscuity known as "I Was Checkin' Out She Was Checkin' In". Since I suspect that some of you may have heard that track on the radio, I decided to instead focus your attention on "Leave Him", another song on the record that explores the timeless theme of infidelity.
There are a few things about "Leave Him" that make it a point of interest on the LP. Although the song is about an adulterous situation, it's a deep southern soul ballad with leanings towards a traditional gospel sound. It's no small feat that Covay is incredibly convincing at making a presumably sinful act sound downright heavenly and sublime.
Covay's one-sided conversation at the very beginning of the track makes the whole affair sound relatively shady, setting the tone for a tawdry down-low creep. When he pleads with his lover to tell her man that she has to work late so that he can pick her up in his Mustang at their secret meeting place, you may feel a bit of regret for the poor bastard who's being unknowingly deceived. However, as the music begins to swell and Covay starts singing from his gut about the heart-wrenching emotions he feels for this woman, you can't help but transfer your pity for the other man into a sincere hope that Covay can somehow manage to get the girl.
In the original vinyl format, the continuity of the tale is somewhat jeopardized by the fact that the track was divided into two parts (appearing on opposite sides of the LP as an additional pain in the ass). That decision always struck me as curious, but even this slight irritation doesn't diminish my overall affinity for the song. Since the two tracks combined clock in at nearly 10 minutes, I decided to relegate the portion from the record's B-side to the supplemental section. If you really like this, don't hesitate to start digging for your own copy...
"Lonely Room"---The Smile Rays (zShare)
"Lonely Room"---The Smile Rays (savefile)
Travis has been telling me to check out The Smile Rays for quite a while now, and this week I finally had an opportunity to hear their digital-only release on Rawkus called Smilin' For You. At this point, my only regret is the days I slept before I got around to seriously checkin' for this outstanding trio from Jacksonville, FL.
Although The Smile Rays have really just begun making some audible noise in the underground sector of the hip-hop community, all three members have some noteworthy previous experience to boast on their individual resumes. The trio's skillful MC, Therapy, is also in the AB's (formerly known as Asamov). Therapy is also a proficient DJ who's been affiliated with a number of key players in the independent hip-hop scene. The lovely Daisey (vocals) and DJ Batsauce have been recording together for a few years as Heavenly Noise, as well as each having been involved in some other projects of their own.
"Lonely Room" may give you a somewhat limited perspective on the group's overall sound since it's a purely instrumental joint. However, it meshed nicely with the other selections for today's post, and quite honestly, I can't seem to get enough of this beat. The melancholy, soulful vibe immediately put its hooks in me, and I'm not exactly struggling to get free...
These true-school heads will prompt many of you to reminisce on the essence and vitality of hip-hop's roots, so exercise due diligence and take a moment to dig deeper...
"Have A Little Mercy"---Ann Sexton (zShare)
"Have A Little Mercy"---Ann Sexton (savefile)
Ann Sexton is another artist who is commonly overlooked in discussions of exceptional female vocalists. Although she could easily tap into the emotions of her listening audience with the sweet, soulful quality of her voice, she was equally capable of exposing a grittier funk side on many of her recordings.
Sexton started out as a gospel singer, but she fully crossed over into secular music after being discovered in 1971 by songwriter/producer David Lee. Her first album, Loving You Loving Me, was released on John Richbourg's 77 label out of Nashville. Her second and final LP, In The Beginning, was recorded in Muscle Shoals and released on Sound Stage 7 in 1977.
For a number of years, both of these albums remained highly elusive, which has undoubtedly contributed to her relative obscurity. Some of the Southern Soul gems she recorded became favorites on the Northern Soul scene, but her material has never been widely recognized or acknowledged in the United States.
Fortunately, the content of these albums (as well as her 45s) have gradually become more readily available via compilations and anthologies of her work. The UK label Charly released a collection of her 7" singles in the mid-'80s called Love Trials. In 1995, the same label released a more comprehensive collection (You're Gonna Miss Me) that included several more tracks than Love Trials. Finally, Soul Brother Records released the sought-after content of her two LPs under the title Ann Sexton: Anthology. As an added bonus, they were also kind enough to include the rare 7" track "You Got To Use What You Got", so the collection is a must-have for anyone who's interested in more fully exploring her work.
"Have A Little Mercy" is one of her deep soul gems that I've never seen posted anywhere else. Although the song's lyrics imply that she's been whipped into a certain degree of subservience by her torturous feelings for her inconsiderate lover, Sexton's delivery is strong enough to save the song from excessively wallowing in martyrdom. In fact, the determination in her voice implies that there may be sufficient anger boiling under the surface for her to actually leave the sorry bastard behind one day...
"Northern Girls"---Belleruche (zShare)
"Northern Girls"---Belleruche (savefile)
Belleruche sounds like a little bit of everything and a whole lot of nothing that you've ever heard before. They're an eclectic London-based trio, comprised of Kathrin deBoer (vocals), Ricky Fabulous (guitar), and DJ Modest (turntablist). Their impressive debut album, Turntable Soul Music, was released this summer on the Tru Thoughts label.
The group has two ways of describing their sound: 1) "handmade hip hop blues soul" and 2) "like Sarah Vaughn, Charlie Christian and Cut Chemist stuck in a dusty secondhand record store with wine and a sampler". They claim a diverse array of influences, including James Brown, Lyrics Born, Eddie Bo, Jimi Hendrix, DJ Shadow, Nina Simone, Kid Koala, Miles Davis, Groucho Marx, Memphis Slim, DJ Premier, Bill Withers, Les McCann, and Chuck D.
If you love vinyl, beats, jazz, soul and/or funk, you may find yourself diggin' this group as much as I do. If you don't love vinyl, beats, jazz, soul and/or funk, have you ever asked yourself what the hell you're doing here?
"I Still Care"---Pieces Of Peace (zShare)
"I Still Care"---Pieces Of Peace (savefile)
Pieces of Peace were a funk and soul outfit from Chicago who backed numerous artists during studio sessions and live performances in the '60s and '70s. One of their most notable gigs was acting as Syl Johnson's touring band for quite a few of his shows, as well as backing him up on his Is It Because I'm Black LP (1970).
Despite their affiliation with some of Chi-Town's greatest legends, the Pieces of Peace only released a single 45 of their own material---"Pass It On Pts 1 & 2" on Twinight in 1971 (recently reissued on vinyl by Numero Group, by the way). They did have a full-length album planned for release , but it got shelved when the group disintegrated before it came to fruition. Due in large part to managerial disputes and some of the members experiencing homesickness, the unit disintegrated during a tour of Southeast Asia. Several of the members (including Benjamin Wright, Michael Davis, and Fred Crutchfield) went on to work with Earth, Wind, and Fire, and for all intents and purposes, their unreleased album was lost and all but forgotten. That is, until just recently.
Assisted by DJ Shadow, Quannum unearthed the tapes from these recording sessions, and assembled them into the LP that Scarab Records had intended to release in the 1970s. The result is a groovy and occasionally spectacular album that's an essential relic dug up from the vaults of soul and funk musical history.
While most of the set consists of funky grooves and extended jams, the group's versatility is perhaps most evident on the ballad "I Still Care". On the few songs that aren't purely instrumental, King Johnson was selected to perform vocal duties on the tracks. While it's highly unlikely that he's the best vocalist that you've ever heard, he holds his own while accepting the difficult role of fronting such a powerful group of musicians.
My verdict on the album as a whole? I'd have to give it a B-, but major props to DJ Shadow and Quannum for salvaging this musical artifact for all the funky collectors in the universe.
"Caught Up"---Joe Beats (zShare)
"Caught Up"---Joe Beats (savefile)
Joe Beats is a sample-based producer out of Newport, RI who's been officially releasing music since 1999. He's recorded under several different aliases and project titles, including The Joe Beats Conspiracy, The Joe Beats Trio, The Non-Prophets, The Joe Beats Experiment, Joe Beats & Blak, Joey Nose Beats, etc.
I go through periods where I listen to a lot of instrumental releases---it's my refuge from lackluster MCs and uninspired wordplay/lyricism. That said, an LP without words has to be a multi-dimensional and exceptionally engaging listen for me to keep it in regular rotation. Joe Beats' Diverse Recourse (Bully Records, 2007) is an effort that meets and even exceeds those standards in my opinion. It's the follow-up to his Reverse Discourse LP, but unlike most sequels, this is a welcome continuation rather than a desperate and unnecessary rehashing of concepts and ideas.
If you like what you hear, you can download quite a few of Joey's beats and remixes for free via his MySpace page. Then show the man some gratitude by coughing up the change to buy a few of his LPs...
If you've never heard "Mercy Mercy" by Don Covay, you can listen to it via this video clip. Then tell me that Mick Jagger doesn't owe a thing or two to Super Dude's cool-ass steez...
Bonus mp3s (zShare only):
"Leave Him Pt. 2" ---Don Covay
The wrap-up from the point where we left off...
As I mentioned above, Therapy from The Smile Rays is also in The AB's, who were formerly called Asamov (got that?). I decided to blow the dust off of one of my favorite Asamov joints to turn a few heads who haven't heard this yet. This track appeared on their And Now... LP (6 Hole Records, 2005).
Word From Your Moms:
"Music is my religion. Music is the only thing that has never failed me. People let you down, music won't."-Gary Bartz
"Put your ear down close to your soul and listen hard."-Anne Sexton (American poet/writer, not to be confused with the soulful songstress featured above)