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Archive for April 1st, 2014

Little Esther, All Grown Up: Raven Collects Esther Phillips’ First CTI Albums

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Esther Phillips - Baby I'm for RealAs the premier vocalist on CTI Records’ Kudu imprint, Esther Phillips (1935-1984) played a key role in producer Creed Taylor’s “Cool Revolution” at CTI. A gifted vocalist, Phillips nonetheless struggled with personal demons throughout her too-short life. The former “Little Esther” had her first taste of success in 1949, just fourteen years old, and a taste of heroin not long after; stories of her mercurial behavior have entered into legend. But her talent was never in doubt. CTI recorded Phillips in a variety of settings from smooth pop to jazz, disco and funk, realizing the adaptability of her pinched, distinct style. Now, Australia’s Raven Records label has compiled Phillips’ first four albums for CTI/Kudu as one 2-CD set entitled Baby I’m for Real, and it’s a set that no fan of soul or jazz should miss.

Discovered by the great Johnny Otis at the age of fourteen, the Texas-born Little Esther scored her first hit in 1950 with the rather mature “Double Crossing Blues.” Though her offstage troubles threatened to derail her career even at a young age, she bounced back with hits in the sixties including “Release Me” (1962) and “And I Love Her” (1965), the latter at Atlantic Records. After Atlantic, Phillips landed at Taylor’s up-and-coming CTI label. Though CTI was known for its pop-leaning fusion jazz, Taylor intended Kudu to emphasize the hybrid genre of soul-jazz. Phillips shared the roster with the likes of Grover Washington, Jr., Johnny Hammond and Hank Crawford.

Her 1971 Kudu debut, From a Whisper to a Scream, was named after the Allen Toussaint composition. Pee Wee Ellis and Jack Wilson traded off arrangement duties on the album’s songs, with CTI “house arranger” Don Sebesky sweetening some tracks with his trademark strings. The album’s nine tracks included another cut from the New Orleans piano man, “Sweet Touch of Love,” as well as songs from Eddie Floyd (“That’s All Right with Me,” “’Til My Back Ain’t Got No Bone”), Marvin Gaye (“Baby I’m for Real”), Big Dee Irwin (“Your Love is So Doggone Good”) and Gil Scott-Heron (“Home is Where the Hatred Is”). Whisper garnered a great deal of attention when Aretha Franklin won a Grammy for her Young, Gifted and Black LP and turned it over to fellow nominee Phillips: “I liked Esther’s record…I felt she could use encouragement,” the generous Queen commented.

Whisper has been paired on the first disc of Raven’s set with its follow-up, 1972’s Alone Again, Naturally. Phillips naturally found the innate anguish in Gilbert O’Sullivan’s chart-topping title track, and also brought her soulful stamp to Bill Withers’ “Use Me” and “Let Me in Your Life,” Eddie Floyd and Booker T. Jones’ “I’ve Never Found a Man (To Love Me Like You Do),” Big Joe Turner’s “Cherry Red” and the southern soul staple “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” from Dan Penn and Chips Moman. Ron Carter, Billy Cobham, George Benson, Richard Tee, Ralph MacDonald, and Hank Crawford all played on Alone Again, with arrangements again by Ellis. Phillips scored another Grammy nomination for her vocal on the title track.

After the jump: more on this release, including the full track listing and order links!

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Written by Joe Marchese

April 1, 2014 at 13:00

Release Round-Up: Week of April 1

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Cyndi Lauper - She's So UnusualCyndi Lauper, She’s So Unusual: A 30th Anniversary Celebration (Portrait/Epic/Legacy)

One of MTV’s first queens wears the crown anew on this deluxe set featuring new remixes, rarities from the vault, rare photographs and a fun expanded package with a diorama and reusable sticker set.

Amazon U.S.: 1CD / 2CD / LP
Amazon U.K.: 1CD2CD / LP

Keith AllisonReal Gone slate: Doris Day, Music, Movies & Memories / Doris Day, Sings Her Great Movie Hits / Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles, The Complete Atlantic Sides Plus (2-CD Set) / Cowboy, Reach for the Sky / Keith Allison, In Action — The Complete Columbia Sides and More!/ The Ohio Express, Beg, Borrow and Steal — The Complete Cameo Recordings / Eddie Kendricks, Love Keys / Vicki Lawrence, The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia — The Complete Bell Recordings / The Grateful Dead, Dick’s Picks Vol. 19 — 10/19/73 Oklahoma City Fairgrounds Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

The latest Real Gone slate includes two compilations to celebrate Doris Day’s 90th birthday, soul rarities from Eddie Kendricks and Patti LaBelle and a great new Keith Allison set featuring new liner notes from Joe!

Doris Day/Music, Movies & MemoriesAmazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Doris Day/Great Movie HitsAmazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Patti LaBelle: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Cowboy: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Keith Allison: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Ohio Express: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Eddie Kendricks: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Vicki Lawrence: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Grateful Dead: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

Alan Parsons Project - CompleteThe Alan Parsons Project, The Complete Albums Collection (Arista/Legacy)

The complete Alan Parsons Project discography in one box, including their non-Arista debut, 1976’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination: Edgar Allen Poe and the unreleased 1981 instrumental album The Sicilian Defence. (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Dylan's GospelThe Brothers and Sisters, Dylan’s Gospel (Ode/Light in the Attic)

Ten gospel-fied covers of Bob Dylan tunes, featuring singers from Merry Clayton to Patrice Holloway, arrangements from Gene Page and contributions from Ode artists and friends including Carole King and John Phillips. First time in print in more than a decade!

CD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
LP: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

Andy CappAndy Capp: Original West End Cast Recording (Stage Door Records)

Stage Door revives the original London cast recording of the 1982 musical based on Reg Smythe’s long-running comic strip. (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

TCM Play It Again SamVarious Artists, Play It Again: The Classic Sound of Hollywood (TCM/Masterworks)

Joe will have a full rundown of the latest title in Masterworks and TCM’s vintage Hollywood series later this week! (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)