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Reviews: Bayeté, Sandra Rhodes and Sid Selvidge Arrive from Omnivore

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Bayete - Worlds Around the SunIf you’re looking for a record label to do your deep crate-digging for you, look no further than Omnivore Records. The musical archaeologists there have unearthed three all-but-unknown records from artists on the fringe. But these fresh and vital discoveries from Sid Selvidge, Sandra Rhodes and Todd Cochran a.k.a. Bayeté will likely leave you wondering, “How have I missed this music until now?”

Likely on the strength of his work on Bobby Hutcherson’s 1971 Blue Note LP Head On, composer-pianist Todd Cochran was signed to venerable jazz label Prestige. The very next year, he delivered Worlds Around the Sun, one-half of his shockingly small discography as a leader. Though very much of its time, the album took jazz fusion to another level with nods to John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock and even Bill Evans. Producer-writer-performer Cochran’s fresh approach is evident from the very first track, “It Ain’t.” It doesn’t shy away from reinventing the bop idiom for 1972, and you might be snapping your fingers to Cochran’s piano. Hutcherson (playing vibes and marimba throughout the album) adds to the dreamy soundscape, with tightly blended horns and winds creating an alternate-universe cosmic MOR. Solos on bass (James Leary III) and drums (Thabo Vincar, alias Michael Carvin) show off the musicians’ improvisational virtuosity. We know that “It Ain’t” – but what is it? Whatever it is, it’s mesmerizing.

The hypnotic groove of “Bayeté (Between Man and God),” inspired by Herbie Hancock’s African explorations, builds from an almost tribal rhythm of Carvin’s drums. At twelve minutes, it’s by far the longest track on the LP, and one of the funkiest, with Cochran on Rhodes and piano. It also takes in slithering sax and lively trumpet, for a fusion-meets-free jazz free-for-all. Similarly spiritual is “Njeri (Belonging to a Warrior),” featuring Hutcherson’s shimmering vibes and Hadley Callman’s atmospheric flute, with Cochran on piano.

The most famous track on Worlds Around the Sun is doubtless “Free Angela,” thanks to Santana’s 1974 live recording preserved on his Lotus album. Inspired by controversial activist Angela Davis (also the subject of songs from The Rolling Stones and John Lennon and Yoko Ono) the tight and funky track with Cochran on clavinet takes on the shape of a mini-suite. The main theme, with its chanted refrain, melodically and stylistically shifts dramatically at about the three-and-a-half minute mark, and then once more before the song’s close.

After the jump: more on Worlds, plus Sandra Rhodes and Sid Selvidge!

“I’m on It” continues the style of “Free Angela,” layering on the funk via its chant, clavinet, Fender Rhodes, vibes and fat bass. An unexpected tenor saxophone solo underlines the experimental direction Cochran was pursuing, though. The album closes on an autumnal, pensive note with the moody “Eures (The Southeast Wind),” spotlighting trumpet and soprano saxophone. Omnivore’s reissue, produced and annotated by Pat Thomas, adds two previously unreleased session outtakes for an even more exciting trip Around the Sun. The horn-driven, start-and-stop “Phoebe” experiments with time signatures and the group really cooks, adopting almost a Latin vibe at times. “Shine the Knock” is an uptempo fusion workout of 12+ minutes in length. This striking, singular creation of an album shouldn’t be missed by those who enjoy their jazz with an infusion of pure soul.

Sandra RhodesThe recent Academy Award-winning Best Documentary Film 20 Feet from Stardom cast a spotlight on the background vocalists who have toiled as unsung heroes of the music world. One such singer, Sandra Rhodes, deserves a place in that pantheon. Rhodes, who has sung with artists including Al Green, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Paul Anka and The Bee Gees, has had a long recording career as part of The Lonesome Rhodes (with her sister Donna), Rhodes, Chalmers and Rhodes (with Donna and then-husband Charlie Chalmers) and solo. It’s the latter aspect of her career that Omnivore has revisited with a generously expanded edition of her 1973 Fantasy debut Where’s Your Love Been.

Rhodes wore many hats for the Memphis-recorded Where’s Your Love Been. In addition to her lead vocals, she also co-produced the album with Chalmers, played guitar, and wrote or co-wrote six of its ten songs. There’s a strong southern soul streak that differentiates Rhodes’ LP from the slick countrypolitan efforts coming out of Nashville, but the prevailing style is country, with appropriately weepy pedal steel, twangy acoustic guitars, atmospheric harmonica, and sympathetic vocal choirs.  Electric piano played by James Brown (not that James Brown) adds a then-contemporary flourish to the tracks.

The Chalmers/Rhodes songs like “No One Else Could Love You More” and “There’s No Such Thing as Love” boast universal, accessible lyrical sentiments and solidly melodic songcraft. As sung by Rhodes in her low-key yet expressive and soulful style, it’s difficult to see why the album disappeared without a trace – or at the very least, didn’t provide fodder for Nashville’s finest female vocalists. (Throughout her impressive career, Rhodes has placed songs with Conway Twitty, Skeeter Davis and Isaac Hayes, among others.) Sandra’s solo composition “It’s Up to You” strikes an agreeably funky note, and Sandra and Donna’s “Where’s Your Love Been” has a sly, sexy vibe not unlike an R&B version of Carole King’s “It’s Too Late.” Donna’s congas and maracas, plus a tasty electric guitar solo, add spice to this standout cut.

The three closing tracks add a horn section and up the Memphis soul ante. “The Best Thing You Ever Had” from George Jackson (a southern soul mainstay whose own works have been anthologized by the Ace label) is a scorcher as is Dickey Lee and Allen Reynolds’ colorfully-titled “Sowed Love and Reaped the Heartache.” Sandra and Donna’s “Never Grow Old” also fit comfortably into the R&B idiom. Walking the line between country and soul, Where’s Your Love Gone feels of a piece, even in its versions of songs by pop tunesmiths Irwin Levine and Toni Wine (“I Think I Love You Again”) and The Rolling Stones (a deliciously earthy “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”).

Reissue producer Patrick Milligan has added a whopping seven bonus outtakes from the original sessions – six originals by Sandra and a rendition of Sonny Bono’s Sonny and Cher hit “Baby Don’t Go.” Sonny’s tune is given a pretty folk treatment with mandolin and down-home harmonica, while Donna’s “Someday Sweet Baby” has a pronounced rock edge. Bill Dahl’s liner notes reveal the whole fascinating story of Sandra Rhodes, while Gavin Lurssen and Reuben Cohen have made her music sound as good as it gets.

Sid Selvidge - Cold of the MorningSid Selvidge’s The Cold of the Morning dates to 1976, but has precious little in common with the popular music of the day. There are no hints of Hotel California, no nods to Fly Like an Eagle, no invitations to join the Boogie Fever. Instead, this altogether eye-opening album features just a drawling folksinger and his guitar (and a small band on just two cuts) recorded live in the studio with no overdubs. The intimate setting, however, played to the strengths of this gifted Mississippi-born troubadour and song collector.

Already a veteran of the Memphis music scene when he signed with Memphis entrepreneur Robert Williams (who in turn formed the Peabody label for Selvidge), the singer was wary of being burned again. He had bristled at the strings added to his 1969 Stax album Portrait and saw his Muscle Shoals-recorded debut for Elektra Records end up on the shelf. But on Cold of the Morning, producer Jim Dickinson (Big Star, Ry Cooder) simply and elegantly captured Selvidge doing what he did best – storytelling.

For Cold, Selvidge selected twelve tried-and-true tracks which he had tested in front of Memphis audiences. Just three tracks were originals. Others were traditional tunes, or songs picked up from folk heroes, long-dead Broadway composers and wizened bluesmen. If any of this was pop, it was pop circa 1903, or 1946. But if the LP was thoroughly out of place for 1976, that accounts for its otherworldly, out-of-time quality today. This is music as if The Beatles, Burt Bacharach and Blonde on Blonde never existed.

Selvidge, with his rough yet malleable voice, was equally at home with sixties Greenwich Village troubadour Fred Neil (“I’ve Got a Secret (Didn’t We Shake Sugaree)” as with flag-waving turn-of-the-century “Yankee Doodle Boy” George M. Cohan (“Then I’ll Be Satisfied with Life,” which Selvidge learned from another lost song specialist – Tiny Tim!). His own low-key, gently performed acoustic compositions (“Frank’s Tune,” the Jimmie Rodgers-channeling “The Outlaw,” complete with yodel) fit right in with this esteemed company. For this song collector, no tune was too obscure…or too familiar, for that matter. So traditional songs like “Boll Weevil” and even “Danny Boy” also found a place on Cold of the Morning, the former performed a cappella-style. Selvidge paid tribute to his hero and mentor Furry Lewis with the drawled pure blues of Lewis’ “Judge Boushé,” and referenced Jimmie Rodgers once again with the album’s closing cut, “Miss the Mississippi and You.”

Two songs feature Mud Boy and the Neutrons, a.k.a. Selvidge, Dickinson, Lee Baker and Jim Crosthwait: Selvidge’s own vaudevillian “Wished I Had a Dime” and Harry Stoddard and Marcy Klauber’s vintage standard of the country, blues and traditional pop genres, “I Get the Blues When It Rains.” Tuba brings an unusual color to “Wished I Had a Dime,” while the Stoddard/Klauber song is enlivened with rowdy, rollicking barrelhouse piano. Six bonus tracks have been added to Cold of the Morning – five solo and one with the band.  These songs, including another Furry Lewis track via “East St. Louis Blues,” would have fit comfortably on the original LP.

Selvidge’s fears about recording weren’t unfounded. When Selvidge’s benefactor opted not to put the record out at the last minute, he gave it back to Selvidge, who reportedly drove down to the plant, rounded the LPs up, and distributed them himself with a little help from Memphis’ Phillips family. He did such a good job that Cold of the Morning even charted in Cashbox. Selvidge took the reins of Peabody Records himself and released an eclectic array of material from artists ranging from Alex Chilton to Cybill Shepherd. Surely Selvidge would have approved of this lovingly-curated reissue, produced by his son Steve of The Hold Steady and Omnivore’s Cheryl Pawelski. Fans of Dave Van Ronk, Fred Neil, the young Bob Dylan and the world of Inside Llewyn Davis: you owe it to yourself to experience The Cold of the Morning.

Interested in adding these titles to your collection?  See below:

Bayeté, Worlds Around the Sun:

Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

Sandra Rhodes, Where’s Your Love Been:

Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. Link TBD

Sid Selvidge, Cold of the Morning:

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

Written by Joe Marchese

April 4, 2014 at 11:41

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