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Got To Be Real: SoulMusic Reissues Cheryl Lynn, Labelle and Johnnie Taylor

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LabelleWith a trio of recent releases from Labelle, Cheryl Lynn and Johnnie Taylor, Cherry Red’s SoulMusic Records imprint turns its attention once again to bona fide R&B royalty.

When Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles transformed into Labelle, the change was more than merely cosmetic.  The quartet was reduced to a threesome when Cindy Birdsong headed to Hitsville USA to replace Florence Ballard in The Supremes.  Moreover, under the direction of British manager, producer and songwriter Vicki Wickham, the girls ditched their traditional repertoire to pursue a gutsy new direction.  Their first album as Labelle, a 1971 self-titled effort for Warner Bros., had songs written by all three members – Patti LaBelle, Sarah Dash and Nona Hendryx – as well as Carole King, Laura Nyro and The Rolling Stones.  1972’s Moonshadow saw Hendryx’s songwriting talent blossom alongside compositions from Dash, Pete Townshend (a searing cover of The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again”) and Cat Stevens (the title track).  Post-Moonshadow, Wickham and Labelle decamped for RCA.  SoulMusic has just reissued Labelle’s first and only RCA album, 1973’s Pressure Cookin’.

Nona Hendryx continued to shine on seven of the album’s nine tracks, and she was particularly concerned with social issues of the day. In A. Scott Galloway’s fine essay which accompanies this reissue, Hendryx relates, “I was inspired by artists…like Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wonder, Stephen Stills and Joni Mitchell.  There was so much racism, sexism, drugs…there needed to be a revolution of the mind.”  Hendryx and Labelle provided one with the scorching title song, and even the album’s cover material reflected that raised consciousness.  A medley melded Thunderclap Newman’s “Something in the Air” with Gil Scott-Heron’s spoken-word “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” with all three women taking raps. Hendryx found room for the personal, too.  “(Can I Speak to You Before You Go to) Hollywood” took aim at the people who might later have been deemed poseurs: “There were many people we knew who went from being new to major stars, i.e. divas, and things went to their heads…These were the same people that at one time you’d shared dressing rooms and chicken legs with on the chitlin circuit!”  (Some have suggested Cindy Birdsong was a possible inspiration for the song.)  On “Mr. Music Man,” Hendryx addressed the rapidly-changing musical climate, specifically the marginalization of certain artists from Top 40 radio.  (The more things change…!)  The funky “Goin’ on a Holiday” was co-produced by Wickham and an uncredited Stevie Wonder, and Wonder also wrote “Open Up Your Heart” for Labelle.

After the jump: more on Pressure Cookin’, plus Cheryl Lynn and Johnnie Taylor! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

October 17, 2014 at 10:44

Mary Wells, Ben E. King, Johnnie Taylor Join Kent’s Celebration of “The Phillip Mitchell Songbook”

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Something New to Do - Phillip Mitchell Songbook“Prince” Phillip Mitchell is in some mighty good company.  The Kentucky-born singer and songwriter, who rose to prominence composing songs for deeply soulful artists including Millie Jackson and Bobby Womack, is the latest to receive a career retrospective from Ace Records’ Songwriters and Producers series.  With the Ace/Kent release of Something New to Do: The Phillip Mitchell Songbook (CDKEND 394), he joins such illustrious talents as Dan Penn, Burt Bacharach, Randy Newman, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller and Carole King and Gerry Goffin.  The 21-track overview features songs by both Jackson and Womack along with Ben E. King, Joe Simon, Mary Wells, Candi Staton, Bobby Sheen and many more who benefited from Mitchell’s gift of song.  As Mitchell’s name isn’t as famous as any of the above-named writers or artists, Kent’s new collection of his underrated catalogue is long overdue and well worth exploring.

Mitchell expertly crafted a bevy of songs of love lost and found that, while frequently wrenching, were still wrapped in up-tempo grooves.  His southern soul compositions were recorded by a Who’s Who of artists at most of R&B’s pre-eminent labels: Atlantic, Hi, Stax and Malaco among them.  Before he joined The Spinners, Missouri-born John Edwards wrapped his pipes around Mitchell’s “Cold Hearted Woman” for Aware Records. “I can’t believe it, you’re so evil!  How you can just walk out on me/Never look back to see me grieving…,” Edwards wails over a slinky track that would make Al Green proud.  Though this fine recording sat on a shelf until Kent’s excavation in 1996, Edwards did well for himself as the voice of Michael Zager-produced Spinners hits like “Working My Back to You/Forgive Me Girl” and “Cupid/I’ve Loved You for a Long Time.”  Another shelved recording, Garland Green’s “(You Gotta) Come Through Me,” was cut in 1975 but not released until 1990.  It’s packed with pop crossover appeal, boasting a catchy melody and tight arrangement.  Its sinuous horns could have come from one of Isaac Hayes’ Shaft-era projects, and Green delivers with a typically potent vocal performance.

One of Mitchell’s most important musical associations was with Mel & Tim, the Stax singing-cousins duo.  Mel & Tim recorded no fewer than five Mitchell songs on their Stax LP debut, including the selection here, “Free for All (Winner Take All).”  Ernie Shelby’s “Carry Me” also has a Stax flavor, and it’s no surprise that it was another Mitchell composition recorded by Mel & Tim.  Perhaps the duo’s most famous Mitchell song is “Starting All Over Again,” a 1972 Top 20 Pop/Top 5 R&B hit.  Rather than opt for that hit version, the compilers here have chosen a fine cover by Stax labelmate Johnnie Taylor.

Keep reading after the jump, where you’ll find more including the track listing with discography and order links! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

July 15, 2013 at 13:07

Big Break Goes Disco with KC and the Sunshine Band, George McCrae, Johnnie Taylor

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KC and the Sunshine Band - Part 3The Temptations had sunshine on a rainy day, John Denver had it on his shoulders, and the O’Jays took their cue from an old standard to address a loved one as “my sunshine.”  But Harry Wayne Casey and Richard Finch, forming Miami’s KC and the Sunshine Band, had sunshine both in the band name and in the joyful, exultant brand of music they played.  Big Break Records has recently reissued one title recorded by those disco titans, one title produced by them, and one with another connection to the genre.  All three of BBR’s expanded editions will transport you to those heady days when the dance underground became the pop mainstream.

KC and the Sunshine Band’s 1976 long-player was simply and efficiently titled Part 3 (CDBBR 0817).  As the title made explicit, the album wasn’t an attempt to redefine or expand the band’s sound.  Instead, Part 3 continued the style the group of musicians had already established.  After 1974’s unsuccessful Do It Good, Casey and Finch reinvented their group with a self-titled album in 1975 that asked listeners to “Get Down Tonight.”  That was clearly the way listeners liked it (uh huh, uh huh), so Part 3, too, was all about the groove – and how it makes you move!  With simplicity and clarity, KC and the Sunshine Band invited listeners to “(Shake, Shake, Shake) Your Booty.”  And though the other seven selections on the album would inevitably fall in the shadow of that No. 1 Pop and R&B hit, this new reissue proves the album is an upbeat delight from start to finish.

In the fine and detailed liner notes from J. Matthew Cobb (who supplies the essays for all three titles reviewed here), Harry Wayne Casey reveals “Shake, Shake, Shake” as an ode to self-empowerment and to fearlessness of doing your own thing.  Of course, that unbridled freedom was a major part of the disco identity at its roots, and few groups expressed personal liberation with more vitality than KC and the Sunshine Band.  Cobb’s essay also frankly discusses the implications of Casey and Finch, two Caucasian men, making such an impact in disco, and the feelings from some quarters that they had somehow co-opted black music.  This probing discussion gives a subtext to the listening experience that can’t be overestimated.  Still, Part 3 is a sunny, ready-to-party record, as evidenced by that significant rainbow on the front of the album artwork.

The album’s other major hit, “I’m Your Boogie Man,” followed “Booty” to No. 1 Pop (and No. 3 R&B).  And if it’s not as stone-cold a classic, it has all the hallmarks of KC’s disco-funk-pop perfection.  “Let’s Go Party” could be the band’s mantra, and the funk is ladled on this tight track, too.  It’s certainly not excessive, at under three minutes’ length, but is a reminder that KC and co. were deft musicians far more than “just” a disco band.  Casey and Finch’s production hallmarks extend to the lesser-known tracks;  “Baby I Love You (Yes I Do)” was only released on 45 as a flip, but it could have been an A-side, with its (likely intentional) echoes of “That’s the Way I Like It.”  It’s difficult to discern any deeper meaning to “Wrap Your Arms Around Me” (“Come on, come on!”) with its shrieks and wails of pleasure, but it’s likely you’ll want to join in.  “I Like to Do It” is another simple but insistent affirmation with bold horns, its melody set to the familiar KC percolating dance groove: to boogie down all night long, to shake it up, all “with you.”  The album-closing “Keep It Comin’ Love” is another sexy pop confection with an irresistible hook (“Don’t stop it now, don’t stop it now”).

BBR has added two bonus tracks, the single versions of “Boogie Man” and “Keep It Comin’ Love,” to Part 3.  (Singles were also released for “(Shake, Shake, Shake) Your Booty,” of course, as well as “I Like to Do It” and “Wrap Your Arms Around Me.”)  KC and the Sunshine Band’s disco hits are still staples of oldies radio today, but this full-service reissue makes the experience of listening to the band’s music a more immediate, and ultimately more fulfilling, one.

Hit the jump for the scoop on the latest reissues from George McCrae and Johnnie Taylor! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

January 16, 2013 at 10:04