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Heavy “Drama”: SoulMusic Slate Includes The Dramatics, Nancy Wilson, D.J. Rogers

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Nancy Wilson - Take My LoveAs the old expression goes, all good things must come to an end.  And so Nancy Wilson’s 37-album, 20-year tenure at Capitol Records ended in 1980 with the release of Take My Love.    At Capitol, Wilson had proved her mastery of Broadway, Hollywood, traditional vocal jazz, fusion jazz, pop and soul, and had collaborated with the likes of George Shearing, Cannonball Adderley, Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, Thom Bell, and Oliver Nelson.  On her final Capitol LP, Wilson enlisted producers Larry Farrow and Carolyn Johns with whom she had worked on Life, Love and Harmony (also reissued by SoulMusic as part of the series that has so far seen fifteen Nancy Wilson albums on CD, many for the first time).  Farrow and Johns composed the near-entirety of Take My Love for Wilson, incorporating just two songs from outside sources: Tim Stevens’ “The Sadness in My Eyes” and Leon Ware’s “I Loved You All the Time.”

Contemporary pop-soul was the preferred genre for the versatile Wilson, Farrow and Johns this time out, though supporting players ranged from a jazz quartet to a 50-plus piece orchestra.  The title track was a bid for the crossover audience of, say, Earth, Wind and Fire, as was the majestic modern R&B workout of “Let’s Hold Onto Love” featuring vocals by Bill Champlin of Sons of Champlin and Chicago.  “Someone Else” channeled MOR soul à la The Doobie Brothers.  For the final three tracks on the album, Farrow and Johns crafted a mini-concert suite to be performed “live” in the studio, concluding with a specialty-composed playoff of the type one might hear when a diva exits the stage after a concert.  Such was the idea, for Wilson to literally take a bow to the newly-written “Bows,” ending her 20 years at the Capitol Tower.  There are no bonus tracks on the new CD (one single was issued from the LP, “Let’s Hold On to Love” b/w “Welcome Home”) but A. Scott Galloway has supplied a comprehensive new liner notes essay.  Alan Wilson has remastered.

After the jump: what’s new from The Dramatics and D.J. Rogers? Plus: full track listings with discography, and order links for all titles! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

November 19, 2013 at 17:04

Review: Rufus Thomas, Shirley Brown and The Dramatics, “Stax Remasters” Series

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When Stax Records severed its distribution deal with Atlantic in 1968, it was time to rebuild from the ground up.  The entire back catalogue went to Atlantic, as did Sam and Dave’s contract.  Gone was the “Stax o’wax” label logo; in its place was a new, finger-snapping Stax.  The stewards of the Stax legacy at Concord Music Group have recently launched a series branded as Stax Remasters, and the three latest additions to the reissue program have arrived from Rufus Thomas, Shirley Brown and The Dramatics.  Do the Funky Chicken, Woman to Woman and Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get, respectively, are an impressively eclectic trio.  Though these albums largely lack the instantly recognizable southern soul sound that resides within the grooves of many of those Atlantic-distributed 1960s hits, they make a case for the potency of the label’s sometimes-rocky rebirth.

Sticking to the tried and true paid off for the self-proclaimed “world’s oldest teenager,” Rufus Thomas.  (Rufus gave Dick Clark a run for his money!)  Thomas struggled to find his place in the new Stax line-up despite having given the label its very first hit song in 1960 with “Cause I Love You.”  His hit streak had continued in the early part of the decade with a number of related songs: “The Dog,” then “Walking the Dog,” then “Can Your Monkey Do the Dog,” and finally (inevitably?) “Somebody Stole My Dog.”  So although 1968’s “Funky Mississippi” failed to hit, Thomas followed it with “Funky Way” before hitting on a Chicago dance craze that inspired the funky mother of them all: “Do The Funky Chicken.”  Rufus clucked his way through the song: “this is the kind of stuff that makes you feel like you want to do something nasty…like waste some chicken gravy on your white shirt right down front!”  Who could resist?  So the Do the Funky Chicken album was born (Stax STX-33177-02, 2011).

Joining the titular chicken were ten further slices of rollicking, good-time funk that, in Rufus’ parlance, will make you want to get up and do something unnecessary…!  His original liner notes (reprinted on the back cover of the CD booklet) give insight into the man: “I sing, do a step or two, and I’m a comedian.  You ought to see me.  I’m the most beautiful person you’ll ever see in your life.”  He brings that joie de vivre to Louis Jordan’s “Let the Good Times Roll.”  He revisits “Bear Cat,” an answer record to the original Big Mama Thornton “Hound Dog,” and purrs and growls his way through the song: “You ain’t nothin’ but a bear cat, scoopin’ round my door!”  The most unusual track is the epic “Sixty Minute Man,” turning the Billy Ward and the Dominoes original inside out.  Thomas shouts, chants and scats around the exultant cry of “I feel my body!” on this tour de force cut.  He follows Frank Sinatra (!) as one of the few pop artists to take a shot at “Old MacDonald,” and extends it to two parts!  It’s impossibly drawn out (“Ee I ee I oh-oh-oh…oh yeah!”) but really cooks!  Though Thomas wrote most of his own material, his covers – “Old MacDonald” perhaps notwithstanding! – were well-chosen, by the likes of Dallas Frazier and Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.

The new remaster is rounded out by both sides of four singles including “Funky Mississippi” and “Funky Way,” both from 1968.  (Alas, later tracks “Do the Funky Penguin,” “The Funky Robot” and “The Funky Bird” didn’t make the cut!)  On “Boogie Ain’t Nuttin’ (But Gettin’ Down),” a two-part single from 1974, Thomas name-checks contemporaries like Eddie Kendricks and Kool and the Gang and even shows them a thing or two!

The most compelling of the three titles is The Dramatics’ Whatcha See is Whatcha Get (Stax STX-33176-02, 2011).  This release actually offers two titles on one disc, presenting the whole of the 1972 Whatcha See album and its 1973 follow-up, A Dramatic Experience.  Both albums are largely the work of writer and producer Tony Hester, whose personal demons kept him from reaching the heights of a Thom Bell.  Yet with arranger Johnny Allen, Hester crafted some spellbinding soul for the Detroit vocal group.  The first album kicks off with the infectious “Get Up and Get Down,” with a lush bed of strings and a powerful horn part, although the brass isn’t down and dirty as on many previous Stax productions.  Whatcha See offers sweet soul, but it’s not necessarily “soft,” alternating luscious harmonies with impassioned vocal cries on tracks like the dramatic “Thankful for Your Love.”  The five-man vocal interplay is frequently reminiscent of Motown’s Temptations, with each part executed to perfection from bass (Willie Ford) to  falsetto (Ron Banks).  Banks’ falsetto crooning on “Thankful” and the song’s thick, orchestrated sound wouldn’t have been out of place in Philadelphia; other songs clearly influenced by the sound of The City of Brotherly Love include “Fall in Love, Lady Love” and “Now You Got Me Loving You,” with its understated horns, swelling strings and insistent groove.  Of course, the song “Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get” remains the group’s calling card, and its fuzz guitar riff combined with the vaguely Latin feel still makes for an irresistible listen.  “Hot Pants in the Summertime” (“You sure look good in your hot pants!”) is not quite as timeless.

Read more about A Dramatic Experience, plus Shirley Brown’s Woman to Woman, after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

September 22, 2011 at 13:10

Stax Remasters Continue with Thomas, Brown and The Dramatics (UPDATED 8/5 WITH TRACK LISTINGS)

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While Berry Gordy was defining “The Sound of Young America” in Detroit, Jim Stewart, Estelle Axton and Al Bell were pioneering deep, gritty Southern soul in Memphis.  To many, Motown and Stax were two sides of the same coin, both offering powerhouse R&B sounds that spoke directly to the country’s youth.  Since acquiring Stax from Fantasy Records in 2004, Concord Music Group has relaunched Stax as an active concern with new artists and has introduced a number of healthy catalogue initiatives to celebrate the classic sounds of Stax, circa 1968-1975.  (The majority of the pre-1968 Stax recordings are currently controlled by Warner Music Group due to the label’s distribution deal with Atlantic Records.)

On September 13, Concord will continue its Stax Remasters series with Rufus Thomas’s Do the Funky Chicken, the Dramatics’ Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get and Shirley Brown’s Woman to Woman.  Each of these three titles features a bona fide classic title song, 24-bit remastered sound, bonus tracks, and detailed new liner notes.

Rufus Thomas could fairly stake claim to having laid the foundation for the entire Stax empire.  With his daughter Carla, Rufus recorded “Cause I Love You” in 1960, the success of which led to the distribution deal with Atlantic and the further hits to come.  Though Thomas’ career was languishing as the 1960s drew to a close, he continued to record for Stax.  One year after recording an unreleased LP with Booker T and the MG’s entitled May I Have Your Ticket Please?, Thomas re-entered the studio again with members of the Bar-Kays and son Marvell Thomas to record a song with the unlikeliest of titles, “Do the Funky Chicken.”  Well, in the tradition of Thomas’ dancefloor stompers like “Walkin’ the Dog” and “Can Your Monkey Do the Dog?,” listeners took a shine to the song.  It returned Thomas to the upper reaches of the charts, reaching No. 5 R&B and No. 28 Pop. Rufus was back on top, and the album Do the Funky Chicken followed. The new reissue is expanded by tracks including “Funky Mississippi,” from the unreleased May I Have Your Ticket Please? as well as “Funky Way” and  “Itch and Scratch.”  That last single was recorded not at Stax, however, but at Jackson, Mississippi’s Malaco Studios.

With the 1970s dawning, Stax executive Al Bell keenly felt the need to diversify the label roster, and one of his new recruits, producer Don Davis, brought Detroit’s The Dramatics with him.  The group signed with Stax in 1968 but didn’t score their first hit at the company until writer/producer Tony Hestor gave them “Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get.”  The song even bested the placement of “Funky Chicken,” going No. 3 R&B and No. 9 Pop in the summer of 1971 on Stax’s Volt label. Its follow-up, “In the Rain,” even bettered its predecessor’s placement on the pop chart when it hit No. 5. The Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get reissue contains an entire album’s worth of bonus tracks.  Among the nine additional cuts are two more hit singles, “Fell for You” and “Hey You! Get Off My Mountain,” both of which were recorded in Detroit instead of Memphis. The closer “Hum a Song (From Your Heart)” has a connection to the halcyon days of the Stax/Atlantic partnership, as it was produced at Atlantic South Criterion Studios by the legendary production and arrangement team of Jerry Wexler, Tom Dowd, and Arif Mardin.

Hit the jump for the details on Woman to Woman, plus pre-order links and track listings for all three titles! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

August 5, 2011 at 13:13