Greetings all.I hope you all had a great holiday weekend. I apologize if you tuned in on Monday to discover that the blog had not been updated. I should have posted some kind of notice that I’d be slacking at the beach, instead of posting, but I figured the intersection of my disappearance and the holiday would cause the reader to reach the obvious conclusion.
I return to the figurative asteroid belt of the blogosphere with a couple of very tasty tracks for your perusal.
Despite the fact that I’ve been at this (i.e. filling the interwebs with writing about soul and funk) for around five years, my mailbox isn’t exactly overflowing with promotional swag. When things of that nature do find their way through yon mail slot, they are rarely worth writing about. In the face of my somewhat monolithic focus on vintage funk and soul, I often get CDs that wouldn’t qualify for consideration under even the most flexible definition of “funk and/or soul”.
However, recently I got a couple of excellent CDs that not only made sense stylistically, but were actually worth listening to. I’d even go as far as to say that were I flipping through the racks at the local dispensarie du disques, and encountered these CDs I may even have gone as far as to open my wallet in order to obtain them (but of course, having gotten them for free, I no longer have to do so. Essentially a very tiny perk in a relatively perk-free universe…).
The collections I speak of are ‘Atlantic Unearthed: Soul Sisters’ and ‘Atlantic Unearthed: Soul Brothers’. The folks involved have mined the vaults of Atlantic and associated labels (Stax, Volt, Cotillion, Atco etc.) for rare and unreleased material, and if you’re familiar with the labels involved you know that the potential for material of an exceptionally high quality is great.
While today’s post will focus on the ‘Soul Sisters’ collection, I can tell you that the ‘Soul Brothers’ disc has a grip of quality selections, including stuff by Bobby Womack, Sam and Dave, Arthur Conley and a couple of outstanding tracks by Otis Redding (“I Love You More Than Words Can Say”) and Mighty Sam (“Lovebones”) that were both new to me.
The ‘Soul Sisters’ collection, as would be expected from the labels involved is jam packed with deep soul. There are tracks by artists that are better known for their work with other labels who passed through the Atlantic family of labels briefly, like Irma Thomas and Mary Wells, as well as by singers long identified with Atlantic, like Aretha Franklin. There are also outstanding numbers by Patti Labelle and the Bluebells, Judy Clay, the Sweet Inspirations and Esther Phillips.
Though lots of the material was new to me, there were a couple of numbers that I happened to have resting nicely in my crates, and I thought I’d share them with you today.
All three selections today are/were covered by other artists, though who did some of the songs first is in dispute. They also – coincidentally – both hail from 1969, are produced by Dave Crawford, and have sequential catalog numbers.
Though only Baby Washington’s ‘What Becomes of the Brokenhearted’ appears on the comp, I’ve decided to include its flipside, ‘Breakfast in Bed’ as well. Baby Washington recorded for a number of R&B/soul labels through the 50’s and 60’s (including ABC, Sue and Veep) before landing at Cotillion in 1969. Her cover of Jimmy Ruffin’s 1966 ‘What Becomes of the Brokenhearted’ (mistaken listed on the label as a tune called ‘What Becomes of a Broken Heart’, written by Ernest Tubb) manages to take Ruffin’s signature number and build upon it with a layer of deep, Southern soul. It’s one of those rare instances where an artist covers a song so firmly identified with another artists and does them one better.
The flip side has as solid a ‘Southern soul” pedigree as you can come by. Co-written by Eddie Hinton and Donnie Fritts, and recorded – as so many Atlantic sides of the day – at Muscle Shoals, ‘Breakfast in Bed’ is an absolute masterpiece. I mentioned before that the original recording of this tune was in dispute. Known to most via the version by Dusty Springfield on her legendary ‘Dusty in Memphis’ LP, I have seen conflicting references as to whether Springfield or Washington recorded the tune first. Whether or not Baby Washington originated ‘Breakfast in Bed’, in my opinion there can be no disputing that her version is by far the superior of the two. The song itself is a work of great subtlety, with a fantastic lyric and some truly original chord changes. Washington’s powerful voice works wonders in the quieter sections of the verse, building – and exploding – during the chorus. It’s really one of the greatest recordings to come out of Muscle Shoals, and that is truly saying a lot. Sadly, if you’re looking for ‘Breakfast in Bed’, you’ll have to settle for this MP3, as it doesn’t appear to be available in reissue*.
The next track is a song that will probably sound awfully familiar. Though the original version of ‘What a Man’ was recorded earlier in 1969 by Linda Lyndell on Volt – and subsequently sampled by En Vogue. Though Lyndell’s original is better known amongst collectors, beat diggers et al, and is subsequently rarer and more costly, I am of the belief that the version we present today, by the mighty Miss Laura Lee is better. Lee (with the guidance of Dave Crawford, who also wrote the tune) takes things at a slightly funkier, gritty pace. Though both versions have something to recommend them (Lee’s take omits the famous guitar riff) Lee was a more interesting singer than Lyndell. Either way I think you’ll dig it. You just can’t go wrong with Laura Lee.
*I have been notified by several folks (including all three posters so far) that ‘Breakfast In Bed’ has in fact been reissued on Dave Godin’s Deep Soul Treasures: Taken From Our Vaults Vol 3