Take Me To The River
Sam Cooke’s Legacy
By Rev. Billy C. Wirtz
Every now and then, I get the chance to rave about a particular release secure in the knowledge that anyone who reads this review will absolutely love this collection. In last week’s issue I identified Sam Cooke as the guiding light of soul music, so it’s only proper that I steer you toward the great artists that followed in his footsteps.
Once again I’m forced to deal with that point on the graph where economics and reality crash into my “dream collection.” If you have a thousand bucks floating around, drop me a line with your Visa number and let me do the ordering for you. Otherwise, go to your favorite online or indie music spot (Roots and Rhythm.com being a good choice) and look for:
Take Me To The River: A Southern Soul Story 1961-1977
This collection goes for close to forty bucks, and it’s worth every penny of it. My advice is to grab it the minute you get your tax return, because it’s price is going up. When I reviewed this for Amazon I gave it five stars and called it one of the best box sets of any music ever released. Mojo magazine agreed with me; they gave it “Reissue of the Year” in 2008, and also declared it THE best soul collection ever!
It’s on Kent U.K., the best reissue label in the world.
Trust your Uncle Rev, when Kent puts out collections like this they knock it out of the park. This three-CD set includes superb liner notes, amazing photos, pristine re-mastering, and previously unreleased gems (in this case, the original first take of “Try a Little Tenderness” by Otis Redding), that we music geeks live for. In our modern era of downloads and “file-sharing,” labels like Kent deserve every penny; even at forty bucks this is a freakin’ steal. With over seventy-five tracks, I don’t have room to discuss every one, but here are a few highlights:
Side One begins with William Bell, a name not known to many; a brilliant songwriter whether it’s soul (“Private Number”), pop, or blues (“Born Under a Bad Sign”). On this album we get his version of the self-penned classic “You Don’t Miss Your Water.” Listen to the first verse and notice the gospel piano chords answering the vocals. As I’ve said before, soul music was the infusion of gospel phrasing and chordal patterns into commercial rhythm and blues, and whoever sequenced this collection hits a bull’s-eye on this first song. You hear Sunday morning all over this lament on twenty-twenty hindsight. William Bell is followed by Arthur Alexander giving us “Go On Girl,” instead of a more obvious selection like “Anna” or “You Better Move On.” This choice sets the pattern that separates this collection from all others. Instead of taking the easy route and going with well-known selections by famous artists, they choose “B” sides, one-hit artists, and, in several cases, feature hit songs as sung by other artists. The result is a fascinating insight into the synthesis of blues, gospel, and country-western that produced an entirely new genre of music, and artists as well. The best example might be “When Something is Wrong With My Baby,” almost always indentified with Sam and Dave, done here by country singer Charlie Rich (who actually claimed to be a jazz player). It is breathtaking in its simplicity and feeling.
Percy Sledge comes to the table with “When A Man Loves A Woman,” but one of his later hits, “Cover Me,” is sung by its composer, genius Eddie Hinton.
James Carr and O.V. Wright might not be household names, but they should be. There are those of us who consider them to be criminally underrated, deserving of all the accolades bestowed upon such giants as Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett.
Carr is represented on this disc with the greatest “cheatin’ song” of all time.
“Dark End Of The Street” has been covered by numerous artists. The theme of adultery combined with choir, horns, and straight-from-the-amen corner chordal structure, defies adequate printed or spoken testimony; I can only hope that none of you reading this column will go through life having never heard the original.
O.V. Wright checks in with “Eight Men and Four Women.” To quote my favorite active soul singer, Pittsburgh’s Billy Price: “…O.V. Wright was the greatest deep-soul singer ever.” (For those of you unfamiliar with Billy, I strongly encourage you to go to the site http://www.billyprice.com/Wright.php for an awe-inspiring tribute to this artist. It’s also the best-researched and well-written dissertation of the relationship between soul and gospel that I’ve ever read.)
The other lesser-known artists represented will leave you scratching your head and wondering why you’ve never heard of them.
Doris Duke immediately comes to mind. “To the Other Woman (I’m the Other Woman)” made me go out and download everything I could find by her, and I wasn’t disappointed. For my money, she belongs right up there with Aretha and Etta James.
Do the names Spencer Wiggins and Jimmy Hughes ring a bell? If not, they will after you’ve heard this.
Ms. Duke, Spencer Wiggins, and Jimmy Hughes are only three of more than a dozen unknown artists to whom this album brings some well-deserved attention.
Whether you’re already a fan, or have had a taste and want more, this is a can’t-miss on every level. And this may be the only album I’ll recommend that you listen to the tracks in order. If you do, you’ll begin to notice the similarities and common thread connecting William Bell to Al Green.
The word on the street is that there is a follow-up collection, ”The Fame Studios Story.” Its getting rave reviews from all the right people, and as soon as I cash in enough pop bottles, I’m going to grab a copy. Till then, put off the sushi dinner till next week, buy this album, and thank me in the comments column after you’ve listened to it for a week straight.
Rev. Billy C. Wirtz is a weekly columnist at BluesWax. Each week he finds artists, albums, and music that you should know about. He also plays piano.
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