Friday, May 23, 2008

Sounds Like New Orleans: Aaron Neville

I'm headed to New Orleans in a short six weeks - I'll be spending the summer there, eating, drinking, and taking in as much live music as I can. So over the next little while, I'll try to collect some classic NOLA soul sounds here.

Of course, the city's better known for jazz, blues, and brass bands than it is for soul, but that's like saying New York City is better known for Italian and Chinese than it is for Polish food - well, sure, but there's still plenty of excellent perogies to be had!

Here's a classic to start things off: Aaron Neville's "Tell It Like It Is":

I missed a chance to see the Neville Brothers live a few years ago here in Ottawa, so I'm hoping, now that they've made their big return to the city, that I might get a chance to catch them this summer.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Soul Stirrers - Jesus Done Just What He Said

By some definitions, soul music is gospel with secular lyrics. Sam Cooke was one of the first gospel superstars to make the cross-over to the profane world of pop, and when you compare his solo efforts to his early work with The Soul Stirrers, you can see the connection. Here's "Jesus Done Just What He Said":

Friday, May 16, 2008

Soul Soundtracks: The Commitments

This 1991 release, about a soul cover band in Dublin, offers not just a great soul movie soundtrack - it is a great soul album, full stop. The band draws heavily from the Southern soul tradition, covering Otis Redding, Clarence Carter, Wilson Pickett, James Carr, Aretha's two tracks from the infamous Muscle Shoals session, and more.

Call it blasphemy if you like, but sometimes I have trouble deciding which I like better: the originals, or the covers by The Commitments.

Here's Mustang Sally:

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Cover Art: American Juniors

Remember the short-lived reality TV show American Juniors?

It hit the airwaves in the early days of the American Idol franchise (think Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard era) and the idea was to form an all-kid pop group out of the 5 remaining contestants, who could range in age (if I rememer right) from 6 to 16.

The show exposed a ton of young talent to the world - but it also exposed a lot of scary stage parents, and the necessary pre-commercial break suspense-mongering made a few too many contestants cry. The experiment wasn't repeated for a second season.

Like Idol with its annual Motown night, Juniors drew heavily on the relatively child-friendly content of the 1960s. (You can't exactly have six-year-olds covering How Many Licks, now can you?) I guess if there's one good thing about these shows, it's that, in their own karaoke-night way, they keep some of the classics alive for another generation.

Here's Lucy Hale, doing "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me" - note Lamont Dozier and Mary Wilson on the judges panel.

See also: Morgan Burke's take on Build Me Up Buttercup, and 11-year-old Taylor Thompson's cover of Proud Mary.

Friday, May 9, 2008

The Muscle Shoals Scene

This afternoon I'm wrestling with a travel story about my recent trip to Muscle Shoals, Alabama. It's hard for me to explain the excitement of visiting a place that's simultaneously so important and so irrelevant. The Shoals, after all, is an unattractive backwater - but that's precisely what makes what happened there at Fame with Dan Penn, Donnie Fritts, Spooner Oldham and all the rest so compelling.

Here's a fantastic bit from Peter Guralnick's Sweet Soul Music, summing up the Muscle Shoals scene:

"What you had was half a dozen enormously talented twenty-year-olds thrust upon the world stage while stranded in the backwoods of Alabama. They were too hip for their environment but too comfortable in it ever to want to break out. Dan was still storming around the countryside with the Fame rhythm section in a hearse, now billed as Dan Penn and the Pallbearers. Donnie Fritts, who had already moved to Nashville part-time to pursue an independent career as a songwriter ("I was the only one not to sign with Rick. Rick signed everybody who could write a fucking poem."), maintained an apartment in Florence that was affectionately known as Funk City and was painted black. There were names for everyone: Guy Bingo and Gene Audit, Mr. and Mrs. Weenie, and Sky High (that was Donnie), and when squares showed up on the scene, it was Ozzie and Harriet time. Donnie and Spooner and Dan hung out together constantly, referring to themselves without blinking as "a bunch of niggers."

Thursday, May 8, 2008

In Defence of Motown: Marvin Gaye

Anyone who figures Motown had nothing to offer but watered-down pop aimed squarely at the white suburbs must not have been paying much attention to Marvin Gaye. Are you really going to argue that this man had no real soul?

Here's one of my favourite Marvin tracks, Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler) - fronted by a surprisingly high-quality fan vid.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Bar-Kays - Soul Finger

This hilarious video becomes less funny when you remind yourself that the Bar-Kays went down with Otis Redding on December 10, 1967, and that only Ben Cauley and James Alexander (who missed the flight) survived. Sad now? Me too. But this track should cheer us up.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Dan Penn Files: Don't Give Up On Me

One of the many reasons I get all worked up about Dan Penn is, he's still alive and kicking, and even still writing and performing from time to time. When most of your favorite musicians are long gone, the prospect of being able to see one live is enough to propel him or her to the top of the list!

Last time around I posted one of Penn's earliest songs; now here's one of his most recent, a composition that became the title track of Solomon Burke's star-studded 2002 comeback album, Don't Give Up On Me.

Monday, May 5, 2008

The Devil and Ike Turner

Ike Turner's a tough character to fit neatly into a category. He's a Delta bluesman to some, a rock pioneer to others. And you can't deny, particularly in his Ike-and-Tina days, that there's a healthy dose of soul in there, too.

After Ike passed away back in early December, Slate ran this brilliant, speculative obituary, in which author Donald Fagen wonders what our protagonist might have asked for, in exchange for his soul, at that famous Delta crossroads.

Here's my own, much shorter, obit for Ike Turner.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Soul Soundtracks: Now and Then

Every few years, soul makes a sort-of comeback in the guise of a modern movie soundtrack, and I'd like to honour those albums here.

First up is an old junior high slumber-party standby, Now and Then. Sure, the CD includes plenty of pop cheese from the likes of The Archies and Tony Orlando & Dawn, but it also features a couple of pretty decent Jackson 5 tracks, one of my favourite Stevie Wonder songs (Signed, Sealed, Delivered) and Band of Gold by Freda Payne, seen here with vintage vinyl crackle included:

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Cover Art: D'Angelo - Cruisin'

D'Angelo pays tribute to his quiet storm predecessors with this take on Smokey Robinson's "Cruisin":