Old Souls

One of the many musical sawhorses that I often put the spurs to—being a pain the bass just comes with the territory I’m afraid7#151;is the whole bit about why labels who are all hurtin’ right now don’t spend more time digging in their vaults and hauling out treasure in the form of unreleased studio material and especially live shows. Well, the emerging empire that is Concord Records (proud owners of the catalogs of Telarc, Fantasy and now, Rounder Records), a label whose judgment I have questioned in the recent past (Stax Does the Beatles, WTF?), released a killer record earlier this summer that’s been finding its way back to my Musical Fidelity CD player as of late, Otis Redding, Live on Sunset Strip collects performances that didn’t make it onto the two previous albums, In Person at the Whisky a Go Go and Good To Me: Live at the Whiskey A Go Go Vol. 2, that came from a three night stand at the Whiskey in L.A. over Easter weekend 1966. While the set list of the three full sets on these two CDs contains some repetitions, it’s great to hear

Pound for pound, note for note, shimmy and shuffle against full on bobbing at the waist groovin’, there never was and never will be a better soul singer than Otis Redding and these live recordings show that in 1966, the man knew how to light a first and fan the flames. Listening to him pleading with the “ladies and gentlemens” to make noise for the recording, (“ain’t nobody gonna arrest you,” he assures the crowd) or working his breathless way through, “I Can’t Turn You Loose,” that Redding/Cropper classic, “Mr. Pitiful,” (I want yooouuu, I want yoooouuu!!) or a truly unusual version of “A Hard Day’s Night,” where he deliberately omits the last word of each chorus line (he’s also way outta breath by that point) to great effect. The sound of this set is not great but at least it’s not that horrible thin underwater sound that comes from a lot of live recordings from that era.

I’ve been going back to Otis because the other night I happened to put in Eli Paperboy Reed’s latest, Come and Get It. It’s not that I’m saying listening to Reed (real name: Eli Husock) forced me to go back to Redding but there’s some of that going on. To his credit, Reed obviously knows the history, and his horn and guitar–driven songs are smooth evocations of soul music past. Tunes like the frantic “Explosion” or the classic–sounding soul ballad, “Pick a Number,” (both of which he wrote) show that he can also write in most of the time–honored 60’s soul tune modes. His singing, which he now seems to be doing more from his nose than his throat, is also authentic in its phrasing and ringing shrieks. The kid is convincing no doubt about it. And he’s trying to move the music forward in time which you can only admire. Whether he’s gonna be able to make a career out of being a soul revivalist has yet to be seen. Some listeners will buy in, while others, older ones I suspect, will think of him as a pretender. But for now he’s riding this wave for all it’s worth. Giving it his all or as he says in ‘Explosion,”—“The atomic bomb got nothing on me!”