Saturday, July 17, 2021

The Albums of 1971: O.V. Wright: A Nickel and a Nail and Ace of Spades

Release Date: 1971

Produced by Willie Mitchell

Track Listing: Don't Let My Baby Ride; Born All Over; Ace of Spades; Eight Men, Four Women; He Made Woman for Man; I Can't Take It; Afflicted; When You Took Your Love From Me; A Nickel and a Nail; Don't Take it Away

In a year of superb soul albums, O.V. Wright's 1971 LP  A Nickel and a Nail and Ace of Spades was among the best.  With The Memphis Horns and the Hi Rhythm Section supporting Wright's passionate vocals, the record is stellar from the opening to closing track. O.V. Wright (1939-1980) was known as one of the great gospel singers who like Sam Cooke transitioned into secular music, building a lasting reputation as one of the great soul performers of the era.

"Don't Let My Baby Ride" is the classic Memphis sound personified with vocals and instrumentation wonderfully playing off each other. "Born All Over" recalls Wright's beginnings in Gospel.  On "Ace of Spades" Wright sings "I ain't no fool/I'm Memphis Cool" in a swaggering soul song. "Eight Men And Four Women" refers to a jury, creating vivid imagery and muses on the lengths one will go for love. "He Made Woman For Man" is a tender hymn of devotion. 

The bluesy "I Can't Take It"  is a lament of loss, "Afflicted" a haunting expression of devotion that turns into obsession. On "When You Took Your Love From Me" Wright intones "I'm a prisoner of your love baby" in another ballad of emotional wreckage. With the horns playing minor chords on "A Nickel and a Nail" reflects on (almost) losing everything and coming out stronger on the other side. "Don't Take it Away" ends the record with a plea for reconciliation. 

The upbeat first side is countered by the more brooding second side emphasizing loss and loneliness, bordering on gothic. Despite legal and personal issues, Wright continued recording throughout the 1970s, passing away from a heart attack at age 41 in 1980. Wright's impressive body of work continues to influence a new generation of soul singers. 

Friday, July 9, 2021

The Albums of 1971: The Isley Brothers: Givin' It Back

Release Date: September 25, 1971

Members: Ronald Isley (vocals); Ernie Isley (lead guitar); Marvin Isley (bass); O'Kelly Isley (vocals); Rudolph Isley (vocals); Chris Jasper (piano); Chester Woodard (guitar)

Produced by Ronald Isley, Rudolph Isley

Track List: Ohio/Machine Gun; Fire and Rain; Lay Lady Lay; Spill the Wine; Nothing to Do But Today; Cold Bologna; Love the One You're With

The Isley Brothers began their career in 1954 as teenagers when rock and roll was still in its infancy and continue performing and recording seven decades later. Their astoundingly long and varied career is a history of modern popular music itself. Yet there's no book length study of The Isley Brothers, at least nothing like the tomes written on so many other artists from the era. Hopefully that will change with a documentary in the works.

The Isley Brothers hailed from Cincinnati. They started out as a gospel group and recorded many crossover hits in the early 1960s including "Twist and Shout" and "Shout" and many other charting singles with various labels. Motown was their home base from 1966-69 where they continued recording hit singles, but they were just getting started. With younger brothers Ernie and Marvin joining the group in 1970, their sound continued to evolve with each record - ranging from rock, folk, and funk. 

Givin' It Back is an album of covers by mostly white artists, returning the favor since so many white bands had covered them, the freaking Beatles chose "Twist and Shout" as the grand finale on their debut LP!

The album opens with "Ohio/Machine Gun", a hypnotic mash up of Neil Young and Jimi Hendrix (a former guitarist for the Isley Brothers). The original CSN&Y recording featured an onslaught of sonic infused anger, the Isleys incorporated gospel, doo-wop, while retaining the rock roots of the song, creating a complex emotional journey on the ramifications of  the Kent St. massacre. "Fire and Rain" by James Taylor begins as a soulful lament and settles into an impassioned acoustic number. Bob Dylan's "Lay Lady Lay" is reimagined as a ten minute long reggae/country western foot stomper. 

A rendition of War's "Spill the Wine" never strays too far from the original source (even includes the flute). "Nothing to do Today" by Stephen Stills is performed as easy going soul in the polished Motown style. "Cold Bologna" written by Bill Withers is a reflective acoustic track recalling childhood in Harlem. Another Stephen Stills cover, "Love the One You're With," ends the record on a festive note. 

Givin' It Back features the versatility of The Isley Brothers at the start of a revolutionary decade in their epic career - highly recommended!

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

The Albums of 1971: Eugene McDaniels: Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse

Release Date: 1971

Produced by Joel Dorn

Track Listing: The Lord is Back; Jagger the Dagger; Lovin' Man; Headless Heroes; Susan Jane; Freedom Death Dance; Supermarket Blues; The Parasite (for Buffy)

Eugene McDaniels (1935-2011) was remembered as a "Sixties Soul Hitmaker" in many obituaries, but during the 1970s he recorded two influential albums that continue to resonate decades later, Outlaw (1970) and Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse (1971). 

McDaniels began his career a soul/pop recording artist in the early 1960s who recorded several chart topping singles including "A Hundred Pounds of Clay" and "Tower of Strength." He wrote the protest song "Compared to What" for Roberta Flack, the 1969 live version by Les McCain and Eddie Harris became famous. In 1970 McDaniels recorded Outlaw for Atlantic, the album skewered Nixon's America with soul infused songs embedded with a Dylanesque punch to the lyrics. Headless Heroes was recorded the following year took a more impressionistic approach to the cultural climate, supported by members of the jazz fusion band Weather Report.

The album opens with "The Lord is Back," blending rock with jazz with lyrics inspired by the Book of Revelation. "Jagger the Dagger" is moody and improvisational, telling of a figure being manipulated by evil forces within society. "Lovin' Man" follows a messianic figure who may conceal a sinister agenda. "Headless Heroes" examines the roots of hatred, suggesting nefarious forces at work (a companion song to Dylan's "Masters of War"). "Susan Jane" celebrates an independent woman with folkish style vocal. "Freedom Death Dance" offers a warning:

There's no amount of dancing we can do
That will ban the bomb
Feed the starving children
Bring justice and equality to you and me

A blend of jazz, pop, folk, and soul with a weighty message: flower power will not save the world.

The narrative of "Supermarket Blues" deals with a racial confrontation at a grocery store, viewed as satirical at the time, in 2021 such an occurrence is not beyond the imagination. The narrator is at the store to return some tainted items, the manager argues and things escalate. The police are called as white customers taunt the narrator with racial slurs. More violence ensues, the narrator wishes he stayed home and gotten high.

At nine minutes, the historically themed "The Parasite (for Buffy)" recalls English settlers landing in Massachusetts and encountering the indigenous population and deceiving them, spreading disease, and displacing the natives from their land and culture. The song was inspired by singer-songwriter Buffy St. Marie who was blacklisted by American radio during the 1970s. The sorrow of McDaniel's vocal builds to a crescendo, ending the record with a cascade of terrified screams. 

Headless Heroes drew the ire of the Nixon Administration. Vice President Spiro Agnew allegedly complained to Atlantic Records and demanded that the record be suppressed. By the 1980s, Headless Heroes was obscure, but returned to public consciousness when hip hop artists used samples from the album. Still potent, the record may be more relevant 50 years later. 

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers #1

Release Date: November 9, 1976 Members: Tom Petty (vocals, guitar); Mike Campbell (guitars); Benmont Tench (piano, organ); Ron Blair (bass);...