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Thursday, January 5, 2006

Old Soul Songs For A New World Order

Neumu Contributing Editor Michael Lach writes: College-rock wunderkind Bright Eyes sang of an "old soul song for a new world order" on this year's fine I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning. In reality, old Southern soul was back in 2005 — not the funky, frat-boy jams as much as the slow Southern backwoods soul that recalls the finest of the Stax era. Here are some of my favorites from this past year.

1. Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham, "Old Folks," Moments From This Theatre (Proper): Dan Penn is the great lost living legend of American music, still relatively unknown despite writing hits for Otis, Janis, Aretha, and Alex Chilton. This tune, a longtime concert closer, has lyrics worthy of a Hallmark card, but thanks to the utter lack of pretense he makes it believable and emotional. The live Moments From This Theatre was a treasure at inflated import-only prices; it's essential listening now that it's finally been released stateside.

2. Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, "This Land Is Your Land," Naturally (Daptone): It takes nerve to cover one of the most played and loved songs in the American songbook. But besides bringing a James Brown funk to the Guthrie classic, Sharon Jones and band uncover the lesser-played verses that certainly lean towards lefty politics. Her latest record, Naturally, is a wonderful collection of tunes that sounds old and yet feels modern, and is only a shadow of her power as a live performer.

3. Betty LaVette, "How Am I Different," I've Got My Own Hell to Raise (Anti): LaVette's return to form is a collection of women-penned tracks produced by Joe Henry. Here, she turns one of Aimee Mann's best into a grooving, shuffling R&B jam that smolders.

4. Irma Thomas, "Back Water Blues," Our New Orleans 2005 (Nonesuch): Covering the Bessie Smith classic, this tune takes on an added resonance in the post-Katrina world, punctuated by a particularly gritty Doyle Bramhall guitar sound. "I woke up this morning, couldn't even get outta my door," indeed. Here's hoping her New Orleans nightclub the Lion's Den is re-opening soon.

5. Irma Thomas, "Loving Arms," I Believe to My Soul Volume 1 (Rhino/Work Song): Another one of Joe Henry's new soul recordings, this track has a delightfully slow-jam feel set to the oh-so-subtle Allen Toussaint piano. When the guitar and backup choir come in right towards the end, I still get chills up my spine.

6. The Country Soul Revue, "Chicago Afterwhile," Testifying (Casual): A new Dan Penn composition, and the strongest cut on this new collection of old soul legends doing things Nashville-style.

7. Bobby Purify, "Better to Have It," Better to Have It (Proper): Bobby Purify is a singer's singer, and his comeback record is steeped in deep Southern soul. Though he recently turned 60 and went blind, his voice is still burnished and hungry, just like in the days of "I'm Your Puppet."

8. Percy Sledge, "Shining Through the Rain," Shining Through the Rain (Varese): The whispering guitar and clap drums that punctuate the title track of Sledge's overlooked 2004 album give a wonderfully upbeat punch to this rousing tune. Sledge's voice sounds as warm and round as ever.

9. Solomon Burke, "I Need Your Love in My Life," Make Do With What You Got (Shout Factory): The Bishop of Soul's second Joe Henry-produced comeback album wasn't as deep as 2002's Don't Give Up on Me, but this funky burner shows there's still plenty of fire in him.

10. Sid Selvidge, "Since I Met You Baby," Live At Otherlands (Archer): Selvidge has been playing in and around Memphis for years, with blues legends like Furry Lewis, with the should-have-been super group Mud Boy and the Neutrons, and on his own. On this live recording of the Ivory Joe Hunter classic, he distills a tremendous song down to its simple rawness, with dazzling results.
The InsiderOne Daily Report appears on occasion.



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