Ann Peebles "The Complete On Hi Records Vol 1 & 2" (Hi UK HEXD 55 & 56)
By Greg Mudry
Vol 1: Give Me Some Credit; Crazy About You Baby; Make Me Yours; My Man; Solid Foundation; Chain Of Fools; It's Your Thing; Walk Away; Rescue Me; Won't You Try Me; Steal Away; Respect; I Can't Let You Go; Part Time Love; I'll Get Along; I Still Love You; Generation Gap Between Us; Slipped Tripped And Fell In Love; Trouble Heartaches And Sadness; What You Laid On Me; How Strong Is A Woman; Somebody's On Your Case; I Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody's Home; I've Been There Before; I Pity The Fool; 99 Lbs; I Take What I Want; Heartaches Heartaches; I Can't Stand The Rain; Do I Need You; Until You Came Into My Life; (You Keep Me) Hanging On; Run Run Run; If We Can't Trust Each Other; A Love Vibration; You Got To Feed The Fire; I'm Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down; One Way Street.
Vol 2: Come To Mama; I Don't Lend My Man; I Needed Somebody; Stand By Woman; It Was Jealousy; Doctor Love Power; You Can't Hold A Man; Beware; Put Yourself In My Place; Love Played A Game; I'm Leaving You; Fill This World With Love; If This Is Heaven; A Good Day For Lovin; I'm So Thankful; Being Here With You; Boy I Gotta Have You; When I'm In Your Arms; You're Gonna Make Me Cry; Games; Lovin' You Without Love; It Must Be Love; Old Man With Young Ideas; Bip Bam Thank You Mam; The Handwritting Is On The Wall; I Didn't Take Your Man; You've Got The Papers (I've Got Your Man); Lookin' For A Lovin'; You're More Than I Can Stand; Livin' In Lovin' Out; If I Can't See You; Let Your Love Light Shine; If You Got The Time; Heartaches; I'd Rather Leave While I'm In Love; Be For Me; Mon Belle Amour; Waiting.
2003 saw the release of "The Complete Ann Peebles On Hi Records" as two double cd sets, Volume 1 1969 - 1973 and Volume 2 1974 - 1981. This was a very welcome event because it brought together all of Ann Peebles's output on Hi Records for the first time.
Very rare is the singer who has never had a mediocre let alone bad recording. Candi Staton, Gladys Knight and Mavis Staples come to mind, as does Ann Peebles. Ann's singing was notable for its emotional depth and intensity, but what made it unique was how so much was compressed into Ann's deceptively simple phrases, with plenty of space in between. The result was a compelling, fleeting quality that drew the listener on and on.
Ann Peebles was born just outside St. Louis, Missouri in 1947, the seventh of eleven children. As a youngster she sang with the choir in her father's church, and with the family group, the Peebles Choir, who often were the opening act for gospel stars such as Mahalia Jackson and the Soul Stirrers with Sam Cooke.
Ann decided to pursue a career in secular music, and, after a few club appearances and auditions in St. Louis, went with her brother to Memphis where his girl friend lived in early 1968. They went to the Club Rosewood one evening where Gene "Bowlegs" Miller was the bandleader. Ann sang "Steal Away" with the band, and Miller, who was already doing session work at Hi Records, arranged an audition for Ann with the label's A&R man, Willie Mitchell. Mitchell loved what he heard, and immediately signed Ann to a contract.That was the beginning of a relationship between Ann Peebles and Hi Records that would last until 1981, and encompass almost all of Ann's finest recordings.
A song by song analysis of all 76 tracks on the four cd's would be just too much for the purposes of this review.I'll restrict my comments to the high points, and there are plenty of those.
The songs on the two volumes are organized chronologically by album which I heartily endorse since this enables the listener to experience the style and quality of Ann's singing as it evolved over the years. In addition, John Ridley's thoughtful, incisive and evocatively descriptive liner notes add greatly to the pleasure of listening to Ann's songs. Now, let's get to the heart of the matter.
Ann's debut album, "This Is Ann Peebles", was released in 1969, and included her first two singles, "Walk Away" and "Give Me Some Credit". "Walk Away" is the pick of the two songs. Originally written for Mitty Collier by Oliver Sain, it was transformed by Willie Mitchell into a southern soul ballad that Ann really nailed with heartfelt intensity. The song made it to number 28 on the R&B chart.
As was the custom at the time, the rest of the album was filled with cover songs. The best of these tended to be the grittier, tougher tracks such as "Crazy About You Baby', "My Man", and "It's Your Thing". However, the one song that rivals "Walk Away" for top honours on the album is "Steal Away". Ann's mesmerizing interpretation of this deep soul classic is laden with passion and desire. Ann was on her way to greatness.
In 1970 Ann had her first big hit. "Part Time Love" made it all the way to number 7 on the R&B chart and even reached number 45 on the pop chart. The Hi rhythm section had by now found their famous driving groove, the horns punched away in all the right places, and Ann exhibited a bluesy, tough edge to her delivery. This was classic Ann Peebles.
Hi Records rushed to capitalize on the success of "Part Time Love" with the release of an album under the name of the single. Hi's hurry was evident given that only four of the tracks on the album were new. Six of the cuts were repeats from Ann's first album. The other real winner on the set was the Willie Mitchell composition, "I Still Love You". Ann's mournful inflections amidst desolate, empty spaces convey the kind of pain and suffering that penetrate the heart. This is soul music at its deepest.
Ann's third album, "Straight From The Heart", was released in 1972. It may well be her finest and that is really saying something.John Ridley had this to say in the liner notes.
"Her singing was now fully matured, and her grainy timbre, excellent sense of dynamics and skillful phrasing made this set one to treasure."
Driving, hard edged and relentless tracks such as "Slipped Tripped And Fell In Love", "How Strong Is A Woman", "I Pity The Fool" and "99 lbs" are all top notch performances, each one worth the price of the album. The piece de resistance among these tough songs is "Breaking Up Somebody's Home" which reached number 13 on the R&B chart.The song is so infused with hurt, frustration and suppressed rage that one can almost sense the destruction to come.
Two ballads on the album stand out. Both were written by Ann and new husband, Don Bryant. "Troubles, Heartaches And Sadness" is superb, but "I've Been There Before" is in a different league altogether. This is my personal favourite performance by Ann Peebles. Beautifully supported by the sad gospel sound of Rhodes/Chalmers/Rhodes, Ann takes one into a lonely world filled with the pain of betrayal and humiliation.We empathize deeply with her because we've all been there before too.
Another superb mid-paced song of discord and pain emerged in early 1973. Although "I'm Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down" was a top notch effort, it was eclipsed by Ann's next single which was not only another stunning outing but also Ann's greatest commercial success. "I Can't Stand The Rain" made it to number 6 on the R&B chart and number 38 pop. Ann was scoring one knockout artistic performance after another. "(You Keep Me) Hanging On" came out in early 1974, and was quite a change of pace from Ann's recent emotionally forceful songs. It shows Ann's tender, vulnerable side, and is truly lovely for that.
The three aforementioned tracks came out on Ann's next album, "I Can't Stand The Rain". Seven of the ten cuts were written by Ann and Don Bryant. The songs were more varied in style than the collection on the previous album, and on balance not quite as strong, but there were a number of high points to be sure. "Do I Need You" and "You Got To Feed The Fire"are both classic Ann Peebles mid-paced drivers, and "A Love Vibration" is a sweet, country styled ballad.
Volume 2 begins with Ann's fifth album, "Tellin' It", which was released in 1975. Although the album contains yet another strong set of songs, it, and the singles included on it, did not sell well. Disco was really hitting its stride by this time, and soul music wasn't able to hold its own under the onslaught.
"Beware" indicated a return to Ann's classic, no nonsense approach with the Hi band pushing along behind her. "Dr. Love Power" was a relentless up-tempo dancer. "I Don't Lend My Man" also fit right into the Hi Records mould. Among the ballads "I Needed Somebody" was an emotionally gripping tale beautifully supported by the superb backing vocals of Rhodes/Chalmers/Rhodes. "Put Yourself In My Place" provided a refreshing change of pace with its lilting, bouncing groove. It's not hard to see why there are some lovers of soul music who put "Tellin' It" at the top of Ann's albums.
Also included on Volume 2 is "Fill This World With Love"which was released as a single in 1976, but was not included on any of Ann's albums. It's a delightful track which was inspired by the sound of the Staple Singers.
Ann's next album, "If This Is Heaven", was released in 1977. Unfortunately it was a rather mixed bag of songs clearly influenced by disco, and devoid of much of the classic Hi Records sound.The album did not sell well at all. "If This Is Heaven", which was also released as a single, is probably the pick of the crop with Ann once again leading the way with a fine vocal performance. Another strong track is "When I'm In Your Arms" written by Ann and Don Bryant. The absence of disco elements is most welcome.
Ann's next and final album for Hi came out in 1978. "The Handwriting Is On The Wall" was much stronger than the previous album since the direction moved squarely back to the style of Ann's earlier work. "Bip Bam Thank You Mam" and "You've Got The Papers" would have fit beautifully into Ann's third or fourth albums with their gritty approach. "You're More Than I Can Stand" is a thoroughly enjoyable track with its loping , country sound. Even the uptown lookalike, "If I Can't See You", is a delight to the ears. However, for my money, the best song on the album is the title track, "The Handwriting Is On The Wall", a southern ballad of beautifully expressed, deep emotions.
By this time things were in steep decline at Hi Records. The label had been sold, and the original studio band gone. Ann had three more singles released before she left Hi, the final one coming out in 1981. None of these 45's did anything on the charts, and were poor vehicles for Ann's talents.
Ann went on to spend time with her family, record a few more albums with other labels, and make occasional appearances. Sadly she suffered a debilitating stroke in 2012 that ended her career.
Because of her recordings for Hi Records, Ann Peebles earned her place among soul music's elite artists.There is no one better. Thus, "The Complete Ann Peebles On Hi Records", Volumes 1 and 2 must have a place in every soul music lover's collection.