Various Artists “Deep & Gritty: The Sound Of The City Vol.6:
Chicago Part Two” (Sounds Good To Me SGTM 907)
by Pete Nickols
Take Care ~ June Conquest ~ Windy C 606; Andrew Jeffrey ~ I Wouldn’t Change Her ~ Shama 622; Barbara & The Uniques ~ You Got Your Hooks In Me ~ 20th C. LP 462; Al Perkins & Betty Bibbs ~ Homework ~ USA 812; Betty Bibbs ~ If You Read My Mind ~ Almira 101; Chuck Bernard ~ She’s Already Married ~ Satellite 2012; McKinley Mitchell ~ She’s Married Already ~ St. Lawrence 1005 and Mod Art 300; McKinley Mitchell ~ No Love Like Your Love ~ Toddlin’ Town 117; Koko Taylor ~ A Mighty Love ~ Yambo 107/8 and Spoonful 107/8; Wylie Dixon ~ How Long Must I Wait ~ Checker 1164; Norfleet Cousins ~ Beggar Love ~ Gemini Star 30007; Barbara Hall ~ Drop My Heart Off At The Door ~ Innovation II 9162; Trudy Johnson ~ Your Good Thing Is About To End ~ Capitol 2631; Joe & Mack ~ Prettiest Girl ~ One-derful 4830; 5 Du-Tones ~ My World ~ P-Vine LP PLP 9004; Willie Parker ~ Let’s Start A Thing Now ~ M-Pac 7233; Four Pennies ~ You Have No Time To Lose ~ Brunswick 55304; Barbara Acklin ~ How Can You Lose Something You Never Had ~ Capitol LP 11377; Alvin Valentine ~ There Oughta Be A Law ~ Brunswick 55409; James Phelps ~ The Wrong Number ~ Fontana 1600.
This long-standing series, the earlier issues of which we hope to feature in our ‘old favourites’ review section eventually, reaches its second look at some of the more obscure examples of Windy City soul, as the label says, both deep and gritty.
Marlene Teasley (well, June Conquest sounds better) opens the proceedings. Back in 1964 she had been groomed for stardom by Rick Hall at Fame but an argument over royalties ended their relationship before her “Almost Persuaded” (Fame 6406) got off the ground. She then joined up with Curtis Mayfield, most memorably on Curtom where she cut duets like “I Thank You Baby” with Donny Hathaway as June & Donnie before he found Roberta Flack; however June also cut for other Mayfield labels and this Windy C track is a very pleasant, though not outstanding soul ballad.
Andrew Jeffrey’s track is a 45 rarity from Syl Johnson’s Shama label and is a fine mid-pacer with some good dramatic passages in front of a full brass section. A deep uptown gospelly storyline classic comes from Barbara (Livesy) & The Uniques. One of the finest tracks on the CD, you can catch it here. Making a double appearance is Betty Bibbs, firstly via her tasty duet with Al Perkins and then solo on the much deeper “If You Read My Mind”, complete with some lovely bluesy piano work.
You can read about Chuck Bernard here and also sample his fine melodic Satellite soul-ballad included on this CD. McKinley Mitchell had an expressive bluesy voice; however, personally I prefer his later Chimneyville material even to his often good earlier Chicago stuff – his version of “She’s Married Already” is more story than song as the tune almost takes second place to the often spoken/semi-spoken lyrics. It’s an acquired taste but I’m not sure it’s mine. Although the aural quality here is poor, as a musical experience I prefer Mitchell’s more overtly bluesy, almost “Fever”-like mid-pacer “No Love…”. The early Koko Taylor side included next is certainly ‘gritty’ at times thanks to her naturally tough, bluesy, torch-singer-like voice, although she manages to make this slow-paced item genuinely soulful by alternating her ‘hard-sell’ with a suitably softer approach.
Wylie Dixon’s tenor-voice is a very expressive instrument and his dramatic soul-ballad here from his pre Symtec & Wylie era (while still with his first group, The Wheels) is outstanding. The Norfleet Cousins were led by Ben Norfleet (previously of Ben & The Cheers who cut for Penny and later Mocha) and were chiefly made up of the sons of the original Norfleet Brothers Chicago gospel group. Indeed gospel-feel is everywhere here in this superbly sung soul-plea by Ben for his girl not to make him beg.
It’s great to have a good-quality CD version of Barbara Hall’s long-revered example of how top-drawer deep, emotive soul could survive the disco-era. A terrific recording. So is Trudy Johnson’s magnificent take on Mable John’s famous soul song, originally written about her real-life experience of finding her own husband two-timing her.
The Joe & Mack offering is an excellent soul-duo midpacer after the style of Sam & Dave and, as far as I know, stems from the only 45 they ever made. Much better known were the impressive 5-Du Tones. Though not revered for deep soul, this track is the exception which shows just how soulfully ‘low-down’ their lead-singer could get. It’s a very fine unissued-at-the-time track.
Willie Parker was a Windy City favourite whose strong tenor voice was at its best on mid-paced brass-driven pieces, like his deservedly well-loved “You Got Your Finger In My Eye” and this very-nearly-as-good-item “Let’s Start A Thing Now”. What’s more, that typically potent One-derful/Mar-V-Lus and (in this case) M-Pac musical backing is just awesome.
The Four Pennies’ Brunswick song is one where lots of lyrics are cleverly ‘squeezed into’ a much slower-paced melody. There’s almost a touch of West Indian feel about it and it also owes much to the street-corner doo-wop heritage. An unusual but very appealing recording.
Office girl turned singer-songwriter Barbara Acklin cut mainly softer soul but there’s more aggression and gutsy ‘bite’ to her telling vocal on this nice post-Brunswick-era Capitol LP track from 1975. Her higher register work is outstanding here. Although produced by Chicago mainstay Willie Henderson, the backing here sounds almost Hi Memphis in style at times.
Talking of Brunswick, their obscure artist Alvin Valentine certainly should have recorded more widely if his very fine vocal here on this great, truly gritty mid-pacer is anything to go by.
If you’ve sung with The Soul Stirrers, The Gospel Songbirds, The Holy Wonders and the Clefs of Calvary you should be able to imbue plenty of gospel-feel into a soul song and that’s certainly what we get from Shreveport native, James Phelps on this powerfully sung, fairly pacy ‘big-sounding’ item which brings a very enjoyable CD to a close.
Although several deep winners are indeed included, if you’re looking for quality north-American soul which mixes the tempos a bit, you can’t go far wrong with this one.