Though this CD hails from the same stable and labels as our recent "Old Town & Barry Soul Survey" CDKEND 244, it is a very different animal, as the first track clearly shows.
Thelma Jones was featured on two tracks on the uptempo CD, both slick uptown productions. Here she opens at an almost funereal pace, demonstrating her accomplished, gospel trained vocals on the excellent ballad I Won't Give Up My Man. From the sparsely instrumented opening bars, the arrangement adds apposite strings and a crisp horn section, reminiscent of Otis' version of A Change Is Gonna Come. As compiler and sleevenote writer John Ridley states "several [Old Town / Barry] releases had more than a touch of Memphis about them." Similar Southern-influenced ballads include Bobby and Betty Lou's fine duet on their self-penned Sugar and Donald Height's Tribute To Sam.
Old Town already had a long and successful track record in producing and selling blues records by artists such as Bob Gaddy, Larry Dale and Roscoe Gordon, so their updating of the genre with some soul music thrown in was a natural progression. Roscoe himself attempted this with his wife Barbara on two singles and we have featured the superb It Ain't Right here. Lester.Young was very bluesy in his approach to writing, singing and playing the guitar and this is shown on four fine sides. Stop is a stunning ballad that belies its New York studios origin, while I Love My Baby is a previously unissued master tape that will please both blues and soul fans.
Though Thelma Jones had the biggest number of singles releases on the labels, jazz singer Irene Reid got to make an album for Barry. Label owner Hy Weiss tried to take her career down a soul path and he succeeded in producing some great songs, but without much commercial success. Just Loving You is a lovely ballad and still retains much of Irene's jazz heritage, whereas 'Dirty Old Man' is a fully-fledged funky black American slab of dance music.
There are plenty of uptempo moments on the CD; it isn't all doom and gloom. Jesse Gee's first featured number starts off as a slow blues rap but then accelerates into a nitty gritty mover called She's A Woman. He uses a similar technique on the even low, down and dirtier Don't Mess With My Money.
Like most sizeable indies in the 60s, Old Town picked up masters from around the country and the Nashville-produced I'm Sorry For You, by Frank Howard & The Commanders, is a soul group ballad with some heavily-featured lead guitar work. This could conceivably have been performed by one Jimi Hendrix, a friend and colleague of the songwriter Billy Cox: the two were reputedly hanging out together in the Music City at this time.
The labels were running down by the 70s, though another Old Town series was started in 1969. Bobby Long & the Dealers' Heartbreak Avenue was a highlight of this period, melding Southern soul and what could imaginatively be described as country rock. In the 70s producer and journeyman singer/songwriter Dickie Williams came up with a gospel inspired I'll Be Standing By for the label, and chanteuse Peggy Scott delivered his beautiful Making Love To My Mind.
Hy Weiss was a hard-bitten record man who trusted to his instincts and was quite prepared to be unconventional if the situation called for it. There were therefore some very interesting releases on his labels, none more so than John Standberry Jr's Marie. A Greek chorus-like, wailing intro slips into a guitar lead paean to his beautiful Marie that is totally original and quite breath-taking; particularly in its final emotional crescendo.
Unlike our "Old Town & Barry Soul Survey", which was a re-make of an earlier, long deleted Kent CD, this compilation comprises 24 fresh soulful nuggets awaiting your voracious appetites.
By Ady Croasdell