Cincinnati’s Otis Williams & the Charms (or His Charms or His New Group, as they were sometimes billed) are one of the groups with which the King label is permanently associated. Williams spent more than a decade with Syd Nathan’s company, enjoying his most successful year in 1954-55 with the big R&B hit versions of ‘Hearts Of Stone’, ‘Ling Ting Tong’, ‘Two Hearts, Two Kisses’ and ‘Ivory Tower’.
Otis’ 1950s sides for De Luxe and King have been well anthologised (and anthologised well) on several occasions since the advent of the CD, but until now less attention has been given to his 60s recordings. “It’s A Treat” makes up for that by focusing almost exclusively on Williams’ post-1959 catalogue. Most of these sides have never been on CD before and the majority have been unavailable in any format since the original King singles were deleted many years ago. All 24 tracks have been mastered from brand new transfers of the original singles and session master tapes, made by my colleague Alec Palao and myself at King’s Nashville HQ in March of this year.
“It’s A Treat” finds its featured artist striving to make a transition from the doo wop and R&B of the 50s to the altogether fresh and new sound of soul that gradually broke through in the first few years of the 60s. The later recordings here – particularly killers such as ‘Panic’ and ‘It Just Ain’t Right’ – demonstrate that Otis Williams could have easily become a full-on soul singer if he’d wanted to. Unfortunately, by the time of their release, Otis was tiring of show business and looking to take up a new career as a barber, and neither he nor King got behind them quite as forcibly as they should have done.
Other highlights of the set include the stomping Hank Ballard-alikes ‘Little Turtle Dove’ and ‘Wait A Minute Baby’ and Otis’ groovy original of ‘Unchain My Heart’, recorded almost a year before Ray Charles’ chart topping version but not released until 1964. Doo wop fans will swoon to Williams’ sublime cover of the Safaris ‘Image Of A Girl’, while our title track offers a rare early composition by future songwriting giant Barry Mann. Suffice to say that the repertoire here is as varied as it is enjoyable which, in both cases, is very.
As ever, Ace’s packaging is every bit the equal of the audio, with a label shot of all 24 sides and an extensive note (by yours truly) that looks at the recordings on a session by session basis and attempts to analyse why not one of them achieved chart success despite their obvious excellence.
Here’s one CD that truly lives up to its title – it truly is a treat.
By Tony Rounce