After successfully re-establishing Columbia’s Okeh label in the early 60s, first in Chicago and then on the US National R&B/Pop charts, through the hits of Major Lance, Billy Butler and Walter Jackson amongst others, Carl Davis was pushed out by the new management in late 1965 and returned to the life of an independent producer. To Walter, whose career was at last beginning to show some measure of consistent success, Davis’ departure must have been something of a shock. Welcome Home had just become his third R&B hit single (and the first to be issued in the UK). With the help of Curtis Mayfield, the Davis/Jackson concept to establish him as a high-class balladeer was beginning to take shape. Using a selection of standards and quality new songs supplied by the likes of Mayfield, Van McCoy, Barrett Strong and Chip Taylor, Walter was gaining chart credibility and things were looking good. They had already cut his second album and suddenly Carl Davis was gone. Even though it probably didn’t seem like a good break for him at the time (and he no doubt would have left with Davis if his Okeh contract had allowed) Walter was not to know that with his new producer Ted Cooper, he was just about to have a run of superb singles that would establish him as one of the truly great all-time R&B/soul balladeers.
During a three-day session in March ’65 Jackson had cut a dozen tracks that comprised most of the “Welcome Home” album. Eight of these songs were already established standards including My Funny Valentine, Moonlight In Vermont, Let It Be Me, Moon River and Fly Me To The Moon. Four came from more contemporary sources as mentioned above. Jackson’s clean delivery was very studied, slow and deliberate. He had pure vocal clarity and great diction that allowed his personal take on these songs to come through with great style and finesse. Some tracks worked better than others but each song benefits greatly from Walter’s individual interpretation. My classic picks are My Funny Valentine, and Moonlight In Vermont, but that’s just a matter of personal preference. However the treatments didn’t always work as well as they could have done - Blowin’ In The Wind and Where Have All The Flowers Gone suffer from saccharine string arrangements that trivialise their lyrical content. It’s in the newer songs where Jackson really excels for me, when he has a blank canvas. The three written by Van McCoy for example Suddenly I’m All Alone already a hit single, The Magic’s Gone and Still At The Mercy Of Your Love come closer to Walter’s zone but it’s the title track that indicates the route he was to follow with his new producer to achieve greater artistic success. Welcome Home is the outstanding track with Jackson’s ponderous vocal squeezing every ounce of emotion out of Chip Taylor’s lyric. Garnet Mimms also cut a great version - but Walter’s is the one.
The beauty of the CD format is that it allows compilers like Tony Rounce the flexibility to collect all the previously unavailable masters of the time and issue them as bonus cuts. Add that to A- and B-sides and you’ve got an irresistible package like this one. The first of these gems is a superb reworking of the Clyde McPhatter original Deep In The Heart Of Harlem. A slow build up with Walter at his devastating best combined with Cooper’s rolling production, this urban tale unfolds like a movie trailer and Jackson’s outro is a killer - he really was the master of the outro. Next comes Clint Ballard’s beautiful ballad Cold, Cold Winter where again the magic works perfectly - eat your heart out Scott Walker. Also additions include an intriguing version of Randy Newman’s I Think It’s Going To Rain Today. Walter delivers it straight over a soporific Cooper treatment – there’s none of the irony of the original here. Another good vehicle for Jackson, rescued from obscurity is That’s When I Come To You. For the completist collectors amongst you there are a couple of hard to find flipsides Special Love, recorded three years earlier that was co-written by Walter and One Heart Lonely from the final full Davis session cut in October ’65 and co-written by Gerald Sims. Ted Cooper rarely recorded Walter on standards or covers so The Folks Who Live On The Hill previously cut by Peggy Lee amongst others and the final track on this second volume is something of an oddity. Few singers possessed the emotional range of Walter Jackson or were able to maintain the delicate balance between power and sincerity as he did. It’s great to hear and celebrate his digital liberation – roll on volume three.