Otis Redding: The Best: See & Hear

RIYL: Sam & Dave, Al Green, Solomon Burke

In an era when pretenders to the R&B throne spring up like swine flu in the local emergency room, it only takes a glance back at Otis Redding’s career to remind us that no one has ever managed to recapture his electrifying, unfettered energy and passion. Like Sam Cooke, James Brown, Aretha, the Four Tops, the Tempts, Wilson Pickett and Solomon Burke, Otis was one of a kind: a man who relied not on gimmicks or false sentiment, but a genuine, explosive talent that took every song to the precipice between triumph and tragedy. From the stage at Monterrey to ballrooms across the nation and venues around the world, Otis proved he was the ultimate interpreter of gritty, sweat-stoked, heart-wrenching soul, a man whose fiery appeal transcended race or nationality, rock or R&B.

As with many other incendiary talents, Redding’s career was an abbreviated one, cut short in a tragic plane crash in December 1967 — mere months after he electrified a mostly white Monterey audience that had also witnessed Hendrix, Joplin, the Byrds and the Springfield. Ironically, his biggest breakthrough, the moving “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay,” wouldn’t even pierce the charts until after his demise. Still, the classics he left behind in a relatively short period earned him a permanent presence in the lexicon of great contemporary singers — one who is yet to be bested, and likely never will.

Shout/Rhino’s new two-disc compilation — boasting a CD of greatest hits and a DVD of live performances captured the year before Redding’s death — provides a brief summary of the man’s brilliance; a mere introduction at best. The numbers forever identified with Redding make the cut: “Dock of the Bay,” of course, “Respect,” “Try a Little Tenderness,” “I’ve been Loving You Too Long” — the better-known songs that defined Otis’ magnetism and his ability to adroitly shift from finesse to frenzy. Watching him drive himself with such exhilaration and determination, as seen on the video performances of “Shake” and “Satisfaction” (each included twice on the DVD for good measure), verifies the emotion he exuded each time he took the stage.

A singer for the ages, Otis had a talent that was eternal. In the face of such greatness, “brilliance” is an adjective that doesn’t even begin to suffice. Pick up this package, and you’ll quickly understand why. (Shout! Factory 2009)

Shout Factory website


Michael Johns: Hold Back My Heart

Nobody ever said you had to win American Idol to have a successful music career. In fact, each year more former contestants are finding a niche for themselves in some corner of the music business. Enter the latest of those, Season 7 alum Michael Johns, who used Idol as a springboard not just for popularity, but as a means to finally make the kind of music he wants—blue-eyed soul. Johns had been down the rock road before, his Australian roots bringing comparison to the late Michael Hutchence, among others. But it was when a phone call from his mom prompted Johns to follow his true passion, which was to sing the music he grew up on, and his path had suddenly been set out before him. Several years later, Johns has delivered a solid Downtown Music debut, Hold Back My Heart, with many of the songs being Johns’ co-writes with Dave Cobb. Falling somewhere between the music of his idols Otis Redding and Sam Cook and the sappy soul of guys like James Morrison, Johns has discovered a middle ground that could absolutely launch his career to lofty heights—though nothing is guaranteed in today’s music business. Coincidentally, the opening (and best) track was a song Morrison had a hand in, “Heart on My Sleeve.” Other standouts are the aching ballads “Fools Gold” and Heart is Weak” (the latter written by Diane Warren) as well as the bluesy boogie of “Little Bear.” As impressive as it is, though, Hold Back My Heart falls short of being a home run, but leaves plenty of room for growth. (LABEL: Downtown)

Michael Johns MySpace Page


Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears: Tell ‘em What Your Name Is!

Okay, here’s a quick question for anyone who may still be left unawares: which recent event helped to significantly narrow the racial divide? That is, what event other than the election of America’s first Black president? Give up? How about the first release by an African American artist on that esteemed Americana label, Lost Highway? It may not seem so significant at first glance, but with first listen, this debut disc by Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears confirms the suspicions most folks knew along – that pure, unfettered, classic R&B is as much a part of American roots music as any other style borne from the heartland. And while prefacing his moniker with “Black” may seem like he’s expressing the obvious, Lewis’ ability to summon the spirit of classic R&B by invoking the power and passion of James Brown, Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding is awesome and impressive in itself. These ten tracks echo the sound of pure ‘60s soul, from the full-on funk of “Gunpower” and “I’m Broke” to the rock-steady shuffle underpinning “Master Sold My Baby” and the cool groove steering that “Sugarfoot.” With his band of twenty-somethings holding sway – think Booker T & the MGs and the sound of Stax Records – Lewis’ impassioned howl offers a sure sign he’s learned his lessons well. And if some of the songs reinforce certain stereotypes – “Big Booty Woman, “Get Yo Shit” and “Humpin’” being among them – suffice it to so that like his influences, Lewis isn’t timid when it comes to expressing raunchiness or wickedness. This Papa may not have a brand new bag, but he’s getting a lot of use out of it all the same. Lost Highway

Black Joe Lewis MySpace page


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