CD of the Month

DON BRYANT: You Make Me Feel

Fat Possum FP17472 (38:51)

Your Love Is To Blame/ 99 Pounds/ Is It Over/ I Die A Little Each Day/ Don’t Turn Your Back On Me/ Your Love Is Too Late/ I’ll Go Crazy/ Cracked Up Over You/ A Woman’s Touch/ Walk All Over God’s Heaven

Aged almost eighty, this is only the third soul album Don Bryant has released in a fifty-year career. Born in Memphis, Don performed in the quartet The Four Kings, and aged eighteen he wrote ‘I Got To Know’ for the Five Royales who were then signed to the Home Of The Blues label.

Don started to write for Hi artists as well as recording for them with the Four Kings. In 1969 he waxed his first solo album ‘Precious Soul’ for Hi with Willie Mitchell producing. Willie planned for Don to be Hi’s next big star. 

But with the success of Al Green, Otis Clay, O.V. Wright, Syl Johnson and others in the Hi stable including Don’s eventual wife Ann Peebles his solo career took a back seat and he joined Earl Randle, Dan Greer, and Darryl Carter at Hi’s hit song writing team. Don wrote over 150 songs for the label.

In 1970, Willie Mitchell, the defacto head of Hi Records paired Don with new signing Ann Peebles for whom he wrote ‘99 Pounds’, (Ann’s actual weight at the time!), ‘Do I Need You’ and co-wrote the 1973 smash hit ‘I Can’t Stand The Rain’ for Ann. For much of the 1970s he opened shows for Ann before focussing on gospel during the 1980s and 1990 recording three gospel albums for the Faith label between 1987 and 2001.

Moving on fifteen years, at the suggestion of producer Scott Bomar, Don was persuaded to join the Memphis soul band The Bo-Keys, returning to the studio with them for ‘Don’t Give Up On Love’ issued by Fat Possum in 2017. This follow up album, produced by Scott Bomar features numbers from Don’s back catalogue as well as new material – and as a bonus he is backed by former Hi Rhythm section members, Howard Grimes on drums, Archie ‘Hubbie’ Turner keyboards and Charles Hodges on organ – and it is a real winner. 

The classic Hi sound is evident from the first track ‘Your Love Is To Blame’ and it is followed by a great version of ’99 Pounds’. “I’d always listen to the artists and come up with some things that would fit what they’d already done. I got the idea that ‘99 Pounds’ would be a good ID song for her” Don says! ‘Is It Over’ is a great soul ballad co-written with Bomar.

Also, on the set is a slowed down version of ‘Don’t Turn Your Back On Me’, a single he cut in 1965 and ‘I Die A Little Each Day’, a 1972 hit he wrote for Otis Clay. He also performs a wonderful version of ‘Cracked Up Over You,’ a northern soul stomper he wrote in 1967 (covered by Lee Rogers for Wheelsville, Danny White for Decca and Junior Parker on his ‘Like It Is’ 1967 Mercury album) and its B side ‘I’ll Go Crazy’, (the only song he didn’t write on the album).

‘Your Love Is Too Late’ has great twanging guitar and a Latin beat and ‘’A Woman’s Touch’ is a tribute to his wife (who suffered a stroke in 2102 and gave up performing). The set closes with the laid-back gospel number ‘God’s Heaven’. 

Having taken a back seat to Ann Peebles and other Hi artists, Don has made a triumphant return, recreating his great songs and performing new material. A real soul star. 

Tony Burke

ALABAMA MIKE: Hip You To My Blues

Big Tone Records 246 (48:00)

Black Cadillac/ I’m Selfish/ California Blues/ Frustrate My Life/ 20% Alcohol/ Diabetic Man/ Cut That Out/ How You Want Your Rollin Done?/ V-8 Ford Blues/ Hip You To My Blues/ Stop Accusing That Woman/ I’m In Love With A Woman/ Hello Central/ Keep My Grave Clean/ I Feel So Good

It was a surprise to learn about a new release by Alabama Mike (real name Michael A. Benjamin) on Big Jon Atkinson’s new label. Alabama Mike’s earlier recordings, such as those with The Andy T Band in 2017’s ‘Double Strike,’ often displayed a gospel-rooted vocal style in the manner of Little Johnnie Taylor. 

This new release finds him in a down-home blues vein with a dose of Lightnin’ Hopkins flavour along with some tracks that evoke early ’50s Chicago style. This recording reflects Alabama Mike’s long-burning desire to ‘do a record in the classic style of early electric blues pioneers….’ 

The backing musicians on this set of retro blues include Kim Wilson on harmonica, Big Jon Atkinson and Danny Michel on guitar, Troy Sandow and Kedar Roy on bass, Joe Lempkowski on harmonica, June Core and Malachi Johnson on drums, Robert Welsh on keyboards, on retro-sounding performances.

Alabama Mike certain invests his vocals with intensity and soul. The Lightnin’ Hopkins influence can best be heard on the opening ‘Black Cadillac’ (with Atkinson on guitar) as well as the revival of Hopkins’ ‘Hello Central’ with Danny Michel on guitar, Kim Wilson on harmonica and Marty Dodson on drums lending the performance a swamp blues flavour. Danny Michel also channels Hopkins guitar on the swampy ‘California Blues,’ with choice Joe Lempkowski harmonica accompaniment.

A reworking of John Lee ‘Sonny Boy’ Williamson’s ‘Cut That Out’ sounds like a down-home version of Junior Wells 1950’s recording. Kim Wilson is on harmonica, Atkinson on guitar and Dodson on drums. Welsh provides the greasy organ on ‘Diabetic Man’ with Wilson on the harp. On ‘How You Want Your Rollin Done,’ Atkinson plays some excellent T-Bone Walker-styled guitar. On Big Bill Broonzy’s ‘I Feel So Good,’ Alabama Mike delivers a strong vocal in the manner of Muddy Waters with J.B. Hutto styled slide guitar in the backing. ‘Keep My Grave Clean’ is an ingenious band reworking of what was Blind Lemon Jefferson’s most famous recording, while the cover of J.B. Hutto’s ‘Too Much Alcohol’ sticks close to the arrangement of Hutto’s Delmark recording.

A moody rendition of Willie Love’s ‘V-8 Ford’ with Atkinson and Welsh closes a release of notable down-home blues performances. There are a couple of times the backing may be a tad skeletal, but Alabama Mike’s singing and the idiomatic support result in a most entertaining blues album.

Ron Weinstock

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