Posts Tagged ‘Dusty in Memphis’

(As noted in my first Essentials entry, this is an occasional series in which I spotlight albums that, in my estimation, everyone should experience at least once.)

This past week, I enjoyed just a little Shelby Lynne early in the morning; she beats a cup of coffee for starting off the day. And I’ve been enjoying her music early in the evening, too. It beats a glass of wine for winding down at night.

Let me explain: I leave for work right around 6:45am most weekdays. This time of year, that means the last vestiges of darkness give way to dawn while I drive. It’s a wondrous moment to listen to music, as – at its best – it makes you feel good things are coming your way. I should add that, unlike years past, mine is now an easy commute most morns. When I breeze through all or most of the traffic lights, which is the norm, I pull into the business campus’ parking garage in about 25 minutes. That’s not enough time for an album in full, obviously, so if I start an album in the morning, I finish it that night; and if I start one during the evening, I pick up where I left off the next day.

Now, “essential” means different things to different folks. Some apparently hear it as a synonym for “best.” I don’t. I wouldn’t rate many of my picks as the greatest works by the artists who made them, though they are all great works. They’re just records everyone should experience at least once, if not twice, if not many times.

Shelby Lynne’s 2008 collection of Dusty Springfield songs, Just a Little Lovin’, has been on repeat since Wednesday. It’s not her best album – I Am Shelby Lynne, Suit Yourself or Revelation Road is that. But her voice and those old songs (and one new one) combine to create a sense of calm. Some songs are sweet, others sad, and others seductive. Some seem all three at once.

Over on her site/store, Shelby pens insightful essays about each of her records – combined, they make for something of a concise work memoir. One thing I learned from reading through them: Prior to recording Suit Yourself, her second album for Capitol, label executives recommended she record a collection of covers instead of an album of original material, as they were looking for a way to boost sales. She listened, but did her own thing (though she did include a hypnotic reading of “Rainy Night in Georgia” as a hidden/bonus track). A few years down the line, however, she decided to explore Dusty’s oeuvre.

The seed had been planted long before that label executive, apparently. At the time of its release in 1999 (U.K.) and 2000 (U.S.), critics compared her breakthrough album I Am Shelby Lynne to Dusty Springfield’s classic Dusty in Memphis; and, as a result, she sometimes received requests to sing something by the British chanteuse. Then, in 2005, she received an email from – of all people – Barry Manilow suggesting the same.

Flash forward to January 2007: Shelby set up shop with producer Phil Ramone at Capitol Studio A in the Capitol Records Tower in Hollywood, Cal., where she and a crack band laid down a few songs each day while accompanied by a solid cast of supporting players. Everything was recorded live. Everything was analogue.

The result is a sublime 10-song that was released the following January. The arrangements are sparser than Dusty’s, but no less emotive. This isn’t Shelby singing Dusty Karaoke, but Shelby living the lyrics. One of my favorite tracks is the Randy Newman-penned “I Don’t Want to Hear It Anymore” (though I admit that I still hear the backup singers from Dusty’s version).

One of the 10 songs, as I noted above, is a Shelby original: “Pretend.” In some ways, it’s a bigger tribute to Dusty than the other tunes as it sounds like a Dusty original. (And speaking of sound: Just a Little Lovin’ is a true audiophile’s dream. If you close your eyes, you’ll swear you’re in the studio with Shelby and the band.)

Oh, and here’s some irony: Those Capitol executives didn’t get a chance to work this album due the Capitol-Virgin Media merger of 2007. Instead, Shelby took the project to Lost Highway. (Wikipedia has more on the album, for those interested.)

The track list:

 

Fun, but frustrating. That, in a nutshell, summarizes my reaction to the Facebook challenge of naming 10 all-time favorite albums over the course of 10 days. I have far more than 10 all-time favorites, many of which are equally weighted on the scale I employ to rate records. (Among my measurements: “wondrous,” “wow. just wow,” “sublime,” “mesmerizing,” “transcendent” and “it takes you there, wherever there is.”)

Selecting them also meant adopting a different mindset than when choosing my ballyhooed Album of the Year honor. There, I look back at what I’ve bought and played most often during the previous 12 months, and gauge what resonated with my soul at such a deep level that I know, just know, I’ll be listening to it for the rest of my life. (Sometimes I’m right, sometimes I’m wrong.)

Memes weren’t created to be fair, however, but to entertain. And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: 10 All-Time Favorite Albums, Part 2. (Part 1 can be found here.)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Day 6: Juliana Hatfield – in exile deo. I’ve yet to feature this album in my “Essentials” series, but will at some point. It’s one of Juliana’s best albums – and her second to nab my esteemed Album of the Year honor.

Day 7: Joan Jett & the Blackhearts – I Love Rock ’n Roll. It may not be Joan’s best album (her debut, Bad Reputation, is likely that), but it’s her most important – and, in my estimation, one of the most important albums in rock history. Thus, its “Essential” status. 

Day 8: 10,000 Maniacs – Our Time in Eden. As perfect an album ever released, in my opinion. And another “Essentials” pick.

Day 9: Stephen Stills – Manassas. A two-LP (now one-CD) gem. Another “Essentials” pick.

Day 10: Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band – Darkness on the Edge of Town. This 1978 album is one of the greatest albums of all time. What’s amazing about it, to me, is that the themes that Springsteen explores, both lyrically and musically, speak to their time and to all times. (It’s a future “Essentials” pick, in other words.)

And a three non-Facebook bonuses…

Day 11: Dusty Springfield – Dusty in Memphis. Another perfect record. And another “Essentials” pick.

Day 12: The Jam – Snap!. One of the greatest best-of compilations to be released on vinyl, and a set I’ve listened to as much in the past year as I did in the first year I bought it. It never grows old. (It’s an “Essential,” in other words.)

Day 13: Courtney Marie Andrews – Honest Life. It may be a relatively recent album, and as such doesn’t qualify for “essential” status just yet (my homegrown rule is an album has to be at least five years old for that), but it shot to the top of my internal charts the moment I heard it, and hasn’t left. It’s everything good about music. 

(As noted in my first Essentials entry, this is an occasional series in which I spotlight albums that, in my estimation, everyone should experience at least once.)

I can say with certainty when I first encountered many LPs and 45s – not because I possess an extraordinary memory, but from my old desk diaries. In mid-1982, not long before I started my senior year of high school, I began charting said purchases – a routine I maintained through much of the next three-and-a-half years. Looking back, though, I wish I’d tracked such things from the get-go, and continued the practice after I stopped – and if I’d been aware that one day I’d be blogging about this stuff, I likely would have.

Anyway, I first met Dusty in Memphis during those pre-1982 years. I have no memory of when or where it happened, though my hunch – because the LP was out-of-print – is the early 1980s at Memory Lane Records, an independent store in Horsham that traded (and still trades) in used vinyl. Why I bought it is yet another question I can’t answer: Did I read about it in a music magazine? In a book? Was it spurred by hearing “Son of a Preacher Man” on the radio?

The story behind the album is easier told: In 1968, Dusty Springfield signed with Atlantic Records and, shortly thereafter, arrived in the hallowed halls of American Studios in Memphis to work with producers Jerry Wexler, Tom Dowd and Arif Mardin, and their crack studio crew. She rejected many of the songs they wanted her to sing, and her nerves caused havoc with her voice – as a result, many (if not all) of the final vocals were actually recorded at a later date in New York City. No matter. The final set is simply exquisite, the epitome of “blue-eyed soul” (though Dusty’s actual eye color was a light aqua green).

The 11 songs are sultry, soulful, gritty and sweet, sometimes all at once, and lay down a blueprint that generations of singers have sought (and usually failed) to replicate. Dusty’s vocals reflect and inject her soul into the lyrics; she may not have written the words, but one senses that she lived them.

The tortured “I Don’t Want to Hear It Anymore,” by Randy Newman, is one of the album’s tour de forces:

Another: “Breakfast in Bed.”

And, of course, the now classic “Son of a Preacher Man”:

Yet, despite the presence of a Top 5 hit in “Son of a Preacher Man,” the album didn’t sell well – about 100,000 copies. By year’s end, Dusty moved onto Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia, where she worked with TSOP practitioners Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff (who, in 1971, founded the Philadelphia International label) on A Brand New Me.

The failure of Dusty in Memphis to do well just goes to show that sales don’t always equal quality – a fact many music fans know, but others never seem to get. (That’s a tangent for a future rant from me, I think.)

Rolling Stone ranks the LP at No. 89 in its 500 Greatest Albums All Time list, but I’d rank it higher. It shares space with dozens of others in my mythical Top 10. It’s as perfect an album ever released – so perfect that, through the years, I’ve acquired just about every iteration of it released, including the original CD, the reissues with bonus tracks, high-resolution versions in stereo and mono…and, to close the circle, on vinyl yet again. It sounds as fresh to me today as it ever did.

Here’s the track listing (with the songwriters noted in parentheses):

Side 1:

  1. Just a Little Lovin’ (Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil)
  2. So Much Love (Gerry Goffin & Carole King)
  3. Son of a Preacher Man (John Hurley & Ronnie Wilkins)
  4. I Don’t Want to Hear It Anymore (Randy Newman)
  5. Don’t Forget About Me (Gerry Goffin & Carole King)
  6. Breakfast in Bed (Eddie Hinton & Donnie Fritts)

Side 2:

  1. Just One Smile (Randy Newman)
  2. The Windmills of Your Mind (Alan Bergman, Marilyn Bergman & Michael Legrand)
  3. In the Land of Make Believe (Burt Bacharach & Hal David)
  4. No Easy Way Down (Gerry Goffin & Carole King)
  5. I Can’t Make It Alone (Gerry Goffin & Carole King)

Here it is in full:

Life unfurls like a flag on a windy day. Though it may seem that the cloth never ripples the same way twice, over time certain patterns can be discerned. For example, just like last year about this time, one of my first self-appointed chores of 2017 consisted of digging through the dusty virtual bins of Amazon in search of the perfect CDs to send my niece for her birthday. “Perfect” takes on a double meaning in this context – perfect for her and perfect, overall.

As last year, I used Amazon’s free gift tags to include short notes about each album.

dusty_memphis1) Dusty Springfield – “I Can’t Make It Alone” (from Dusty in Memphis, 1969). I wrote: “Although it didn’t sell well in 1969, this album is now considered a classic. It blends pop and soul in a way that no one had before; and Dusty’s vocals are wondrous.” I’d add: Make that a stone-cold classic; and luscious in addition to wondrous. Rolling Stone ranked it No. 89 on its 2012 list of the Top 500 Albums of All Time; I rank it higher – possibly Top 10. It smolders, yearns and burns, and sounds as fresh to my ears now as it did when I first heard it in the early 1980s.

emmylou_pieces2) Emmylou Harris – “For No One” (from Pieces of the Sky, 1975). I wrote: “Although she’s rarely topped the charts, Emmylou is an integral artist within the modern history of country music. This, her second try at a debut, explains why.” I’d add: Emmylou embraced and made her own the expansive “Cosmic American Music” vision of Gram Parsons, her musical mentor, who passed away in September 1973, on this classic from 1975. In essence, she helped forge the foundation that generations of female country and folk performers, including Taylor Swift and First Aid Kit, have built upon since.

harriet3) Harriet – “Broken for You” (from her eponymous debut, 2016). I wrote: “I discovered this gem on Christmas. Although the songs conjure the Carpenters and pop music of the 1970s, Harriet is a relatively new 20-something singer from London. It should make you smile.” I’d add: This set certainly makes me smile, at least. If I’d been aware of it when I created my Albums of the Year list in early December, I would have ranked it No. 3. It’s everything that’s good about pop music.

rumer_soms4) Rumer – “Aretha.” (from Seasons of My Soul, 2010). I wrote: “This is an atmospheric song cycle that’s teeming with soulful, knowing lyrics & melodies that wrap themselves around the heart. Among its themes: love, longing, loss & acceptance. It’s magic.” I’d add: I borrowed part of that from my first blog post on the Hatboro-Horsham Patch, since moved here; I’ve also written about it here and here. I rank it among my Top Albums of All Time, which I plan to share at some point later in the year.

rumer_vinyl5) Rumer – “This Girl’s in Love With You” (from This Girl’s in Love: A Bacharach & David Songbook, 2016). I wrote: “Burt Bacharach is a legendary songwriter who, with collaborators such as Hal David, crafted some of the world’s greatest songs. This set from Rumer was my Album of the Year for 2016.” For more, see my Album(s) of the Year, 2016 and Today’s Top 5: The Promise of Tomorrow posts. (By the way, that’s Bacharach singing at the start.)