Otis Redding – Lonely & Blue (review)

Otis Redding – Lonely & Blue – The Deepest Soul (Volt / Concord) review Finally, an Otis Redding album worthy of his legend

Otis Redding is one of the greatest soul singers of all time.  Yet, where is the proof?  Almost every other great soul artist has at least one classic album that you can point to.  Think Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On.  Think James Browns’ Live at the Apollo.  Think Ray Charles’ Modern Sounds in Country & Western Music.  Think Sam Cooke’s Night Beat.  The problem is, Redding passed away before he could make that quintessential record.

Well Concord Records has come up with the next best thing – why not create a great Otis Redding album? That’s just what they did with Lonely & Blue – The Deepest Soul of Otis Redding.

Redding tackled many different styles in his short career – he wrote the legendary “Respect,” even if it took Aretha retooling it to make it a classic.  “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay” showed off his gentle side, while  “Hard to Handle” proved that he could get funky as well.  But, what sometimes gets overlooked is that his strength was the ballad – more specifically, the painful ballad.  Very few singers had the ability to inject so much emotion in his music.  These slow songs were his forte’.

What the compilers have done is taken the best of his distraught slow numbers and sequenced them in a way that could’ve been an album from back in the day.  They went to great lengths, using lettering and art designs that were typical of the Stax/Volt albums of the time, creating an essay from a fictitious Detroit disc jockey, and even making the front cover look old and ring worn.

The result? An absolute success.

On the opening cut, “I Love You More Than Words Can Say,” Redding stretches the word “pain” out to an immeasurable length – wringing it until every last bit of emotion drips out.  On “Gone Again” he ponders “a winter without any snow / look up at the sky / there’s no star that glows” – what could be sadder than that?  Otis wasn’t the typical balladeer – the Stax backing band had a grittier accompaniment, making it more real, more honest, and above all – NOT sappy. “Open the Door” has some of the most impassioned pleading ever put to tape – drummer Al Jackson echoes the knocking on his drum kit.  “A Waste of Time” finds him talking in the middle – “I don’t like that – I like for it to be from my heart” – it’s a totally spontaneous moment, and it sounds like he really means it.  “These Arms of Mine” sounds like a standard ballad, but the stinging Steve Cropper guitar elevates it to something else entirely.

Even though “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” is a stone-cold classic, in this context, it’s given a larger spotlight (beginning the fictitious album’s side two).  The way he bends the word “tired” is truly a thing of wonder.

There are times during this album when he seems like he’s just getting started, and the song fades out.  You just don’t want him to stop singing.  There are too many spine-chilling moments to mention them all.

Another impressive fact is that Redding wrote or co-wrote eight of the album’s 12 tracks.

Kudos to Concord for coming up with the idea to put Redding’s music in such a favorable light.  There have been other compilations like this.  Take for example, King of the Delta Blues Singers from Robert Johnson – it was released decades after his death, but helped solidify the bluesman’s legacy.  Here’s hoping Lonely and Blue does the same for Otis Redding.

This is Otis Redding truly honest, and at home.  Perfect for that late night alone or when you just want to feel lonely. Turn the lights low, get comfortable, and let Otis sing you away.  –Tony Peters