Record Store Day Black Friday Preview From Craft Recordings: Lost Soul & Under Appreciated Jazz (review)

Various Artists – Written in Their Soul – The Hits: The Stax Songwriter Demos (Stax/Craft Recordings)

These lost treasures debut on vinyl for Record Store Day

Written in Their Soul was an absolute goldmine – a 7-CD box set of newly-unearthed soul demos from the Stax Records archives.  For information on it, read our review here.  The Hits is a small sampling of these treasures, making their first-ever appearance on limited edition, orange vinyl, for Record Store Day.

The set leads off with “634-5789 (Soulsville, USA),” a song made famous by Wilson Pickett, but here, featuring writer Eddie Floyd on vocals, and Steve Cropper on guitar, plus some background vocals.  It’s rough and lacks drums, but there’s a joyfulness that just permeates the track.  Some of the artists here you may not be familiar with but they were key players in the Stax sound – like Deanie Parker, who’s “I’ve Got No Time to Lose” became an R&B hit for Carla Thomas, or the spine-tingling Homer Banks and his “I’ll Be Your Shelter (In Time of Storm).”

Mack Rice, who wrote “Mustang Sally,” is featured here with a killer, infantile version of the Staple Singers’ “Respect Yourself” – it’s gritty, distorted, and his guitar is definitely out of tune, but damn, it’s so funky, that you just don’t care.  Or how about Henderson Thigpen singing “Woman to Woman” from the perspective of a woman?

Some tracks are bare-bones, but others are fairly complete – dig that wah wah guitar on Shelbra Bennett’s  “I’ll Be the Other Woman.” You’ll probably recognize the title “(If Loving You is Wrong) I Don’t Want to Be Right,” either from Luther Ingram or Barbara Mandrell, but you’ve never heard it with so much passion, coming from the song’s composer, Homer Banks.

This LP contains a mere 13 tracks, while its parent box set has 146.  Which means, if you like what you hear, there’s a whole lot more to dig into.   

Gil Evans – Gil Evans & Ten (Prestige/Craft Recordings)

Mono edition sounds fabulous on vinyl

Gil Evans had already made a name for himself, working with Miles Davis on the Birth of the Cool and Miles Ahead albums, and writing songs for Peggy Lee and Tony Bennett.   But, Gil Evans & Ten is the first release to showcase Evans’ as a leader by himself.  Here, he puts together an 11-piece ensemble that really shines.  

The album opens with the sound of Evans’ own piano on Irving Berlin’ s “Remember,”  but then his “Ten” show up, and it’s a lush sound, akin to what he and Miles had been brewing as of late.  I love the heavy use of things like the trombone and French horn, less common as solo instruments in jazz.

Evans’ takes inspiration from just about anywhere, as “Ella Speaks” shows – it’s a Leadbelly song, followed by Leonard Bernstein’s “Big Stuff,” which features gorgeous bass trombone, played by Bart Varsalona.  Whatever the material, Evans’ arrangements make things exciting.  

Evans’ gift was finding the middle ground between jazz and classical, and Rodgers and Hart’s “Nobody’s Heart” shows this off perfectly, again led by that buttery smooth trombone, but then, a few minutes in, the track begins to swing.

This mono version is a super quiet, all analog pressing, done by Kevin Gray at Cohearent Audio – these guys are getting a reputation for churning out high-quality material.  I love that they recreated the classic, yellow Prestige record label for the LP.   –Tony Peters