Tad Robinson is no stranger to soul music – he’s been doing a blend of it mixed with blues for decades, and it’s earned him eight nominations in various Blues Music Award categories. But, this time around, the Indianapolis singer/harmonica player decided to travel to one of the soul music mecca’s, Memphis, to record his latest record, Real Street, coming soon on Severn Records. He got a chance to play with the legendary Hi Rhythm Section, and the results are 10 tracks that sound like they came out of the same stable as Al Green and Ann Peebles.
Robinson tells us what it was like working with these legendary musicians, some of the great stories behind his originals, and why he re-worked songs like Roy Orbison’s “You Got It” and Bread’s “Make it With You.”
Original Documentary Soundtrack – Waiting: The Van Duren Story (Omnivore Recordings)
Van Duren came out of the same fertile Memphis music scene as cult heroes Big Star, and shared their gift of melody. In fact, Duren played with some of the members in post-Big Star bands. While Alex Chilton & Co. had their story told in the excellent documentary Nothing Can Hurt Me (which featured interviews from Duren), Van Duren himself is the subject of a brand-new film called Waiting: The Van Duren Story, which will be made available later in the year. In the meantime, Omnivore Recordings has assembled a dozen of the under-appreciated artist’s finest moments on this new soundtrack.
The roots of this documentary can be traced to two Australian filmmakers, Wade Jackson and Greg Carey, who basically stumbled across Duren’s music through social media. After becoming enamored with several of his songs, they wanted to explore why he wasn’t a household name.
“Grow Yourself Up” is a fantastic rocker that melds the melodicism of Todd Rundgren with the sophistication of Steely Dan. Yet, there’s a raw aspect that neither of the aforementioned artists ever achieved. There’s also some great guitar playing here (the song basically ends in a flurry of guitar echoes). The next track, “Chemical Fire,” features a funky bassline and strange, echoed vocals.
While the Big Star comparisons will obviously be there, I think Duren actually excelled in areas that Chilton’s band did not. For one, Van Duren is a fantastic rock vocalist – his growling at the 2:30 mark in “Chemical Fire” is fantastic. Yet, he is capable of great depth too, as on the gorgeous ballad, “Waiting,” where his voice soars like Emitt Rhodes (and dig that groovy, somewhat dated keyboard solo!).
The disc also includes a few in-studio performances recorded for a radio station. These tracks have a living room immediacy to them, but arguably Duren is even better here – his voice reminds me of the gruffness of John Lennon during the Let it Be sessions, especially on “Yellow Light.”
“Tennessee I’m Trying” has a country feel to it in its jangle delivery, featuring the great lyric: “And it won’t help if the home station won’t play it /never thought I’d have to change their mind.” There’s echoes of Eric Carmen on the tender ballad, “Positive (Wedding Song),” both in the chord progression and the singing.
But the surprises don’t stop there. Duren recorded tracks with Big Star’s drummer, Jody Stephens, and “Andy, Please” is as melodic as anything Stephens’ prior band recorded. Add in a great guitar solo at the end, and you wonder why this has remained in the archives so long?
Van Duren also covers fellow Big Star alumn Chris Bell’s “Make a Scene,” giving it a funkier groove, and again featuring a phenomenal lead vocal – especially when he shouts “I turned on the radio!”
The production level gets more slick on “Just You To Tell Me” but it still retains Duren’s keen melodic sense. The set ends off with a pair of songs from his band Good Question. These have typical Eighties’ production, yet are insanely catchy.
Above all, the music on Waiting: The Van Duren Story needs to be heard – it’s that good. Coupled with the unbelievable backstory, which we’ll get from the documentary, this should be Van Duren’s year. —Tony Peters
Big Star’s first two LPs were full of chiming guitars, heavy drums and melodic hooks, yet somehow both albums failed to meet the high expectations. Those failures loomed large as Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens went to work on their next project.
Eventually called Third or Sister Lovers, the songs recorded for these sessions seemed at times to be the polar opposite of their first two records – alternating between haunting moments of despair, and fragile beauty. The album, never officially completed, has been issued over the years in many forms and track listings. But, Omnivore Recordings has assembled quite possibly the final word on the legendary project.
Complete Third is s three-disc set, bringing together virtually every note recorded for these sessions. Through acoustic demos, rough mixes, and about as final version of the album as we’ll ever hear, we get a peek behind the scenes of this fractured masterpiece.
We talk to Big Star drummer Jody Stephens about recording the album, what producer Jim Dickinson brought to the project, and how a song he wrote, “For You,” helped shape the rest of the record.