More grit, richer funk
New Orleans Soul: The Original Sound of New Orleans Soul 1960-76
UK: 7 Oct 2014
The 22 cuts on the latest Soul Jazz label compilation, New Orleans Soul: The Original Sound of New Orleans Soul 1960-76, are exactly as advertised. These singles display the wealth of wonderful material from that era, much of it by well-known Crescent City artists that went under the radar but are simply wonderful in their own right. New Orleans Soul music of the ‘60s and early ‘70s contains more grit than the deep Southern Soul and a richer funk than the Northern Soul from the period. The Big Easy creations are grounded in luv, pronounced with a long sultry diphthong, doing somebody wrong for the right reasons and instrumental arrangements dipped in the sweat of sex. For example, on this compilation if two married people are deeply in love, chances are the mates they are wed to and the ones that they make love with are two different people.
Every cut here is a little gem. The two- to four-minute tracks capture the feelings of human beings secure in their own emotions and desires. The singers declare their love rights, which includes more than just talk but whopping helpings of bumping uglies. So when Jean Knight (of “Mr. Big Stuff” fame) declares “What One Man Won’t Do Another Man Will”, what she wants a man to do is clearly stated. And what she wants is everything, no matter how many men it takes!
Like Knight, the other women represented on this collection, who comprise about a third of the material, sing out of a place of strength. Francine King’s “Two Fools” defiantly proclaims the worth of “hard headed women”. Betty Harris stormily tells her lover to take his hat and go on “I Don’t Want to Hear It”. Irma Thomas brazenly commends the pleasures of being a mistress over being a wife on one cut (“What’s So Wrong With You Loving Me?”) and then reverses the roles on another (“She’ll Never Be Your Wife”). Thomas sings with conviction and an erotic tension. She’s the dominant one in both relationships.
The men are more vulnerable. Willie Tee ruefully sings about being lonely and alone on “First Taste of Hurt”. Maurice Williams mournfully says he is out of his mind “Being Without You” while his love is away. Ernie K. Doe knows his honey has a “Back Street Lover”, he will settle for what he can get. All of these songs are performed with a tear in the voice and a gleam in the eye. The vocalists’ sexual suggestiveness implies that even bad love is good love and better than no love at all.
Sometimes there is no subtlety to the expressions, as if the singers’ bold intentions are as simple as, well ABC, as on Diamond Joe’s “The ABC Song”. This directness creates the impression of realism. The implication is that we all share the same problems: lovers who cheat, the fact that illicit sex is better than the married kind, and romantic difficulties are the most important thing in our daily lives. It’s a hermetic world, which let the listener escape from the one they actually lived in. In truth, these songs were written, performed, and recorded during one of the most turbulent times in American life. There’s no mention of Vietnam, civil rights struggles, assassinations of the nation’s leaders, Kent State, Watergate, Woodstock, etc. Part of the intensity found on these tracks derives from the latent acknowledgement that the songs themselves at the time of creation provided a private refuge from actual social and political problems. While on the surface level, these songs profess to be about authentic existence (versus how love is depicted in romantic pop songs), in actuality the material is just as mythic and valued for this reason.
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