In 1969, The Dynamics released First Landing, their first album on Cotillion Records. A smooth slice of soul called “Ice Cream Song” garnered substantial airplay on R&B radio stations, but almost as quickly as the band appeared on the scene, they evaporated into the patchouli haze of psychedelic soul that dominated the airwaves towards the end of the ‘60s. Though a second album, What a Shame, briefly placed the Dynamics back on the radar of soul music fans in 1973, the legacy of the group was relegated to cult status. Thanks to David Gorman and Michael Nieves at Hacktone, First Landing has been lovingly unearthed so that a contemporary audience can savor a long forgotten entry in the canon of ‘60s soul music.
The Dynamics were Zeke Harris, George White, Fred Baker, and Samuel Stevenson: four vocalists from Detroit whose different vocal styles blended into one lustrous whole. Under the management of Ted White, who had escorted his wife Aretha Franklin from Detroit down to Muscle Shoals for her legendary Atlantic recording sessions, The Dynamics were similarly transplanted to American Studios in Memphis to catch some of the magic that catapulted Franklin to “Queen of Soul”. Shaping the group’s sound were producers Tommy Cogbill and Chips Moman, a team whose Midas touch spun pop gold on records by Elvis Presley (“Suspicious Minds”), Wilson Pickett (“I’m in Love”), the Box Tops (“Cry Like a Baby”), and Neil Diamond (“Sweet Caroline”).
Like their Detroit brethren, the Temptations, the Dynamics alternated lead vocalists. The versatile voice of Zeke Harris, who fronts eight of the 12 tracks on First Landing, defined the group’s sound. He approached his performances with nuance and a keen interpretation for the lyrics. As for the other lead vocalists, George White possessed an Eddie Kendricks-like falsetto and Fred Baker supplied the grease to the Dynamics’ southern fried Detroit soul.
Pretend for a moment that it’s 1969, when First Landing was only available as a shiny, round platter of vinyl. (Kudos to the folks at Hacktone for the faithful reproduction of the album’s art.) “Side One” would sport a whole bunch of white rings marking up the grooves; it’s frontloaded with six would-be hits. A groovy little number called “I Don’t Want Nobody to Lead Me On” gets things started followed by “Ain’t No Love At All”, one of the more dramatic tracks on the album that boasts a shimmering unison vocal, reminiscent of the 5th Dimension. “Dum-De-Dum”, which veers close to bubblegum territory based on its title alone, is actually quite a funky workout. Harris, who sings lead on the first five tunes, brings a soulful sweetness to “Ice Cream Song” and gives “Ain’t No Sun” (a Temptations cover) an urgency equaled only by Gene Chrisman’s incessant drumming on the track. Closing side one is “What Would I Do”, which is gently caressed by George White’s angelic tenor and the dreamy notes of Bobby Emmons’ organ.
“Side two” (or tracks seven through 12) is where the album flat-lines just a tad. While the vocalists do their best to imbue the songs with passion, the melodies simply are not as remarkable as those on the flip side. “The Love That I Need” proves that Harris mastered the upbeat material a little better than White. Unlike his vocal on “What Would I Do”, White struggles to keep up with the jaunty rhythm section. Zeke Harris brings some tinge of excitement back on “Too Proud to Change” and George White redeems himself on “I Want to Thank You” with a heaven-bound reading of the line “God knows that I love you”. Fred Baker makes his lone lead vocal appearance on “Since I Lost You”, channeling “Proud Mary”-era Tina Turner during the spoken word section. “Fair Love” and “Murder in the First Degree”, the last two tracks, seem tacked on to just satisfy an even six-song-per-side album.
While First Landing is not essential listening, the songs endear themselves to the listener, even if some of the daydream-y ruminations about love become rote by album’s end (example: three songs use bees and honey as metaphors). As “found” albums go, First Landing is a rare treasure whose luster will bewitch fans of soul music.
// Notes from the Road
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