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Sunday, December 21, 2014

Christmas with the Godfather; James Brown wishes you a Merry Christmas

Of course "The Christmas Song" is one of the most-recorded standards of the season, but James Brown beautifully croons the number in a way that wasn't his norm, yet, as usual, he makes the song all his own. His spoken outro is priceless as well.

This single has two takes of the same song, one on each side; both sides were also featured on JB's first (scarce!) Christmas album. 

from 1966...


"Don't Leave Nothing for me, I've had my chance you see" is my favorite line on this great track from JB. James Brown and co-lyricist Hank Ballard definitely share the true spirit of giving during the holiday season here, and it's a lesson to all of us. The Godfather remembers that the child without toys was once himself...

YOU can be a Santa Claus yourself by donating to one of my charities of choice - Toys For Tots. Help put a smile on the face of a child this year, and every year. 

from 1968...


While a few years of shouting the funk may have started putting a strain on James' voice, he returns to his lovely croon on another JB original; "It's Christmas Time". While a lonely Christmas theme may have been used on numerous holiday classics, JB once again puts his own spin on the theme with excellent results and a poetic side that shows the versatility and talent of this legend.

from 1969...


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

In tribute to Wendy Rene (1947-2014)

With a yearning voice that is unrestrained and full of emotion, some of my favorite records on the Stax label were cut by Mary Frierson, aka Wendy Rene. Not only did Mary possess a unique and powerful voice, but she had a hand in writing all of her records, as well. I was very sad to read that Mary passed away yesterday. "Wendy" was given her stage name by fellow Stax legend Otis Redding, and this was the name which she used for all of her records. Even though none of Wendy Rene's records sold well, she toured regularly with other Stax artists in the mid-60's, and was initially scheduled to be a part of Otis Redding's final (tragic) tour. Wendy became pregnant shortly before, and dropped out of the tour and ended her musical career.

Wendy's solo career began after releasing a few Stax 45's with her brother and two friends in a group called The Drapels (whose records are by far among the rarest Stax releases, and probably the hardest records to find on the label in general). "After Laughter", written with her brother, is the record which Wendy is most known for; this record was initially supposed to be a Drapels release, but became the first Wendy Rene release in 1964.

No matter how many times I've heard this record, its undeniable spook factor still scares the heck out of me- something about the performance here sounds like something a tad bit too personal; something we're not SUPPOSED to hear, as if listening in on an audio diary.The backing (provided by Booker T. And The MG's) is an unbelievable performance in itself. WuTang Clan famously sampled this record, and it also appeared on the soundtrack of the film Lucky Number Slevin in 2006.

Wendy's next single (also released in '64) was an amazing, double sided masterpiece: "Young And Foolish" carries on the type of almost-too-personal emotion found on "After Laughter", while the flip side "Bar-B-Q" is as rollicking a tribute to soul food as one could ever wax.As silly as Bar-B-Q may seem on the surface, Wendy hits a few notes with incredible soul power and force, while MG Steve Cropper lays out a NASTY soul that drips grease 'n' sauce all over the place.



Wendy's final release, 1965's "Give You What I Got" may well be my favorite of her records. Booker T & The MG's seem especially inspired (Cropper co-wrote, dig how Duck Dunn mimics her vocal line on bass!), while Wendy turns in a performance of Otis stye intensity, pushed along by a brilliant female backing vocal section.

Thankfully, Light In The Attic records compiled all of Wendy's singles a few years back (both solo and with The Drapels) and added a few non-released tracks as well; the amazing "Crying All By Myself" is worth the price of admission alone. The vinyl pressing sounds great, as well.