LONG PLAYS

Laura Lee: Since I Fell For You
From Women’s Love Rights (Hot Wax, 197?) (also available on Women’s Love Rights: The Hot Wax Anthology)

Johnny “Hammond” Smith: Soul Talk
From Soul Talk (Prestige, 1969) (also available on Legends of Acid Jazz)

I had been planning to post up “Soul Talk” last week but didn’t have the chance and in the meantime, I was doing some research that involved Laura Lee’s “Since I Feel For You,” and decided to pair them together. Like most raised on the short single format, I like my songs around 3-4 minutes but I’ve been trying to listen to longer compositions to appreciate how they let the music unfold and evolve rather than trying to cram everything into a tight arrangement.

With Laura Lee – this is like no version of Lenny Welch’s hit ballad, “Since I Fell For You,” I’ve ever heard. The song begins with a classically ’70s soul monologue about meeting a man that would spin her world around (see, Alicia Keyes wasn’t the first to do this. Thankfully, there’s no talk about cell phones here.) Then she slides slowly into the song and it takes on more of its familiarity but Lee puts her own twist on this but musically, they only retain the barest of traces of the original and add in flourishes that neither Welch nor songwriter Buddy Johnson would have imagined. The instrumental bit at the end, right when you think the song has ended, is 100% buttercream. Let the song get there though – don’t try to beat the clock.

As for “Soul Talk,” given Smith’s bounty of funky soul jazz material this isn’t necessarily as wicked as he gets but it hardly matters considering the monsters of talent he has on this: saxophinist Rusty Bryant, guitarist Wally Richardson and drummer Bernard Purdie – it doesn’t get much better than that (though I guess they could have had Carol Kaye on bass instead of Bob Bushnell, but I don’t think she ever recorded for Prestige). Two things intrigue me. The first is rather trivial, but don’t people think the song bears a familiarity with “Unpack Your Adjectives” from Schoolhouse Rock? Seriously!

The other thing is Purdie’s solo at the end. Purdie is one of the kings of the funky drum solo – there’s an entire catalog of hip-hop songs that attest to his greatness in this regard – but what’s interesting about this solo is that it’s not open: Bushnell and Richardson help provide a backing groove which Smith later accents with some organ stabs. The thing is: this would be a killer drum break if it were open but somehow, having the band play underneath detracts from it. Mind you, I’m saying this from the perspective of someone who’s used to drum solos being open and clean (think Idris Muhammed’s solo on Rustry Bryant’s “Fireeater” for example) so it’s a different experience hearing someone like Purdie smash the sticks but with the band still playing beneath him. Great solo either way though – no one can rock a set like Pretty Purdie.

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