William Bell/Mavis Staples, James Brown/Marva Whitney, Arlean Brown/Lee Williams: Boys Meet Girls

William Bell + Mavis Staples: Strung Out
From 7″ + Boy Meets Girl (Stax, 1969)

James Brown + Marva Whitney: Sunny
From Gettin’ Down To It (King, 1969)

Arlean Brown + Lee Williams: Impeach Me Baby
From 7″ (LaNoRmAyA, 197?)

First of all, no one’s gonna make a run at the David Axelrod contest? Really? C’mon, just give it a shot.

Onto the real post:

I’m not an automatic fan of duet songs – it’s always risky trying to put two people together on a song and still make it work; not everyone’s lucky enough to be Roberta and Donny or Marvin and Tammi. When this William Bell and Mavis Staples song crossed my path though, it had it, whatever that elusive quality is to make two singers find the right vibe together.

On a separate note, I realize, more and more, that I seriously need to beef up my ’70s Stax knowledge. I’ve had, for many years, their first boxset that covers up through the late ’60s but I’m constantly being surprised and pleased by what lay into the ’70s. This track, in particular, is fantastic (just ask Kanye!), especially the musical arrangement. Plus William and Mavis together? On point.

Same goes for James Brown and Marva Whitney in their duet for Gettin’ Down To It, one of my favorite Brown LPs, even though it’s off the beaten path compared to his funkier fare. They just sound good singing “Sunny” together and it reminds one that Brown’s first hits were as a vocalist, with that distinctive, rich and impassioned delivery of his.

Last, but not least, one of my favorite funky blues cuts – “Impeach Me Baby” by Arlean Brown, featuring an uncredited Lee Williams, playing Otis to Arlean’s Carla except that this is far dirtier and grimier than “Tramp.” This song is one of those where I forget it’s one of my favorites until I hear it again and remember, “oh yeah, this sh– rocks!”

Barbara Acklin: Struttin’ Soulfully

Barbara Acklin: Am I the Same Girl?
From Seven Days of Night (Brunswick, 1969). Also on The Complete Acklin On Brunswick.

Charmaine Burnett: Am I the Same Girl?
From Party Keller Vol. 2 (Compost, 200?)

In posting up Enrique Lynch’s “Al Ritmo Del Bump Bump” the other day and noting that it was an informal cover of Young Holt-Unlimited’s “Soulful Strut,” I realized that some folks didn’t realize that “Soulful Strut” itself was a cover…sort of.

“Soulful Strut” was the instrumental track to Barbara Acklin’s “Am I the Same Girl?” itself, a decent hit for the soul singer but was far eclipsed by Young Holt-Unlimited once they re-released the song as an instrumental and under the title, “Soulful Strut.” It’s actually a rather strange development insofar it’s not often that you’d expect the instrumental version to outsell the original.

Just so we’re clear: when I say it’s the “instrumental track,” I mean this literally. If you listen to the Acklin then try to pretend like she’s not there, you’ll realize, it’s “Soulful Strut.” They literally just stripped off her vocals and voila, “Soulful Strut.” Young Holt-Unlimited also did the same thing on their version of “Light My Fire” and what’s truly remarkable is that not one, but two different vocal versions of the song (by Jackie Wilson and Erma Franklin) were cut over that same exact track. I guess that sort of thing wasn’t unusual, at least not at Brunswick.

Personally, I’ve always loved “Am I the Same Girl?” since I learned about it much later than first hearing “Soulful Strut” and it was a novelty (I mean this in a good way) to hear the familiar song but this time, with lyrics. It was also an introduction to Acklin (who I’m still learning about) though, strangely, I knew about her name mostly because she was the cousin of noted jazz/funk producer Monk Higgins.

The Charmaine Burnett cover of “Am I the Same Girl?” is much more recent even though it sounds like it could have been a vintage 1970s reggae version. Not a bad cover at all – the song works well in a roots reggae aesthetic (like most soul songs do). (There’s also a version of the song by Salena Jones who recorded it for a British label – not bad but not as scintillating as I had hoped it might be.)


Sweet Cherries: Don’t Give It Away
From 7″ (T-Neck, 1973)

The Trinikas: Remember Me
From 7″ (Pearce, 197?)

Here’s a nice pairing of sweet n’ funky female soul singles, following up on the previous Three Degrees and Third Wave posting. The Sweet Cherries is something I recently learned about – a girl group formed by the Isley Bros. (hence why they appear on T-Neck). I like how “Don’t Give It Away” begins with a blend of sweet and northern soul elements but then drops in that drum break from nowhere. Alas, I’ve heard some of their other material (including a few ballads) and it doesn’t quite stack up musically.

The Trinikas is something I wish I owned, though it’s been reissued and comped out of its previous obscurity. It is such an amazing song given how strong the rhythm section knocks it down here and that contrasts with the gospel-tinged sweetness of the Trinikas voices. Beautiful stuff.

In other music: someone of you might have heard this hilarious rant by Young Jeezy when he got into an argument with Monie Love over whether hip-hop was, in fact, dead. Producer Jee Eye Zee took some of that dialogue and used it as part of his remix for Na’ new song “Hope” off of Hip-Hop Is Dead. Good remix, good incorporation of the Jeezy/Monie debate. Check it out.


The Three Degrees: Collage
From Maybe (Roulette, 1970). Also on The Roulette Years.

Third Wave: Waves Lament
From Here and Now (MPS, 1970)

Every so often, I’ll get a random email from someone who wants to send me a mix-CD. I’m very appreciative of the consideration but unfortunately, because of all the other stuff I have to juggle, I don’t always get around to listening to stuff and most CDs end up queueing up on my desk.

The other week, I decided to root through the stack and came upon these two CDs that were part of a series called “Nothing Serious,” sent out by a 20-something from San Jose, Veronica V. I had evidently received one in the summer and then another one in October but hadn’t listened to either. I popped in the October edition and it opened with Slum Village’s “Fall In Love” (never a bad way to open) and that got my attention…then a few songs later, “Collage” comes on. At this point, I’m thinking, “who put this out?” so I pull out the liner notes, start reading and I’m floored.

Let me rewind: first of all, as I quickly notice: the liner notes themselves are hand cut and stapled. The CD cover is either made through using some precision glue stick and glitter work or silk screened – either way, it’s clearly hand-made and expertly so. Someone has definitely put some time into this. And then you read the liner notes and each song gets anywhere from a few words to entire paragraphs devoted to them. Did I mention there was a preface? It’s a little like reading a series of MP3 blog entries except, far more interesting and personal than the standard rabble. It’s more like an audio diary, only shared with a larger public, from someone I don’t even know. Altogether, completely remarkable.

Speaking of which, so is “Collage.” I confess, I had never heard this song before and for that alone, I’m graciously thankful to Veronica’s labor of love. The song is really, really, really good. So melancholy but not a quiet song by any means and there’s something about the three-part harmony and the rousing production which makes for a tune that’s hard to compare to anything else out there…

…except maybe for the Third Wave, the 5 Filipino-American sister vocal group that George Duke put together for MPS back in the late 1960s. I’ve featured them on Soul Sides before but it’s been a while and it seemed apropos given the similarities in sound between the Three Degrees and Third Wave. Thanks again to V.V. for her musical generosity.