History isn’t always kind to music. Some endures; consider Beethoven, still beguiling after hundreds of years, or Muddy Waters, whose music is as timeless as . . . well, as love itself. And some, quite justifiably, ends up on the trash pile of time (disco, anyone?).
But what to make of music recorded in the distant past that’s being released for the very first time? Surely a bit of historical perspective is necessary. Case in point – Lou Pride’s “Memphis / El Paso Sessions 1970 – 73,” a marvelous collection from Maryland-based Severn Records.
Lou’s been something of a road warrior on the Southern Soul circuit since the sixties. He cut these sides while serving in the US Military; the sessions were casual indeed. (“I didn’t always have the money to pay for them,” says Lou, “but they didn’t really care.”). Still, he attracted the cream of the crop, including the famed Hi rhythm section (Teenie, Charles, and Leroy Hodges), the world-renowned Memphis Horns, and producer extraordinaire Willie Mitchell. Some of the tracks were issued on small local labels, but many were never released. Recording since has been sporadic; Lou’s probably best known for his 2002 release, “Words Of Caution,” also on Severn.
It’s to Severn’s credit that they’ve seen fit to release this material, knowing full well it’s not exactly what passes for fashionable these days. Yes, some of it’s dated; the freewheeling sixties didn’t really end with the turn of the decade, and there are moments that bear the unmistakable stamp of an era whose catchword was “anything goes.” So there are occasional lapses in taste, with backing vocals a little too syrupy and drumming a bit too busy. But the music itself shines through, with Lou responsible for some of the finest soul compositions you’ve never heard – he wrote all the material with the exception of a cover of James Brown’s “It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World.”
Lou’s voice was the equal of any around at the time; there’s sweaty passion in every note he sings, but it’s never at the expense of subtle phrasing; he was, even in his youth, a masterful singer, with a refined sense of dynamics and an ability to wring every nuance, squeeze every drop of feeling from a song, whether through a delicate, feather-light falsetto or a sanctified shout that could shake the rafters. Again, arrangements suffer from some of the excesses of the era, but always present are the magnificent horns that helped to define the soul sound, giving it all that irresistible brassy punch.
Historical releases are a risky proposition; potential audiences are almost by definition much smaller than for shiny new product. But the timeless tunes that defined soul music do indeed live on, and much of this material can easily stand up to the best of it; had they seen widespread release at the time, some of these songs might well be among the classics revered to this day.
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