“The Best Album Otis Redding Never Made”

2 Mar

otis

I have always loved the voice of Otis Redding. Who doesn’t, right? So much soul and feeling. So raspy and unique. More of a song stylist than a true singer. He could scream and shout with the best of ’em, but his talents were perhaps best on display when he performed a slower ballad. That is especially true when the ballad tackled the topics of pain, loneliness, heartbreak or sorrow.

The cover looks like an old, time-worn LP cover. The cover art fits within the time period. Yet this is a completely new collection being released for the first time. Cool concept — and it works. The album is a mix of the familiar and the unfamiliar. The original songs and a few alternate versions. Some Redding penned originals and compositions by the likes of Eddie Floyd and Lloyd Price.

Most all the cuts here click. Those that don’t on all levels still demand your attention and curiousity. An example of the latter would be the alternate take of “I’ve Got Dreams To Remember.” There are a few awkward key changes that can be hard on the ear, but the feeling and emotion is still very much there. The backing band (Steve Cropper, Booker T and the boys) seems to be experimenting — trying to find their way at times on this take. I’m guessing that is why this version is subtitled “Rougher Dreams.” You can understand why this rougher take didn’t make the original record back in the late 60’s.  

On the other hand, the alternate version of “Open the Door” is simply killer stuff. Subtitled “Skeleton Key Version,” this one delivers the goods in the best Redding tradition. The 2:29 slow burn comes complete with door knocks and goosebump-inducing blasts from the mighty Memphis Horns and Booker T’s Hammond B-3. The collection closes with the hopeful “My Lover’s Prayer” — long one of my favorite Redding performances. It leaves you wanting more, so don’t forget to punch that REPEAT button. This makes for ideal late night listening.  

Turn the lights down and the volume up.

You’ll find plenty to like about this new addition to Otis’ legendary catalog.

LOS ANGELES, Calif. — Otis Redding’s Lonely & Blue: The Deepest Soul of Otis Redding could pass for a title Stax/Volt might have released in the late ’60s. The look of the album reflects Stax’s design themes of the era. But in fact it’s a collection that never existed, until now, that homes in on one mood and one theme —heartbreaking, yearning ballads — of which Redding had many. The album will be released as a CD and blue vinyl LP on March 5, 2013 on Stax Records through Concord Music Group.

Lonely & Blue: The Deepest Soul of Otis Redding contains the hits (“I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,” “These Arms of Mine,” “My Lover’s Prayer,” “Free Me”) alongside many lesser-known songs (“Gone Again,” “Open the Door,” “Waste of Time,” “Everybody Makes a Mistake,” to name a few). They’re all included in this compilation because they share the tangled theme of sorrow.

According to compilation producer David Gorman, “Given how nobody delivered a gut-wrenching sad song like Otis, I always felt he should have made an album you could put on late at night and settle into with a glass of something strong. The mood and the subject of every song is the same — Otis, heartbroken, and begging for love. I tried to find the saddest most potently heartbreaking songs he ever sang, with no regard for chart position or notoriety. There are a few hits on the album, but they’re there because they fit the mood, not because we wanted to include the hits.”

For instance, an alternate version of “I’ve Got Dreams To Remember” features lyrics that are darker and tell a more personal story than the better-known hit version. Little-known tracks like “Gone Again” and “A Waste of Time” are given the same weight as “I’ve Been Loving You too Long.” The motif of love is even subtly addressed in the sequencing, the album closing with “Send Me Some Lovin’” and “My Lover’s Prayer.”

The concept of Lonely & Blue: The Deepest Soul of Otis Redding plays out in the packaging as well, which was intentionally designed by Gorman to look as if Redding actually did put this album out at the height of his career. The typography, color palette, and layout are all meant to adhere to the Stax/Volt LP designs of the time. This extends to the liner notes, which are written in the present tense and credited to a fictitious DJ so that they read as if they were written while Redding was alive at his peak.

“The goal,” explains Gorman, “was to create the best album Otis never made and ‘reissue’ it in 2013 rather than do another hits compilation. We hope this album will reframe him as something more than an oldies radio staple and become his Night Beat (a classic 1963 Sam Cooke LP) — the album that exists as a starting point for people wondering why so many consider Otis Redding the greatest soul singer of all time.”

Track Listing:
1. I Love You More Than Words Can Say
2. Gone Again
3. Free Me
4. Open the Door [Skeleton Key Version]
5. A Waste of Time
6. These Arms of Mine
7. I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)
8. Everybody Makes a Mistake
9. Little Ol’ Me
10. I’ve Got Dreams to Remember [Rougher Dreams]
11. Send Me Some Lovin’
12. My Lover’s Prayer

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