Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Arthur Conley - More Sweet Soul (1969)

Arthur Conley began his career as a protege of Otis Redding. After Redding’s tragic airplane crash death, Conley continued on with his career becoming a quite successful Soul singer. On More Sweet Soul Conley starts off with a light Pop-Soul sound with a cover of the Beatles Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, followed by his own Shing-A-Ling. Both are too commercial sounding for me. The album doesn’t really get down until One Night Is All I Need with its great bass and drum intro that could be looped and some real Soul singing out of Conley. That seems to lead Conley back to his roots with I Got A Feeling, Aunt Dora’s Love Soul Shack, Stuff You Gotta Watch, and That Can’t Be My Baby all providing some sweet southern Soul sounds. Conley also tries to get a little Redding into his singing on Run On. After a slow start, More Sweet Soul turns into a very solid album. Half of the record was recorded at the Muscle Shoals studios in Alabama, while the other half was done at the American Recording Studios in Memphis.

When describing this dozen-song odds-and-ends package, the term "scraping the bottom of the barrel" certainly isn't too far off the mark. Not surprisingly, More Sweet Soul (1969) was R&B vocalist Arthur Conley's final solo entry on Atlantic Records' subsidiary imprint Atco. As noted on the rear LP jacket, the material is split between sessions that were held at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, AL, and the American Recording facility in Memphis, TN. In both instances, legendary producer Tom Dowd was behind the scenes. Likewise, it was probably Dowd who -- having worked with the burgeoning fretmeister extensively at Fame during the era -- suggested the addition of guitarist Duane Allman to their already formidable hitmaking house band consisting of guitarist Jimmy Johnson, bassist David Hood, keyboardist Barry Beckett, and drummer Roger Hawkins. With a lilt that insinuates a reggae influence, the disc kicks off with an affable update of the Beatles' White Album deep cut "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da." Another subtle (but telltale) sign that More Sweet Soul was an afterthought rather than career-defining project for Conley is the lack of his own considerable and strong original material. In the instance of his previous outing, Soul Directions(1968), the artist provided a number of the better titles. Although not the rule to the same degree, his co-writing credits here are indicative of the stronger selections. The irresistible groove pulsating through "Aunt Dora's Love Soul Shack" -- which made it into the R&B Top 20 singles survey several months prior to the LP's release -- is one prime example. Similarly, "Run On" bears a syncopated strut rhythm that was an earmark of the funky sounds coming out of Memphis in the mid- to late '60s. The cut also demonstrates Conley's ability to interject himself in the arrangement, bouncing his energetic lead vocals between the horn lines à la James Brown or Conley's mentor, Otis Redding. Far from throwaways, the comparably uninspired ballad "Is That You Love" seems to retain none of Redding's trademark gut-wrenching "begging" delivery. 

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