Ace Records’ Kent imprint keeps fans and collectors on a steady diet of rare and well-done soul, and a quartet of releases that closed out 2017 prove to be no exception.
Though held in high esteem by connoisseurs, James Carr never received the recognition of many of his peers. The 20-track, simply-titled The Best of James Carr (Kent CDKENM472) makes a strong case for the Memphis singer’s place in the top of the R&B pantheon. It begins, naturally, with his stone-cold classic 1967 recording of Dan Penn and Chips Moman’s “The Dark End of the Street” – his only top 10 hit and still the finest version of a song covered by such greats as Percy Sledge, Elvis Costello, Linda Ronstadt, Gregg Allman, and Aretha Franklin. Carr’s bleak, desperate, and immediate “Dark End” defines “deep soul,” but he brought passion to each track he recorded – whether out-Otis-ing Otis on the torrid “These Arms of Mine,” bringing out the hurt in a funky, dark, and soulful take on The Bee Gees’ “To Love Somebody,” or righteously lamenting the act of “Pouring Water on a Drowning Man” with a forcefully intense growl.
Carr’s discography is a small but powerful one, and this sampler of the gospel-burnished baritone’s best is a stellar introduction. Listeners are advised to follow this set up with any of Ace’s other equally fine Carr compilations, including 2004’s My Soul is Satisfied: The Rest of James Carr; The Complete Goldwax Singles; reissues of his LPs You Got My Mind Messed Up and A Man Needs a Woman; and even the chronicle of his 1990s “comeback,” A Man Worth Knowing. Tony Rounce provides biographical notes in this back-to-basics package (remastered by Duncan Cowell) celebrating an underrated great of southern soul. It’s also available on vinyl in a truncated 14-track edition.
Last year, Kent issued This is Clarence Carter and The Dynamic Clarence Carter on one CD, bringing together the vocalist’s first two Atlantic long-players. His third and fourth albums, recorded at Rick Hall’s legendary Fame Studios and originally released in 1969 and 1970, respectively, have recently arrived as another two-for-one release. Testifyin’/Patches (CDKEND 470) finds Carter and the Muscle Shoals gang at the top of their game.
Testifyin’ offers singer-guitarist Carter cackling through John D. Loudermilk’s “Bad News,” giving Alex Chilton a run for his money on a smoking cover of The Box Tops hit “Soul Deep,” and even revisiting and remodeling James Carr’s hit as “Making Love (At the Dark End of the Street)” with a lengthy rap about the titular subject. Testifyin’ also found room for the risqué seasonal favorite “Back Door Santa” as well as another tune from “Soul Deep” scribe Wayne Carson Thompson, the uptempo “Instant Reaction.” Three R&B top 10 entries hailed from the LP – “Snatching It Back,” “The Feeling is Right,” and “Doing Our Thing” – but none of them matched the crossover success of “Slip Away” from his debut album. The title track of Patches would give Carter that elusive second smash. The dramatic story-song hailed from the Holland-Dozier-Holland hit factory at Invictus Records and the pens of The Chairmen of the Board’s General Johnson and Ronnie Dunbar. Producer Rick Hall knew it was perfect for Carter, and his instincts paid off when it went to No. 2 R&B/No. 4 Pop despite Carter’s initial misgivings about its maudlin subject matter which he feared was demeaning to African-Americans. It was intended to be empowering, however, and likely proved to be just that when listeners took it to heart.
Patches offered other treasures from the soul man including solid renditions of Tony Joe White’s “Willie and Laura Mae Jones” (also recorded by Dusty Springfield at Atlantic), The Beatles’ ‘Let It Be,” and Sam Dees’ “Changes.” O.B. McClinton, who co-wrote “You Can’t Miss What You Can’t Measure” on Testifyin’ and also supplied songs to James Carr, offered “Your Love Lifted Me” on Patches. George Jackson supplied a number of tunes on both releases, too, including co-writes with both Raymond Moore and Clarence. But it was “Patches” that remained Carter’s most successful track. Although he released further singles on Atlantic (collected on Kent’s Carter singles sets), the Patches LP was his last for the label. Ace has expanded these two albums (presented in a combination of mono and stereo) with three 1971 bonus tracks, all originally unreleased but issued by Kent on vinyl in 2012: the “Patches”-esque story song “Johnny Poverty” (written by a pre-“Cool Night” Paul Davis), Jackson and Moore’s “I Found What I Wanted,” and “Say a Little Prayer,” a brassy little number that’s not the Bacharach and David hit. Tony Rounce has again written the notes, while Nick Robbins has splendidly remastered all tracks.
Watch this space for Part Two, looking at The Detroit Emeralds’ I Think of You: The Westbound Singles 1969-75 and Northern Soul’s Classiest Rarities Volume 6!
- The Dark End of the Street (Goldwax 317, 1967)
- These Arms of Mine (Vivid Sound LP VG 3006, rel. 1977)
- Love Attack (Goldwax 309, 1966)
- Life Turned Her That Way (Goldwax 328, 1968)
- Freedom Train (Goldwax 338, 1968)
- A Losing Game (Goldwax 323, 1967)
- Pouring Water on a Drowning Man (Goldwax 311, 1966)
- You’ve Got My Mind Messed Up (Goldwax 302, 1966)
- You Hurt So Good (Bell LP SBLL 113, 1968) (*)
- A Man Needs a Woman (Goldwax 332, 1967)
- Lover’s Competition (Goldwax 112, 1965)
- That’s What I Want to Know (Goldwax 302, 1966)
- A Fool for You (Goldwax 328, 1967)
- A Lucky Loser (Kent CDKEND 211, rel. 2002)
- Your Love Made a U-Turn (Goldwax CD 47776, rel. 1995)
- To Love Somebody (Goldwax 340, 1969)
- I Don’t Want to Be Hurt Anymore (Goldwax LP 3001, 1967)
- Let It Happen (Goldwax 323, 1967) (*)
- Forgetting You (Goldwax 311, 1966)
- Let’s Face Facts (Vivid Sound LP 3006, rel. 1970)
Mono except (*) stereo
- Bad News
- Snatching It Back (*)
- Soul Deep
- I Smell a Rat (*)
- Doin’ Our Thing (*)
- You Can’t Miss What You Can’t Measure (*)
- Instant Reaction
- Making Love (At the Dark End of the Street) (*)
- The Feeling is Right (*)
- Back Door Santa (*)
- I Can’t Do Without You
- Willie and Laura Mae Jones
- Say Man
- I’m Just a Prisoner (Of Your Good Lovin’)
- Let It Be
- I Can’t Leave Your Love Alone (*)
- Your Love Lifted Me
- Till I Can’t Take It Anymore (*)
- It’s All in Your Mind (*)
- C.C. Blues
- Getting the Bills (But No Merchandise)
- Johnny Poverty (*)
- I Found What I Wanted (*)
- Say a Little Prayer (*)
Stereo except (*) mono
Tracks 1-11 from Testifyin’, Atlantic LP SD 8238, 1968
Tracks 12-23 from Patches, Atlantic LP SD 8267, 1970
Tracks 24-26 originally released on Kent EP LTDEP014, 2012