Australia’s Playback Records label returned to the scene in 2019 with a pair of new releases and the promise of more to come. Today, we’re looking at those new titles from Curtis Mayfield and Timi Yuro!
As a writer, producer, and artist – both solo and with The Impressions – Curtis Mayfield (1942-1999) was one of the foremost exponents of Chicago soul. He penned such favorites as Jan Bradley’s “Mama Didn’t Lie” and Major Lance’s “The Monkey Time,” not to mention such Impressions hits as “Gypsy Woman.” But his deep social conscience also manifested itself in such influential anthems as “Keep on Pushing” and “People Get Ready” which established him as a central voice of Black America and of the civil rights movement. His solo debut Curtis predated Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On as it incorporated political and social strains into its music – itself a departure from The Impressions’ silky soul into a world of hard-hitting psychedelic funk. His soundtrack to the Blaxploitation classic Superfly yielded two million-selling singles, a milestone in a career filled with them. Late in 2019, Australia’s Playback Records label explored the Mayfield discography with a stellar 20-track anthology. Move On Up: The Songs of Curtis Mayfield takes a deep dive into his visionary songbook. Artists familiar (Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight and The Pips), and lesser-known (Willie Wright, Patti Jo) are presented tackling songs with messages both universal and personal.
The collection opens with “Check Our Your Mind” from Maxayn. The band fronted by vocalist Maxayn Lewis had its complete output collected on a superb 2018 release from Cherry Red Records; here, their power as well as Mayfield’s is revealed with this commanding slice of psychedelic R&B. While Mayfield wasn’t involved with Maxayn’s recording, he was known to be a generous collaborator. His own productions are featured here for a variety of artists including Gladys Knight and The Pips (“On and On” from the Claudine soundtrack), The Staple Singers (“Let’s Do It Again”), Philadelphia soul queen Barbara Mason (“Give Me Your Love”), Patti Jo (“Ain’t No Love Lost”), Baby Huey and The Babysitters (“Hard Times”), The Five Stairsteps (the delicious soul-pop of “Baby Make Me Feel So Good”), and Aretha Franklin (the shimmering “Look Into Your Heart” from Sparkle). One of Mayfield’s key collaborators was arranger Rich Tufo from his own Curtom Records team. Tufo’s lustrous strings added drama, intensity, and emotion to Mayfield’s already taut productions. One can’t mention string arrangements, however, without noting producer-arranger Van McCoy’s stunning work on Melba Moore’s rendition of Mayfield’s driving “Make Me Believe in You.” In contrast, Willie Wright’s “Right On for the Darkness” is a spare and haunted take on Mayfield’s rumination about the flawed education system.
Move On Up concentrates primarily on Mayfield’s funkier offerings, but his softer side is well represented, too. The Impressions’ “I’ve Been Trying,” as covered by Chicago’s own Notations, is first-class harmony soul. The Main Ingredient revived another of the group’s numbers, the romantic “I’m So Proud,” with smooth subtlety. Australian soul-jazz singer Sue Barker (whose lone solo LP was expanded by Playback Records) brought her own fiery sensibility to “Love to the People.” Indeed, the Mayfield sound transcended borders. Jamaican singer Devon Russell’s “Move on Up” radically reworks the original with a rocksteady flavor.
The final selections on Move On Up are all drawn from the 1990s-2000s, displaying the songwriter’s eternal relevance. Julian Joseph and Sharon Musgrave’s “The Other Side of Town” is smoky sophisti-pop with tasty jazz piano, while a prominent contemporary jazz element is also to the fore on Joanna Teters and Mad Satta’s “The Makings of You.” En Vogue reimagined Aretha Franklin’s Sparkle tune “Something He Can Feel” as “Giving Him Something He Can Feel,” returning the song to No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard R&B chart with their brassy, sultry, retro arrangement. Mayfield himself is heard on the chilling “Here But I’m Gone,” a collaboration with Lauryn Hill recorded in the wake of the accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down but no less determined to bring his artistic visions to fruition.
Playback’s release is a top-notch package designed by Robert Penney. The 24-page full-color booklet has an essay and detailed track-by-track notes from historian Kris Needs. Warren Barnett has remastered all of the tracks. Move on Up: The Songs of Curtis Mayfield is a potent and well-curated sampler from one of R&B’s most enduringly powerful voices.
The last decade has seen reissues from the late Italian-American vocalist Timi Yuro (1940-2004) on the Real Gone Music, RPM, Morello, and Jasmine Records labels. Now, Playback has taken its turn with an expanded reissue of the big-voiced singer’s 1963 Liberty album Make the World Go Away.
1961’s smash hit “Hurt” (No. 4 Pop/No. 2 AC/No. 22 R&B) established Rosemary Timothy “Timi” Yuro as a chart presence. By 1963, she’d gained a fan in Willie Nelson, the young and prodigiously gifted songwriter who had already penned such staples as “Crazy” and “Hello Walls.” Recognizing her talents as both a powerful vocalist and a natural storyteller, Willie wanted to write for Timi. He encouraged her to go to Nashville to pursue the country market; there she befriended Hank Cochran who also resolved to write for her.
Between May and August 1963, Yuro recorded the Make the World Go Away LP named for a new song by Cochran. The 12-song album released in September also featured songs by Nelson (including “Permanently Lonely,” the first tune he sold her on), Don Gibson, Hank Snow, and Johnny Cash. Arrangements, frequently echoing the lush style of Chet Atkins’ Nashville Sound for competitor RCA Victor, were provided by Belford Hendricks, Ernie Freeman, and Marty Paich. The result was an early triumph of country soul (with an emphasis on the latter) in the spirit of Ray Charles’ Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, highlighted by Yuro’s passionate rendition of Hank Cochran’s title song. “Make the World Go Away” was first recorded on April 30, 1963 by Ray Price; Yuro’s version was cut just two weeks later on May 13. But Snow’s initial recording remained unreleased for decades. On June 13, one month to the day after Timi cut her version, Price re-entered the studio to record his version which peaked at No. 2 on the Country chart. (Eddy Arnold would make the song his own – and take it to No. 1 – the very next year.) Timi scored on the AC chart (No. 8) and the Pop survey (No. 24) with her deeply felt interpretation, still one of the finest recordings of the oft-covered song. Timi also transformed Johnny Cash’s “I Walk the Line” into the realm of torrid R&B.
Nelson’s somber, understated “Permanently Lonely” inspired a teary take from Yuro; Willie would re-record the ballad in 1968, 1982, and most recently, 2014. Nelson’s “Are You Sure,” co-written with Buddy Emmons, also was perfectly matched to the artist’s beyond-her-years voice. Willie revisited it in 1965 and then fifty years later in 2015 with up-and-coming country singer Kacey Musgraves.
A full complement of thirteen bonus tracks accompanies the original album. These include seven singles and outtakes recorded within the same May-August 1963 time period as the original LP arranged by Hendricks as well as by Bob Florence (well-known for his work with Andy Williams and others). These encompass more country selections – among them Willie Nelson’s “There’s a Way” and Hank Cochran’s “Yesterday’s Memories” – and traditional folk numbers such as “He’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain” and “Down in the Valley.” (Note that four of these cuts premiered on the 2015 Morello release Something Bad on My Mind/The Unreleased and Rare Liberty Recordings.)
The set then jumps to 1965-1966 for Mercury Records sessions with producers Chip Taylor (“Wild Thing,” “Angel of the Morning”) and Jerry Kennedy (Roger Miller, Jerry Lee Lewis). Taylor, working with Belford Hendricks, kept Yuro in the same country-soul ballad milieu for “Baby,” “Pretend,” and “Once a Day,” the latter of which went to No. 1 as Connie Smith’s debut single. Kennedy and top Nashville arranger Bill McElhiney likewise provided elegant settings for Yuro’s vocals. She returned once more to her friend Willie’s songbook (“You Took My Happy Away”) as well as to the catalogues of Ben Peters (“Turn the World Around the Other Way”) and Melba Montgomery (“Don’t Keep Me Lonely Too Long,” with a pronounced rock beat).
Playback’s reissue of Make the World Go Away has been remastered by Warren Barnett from the original Mercury masters and includes a 12-page booklet with a personal remembrance of Timi Yuro from her friend (and this set’s curator) Mike Iannarelli. Timi Yuro’s voice was distinct in any genre, but her country forays remain among her most beloved recordings. This deluxe reissue makes it easy to hear why.
Both titles are available now from Playback Records at the links below.
- Check Out Your Mind – Maxayn (Capricorn CPR 0017, 1973)
- On and On – Gladys Knight and The Pips (Buddah BDA 423, 1974)
- Let’s Do It Again (Single Version) – The Staple Singers (Curtom CMS 0109, 1975)
- Give Me Your Love – Barbara Mason (Buddah BDA 331, 1972)
- Ain’t No Love Lost – Patti Jo (Scepter 12366, 1972)
- Make Me Believe in You – Melba Moore (Buddah BDA 519, 1976)
- Hard Times – Baby Huey and The Babysitters (Curtom CR 1962, 1971)
- Right On for the Darkness – Willie Wright (Hotel 539, 1974)
- I’ve Been Trying – The Notations (Twinight 152, 1972)
- Baby Make Me Feel So Good – The Five Stairsteps (Curtom 1936, 1969)
- Suffer – Patti LaBelle and The Bluebelles (Atlantic 45-2712, 1970)
- I’m So Proud – The Main Ingredient (RCA Victor 74-0401, 1970)
- Look Into Your Heart – Aretha Franklin (Atlantic 45-3373, 1976)
- Love to the People – Sue Barker (from Crest International LP CRT-036, 1975)
- Move on Up – Devon Russell (High Music pre-release 45, 1981)
- The Other Side of Town (7″ Version) – Julian Joseph (with Sharon Musgrave) (EastWest YZ 6001, 1991)
- Here But I’m Gone (Part II) – Curtis Mayfield (from Elektra CD 62364-2, 1998)
- Superfly – Geoffrey Williams (from Oyster CD OYSCD11, 2008)
- The Makings of You – Joanna Teters and Mad Satta (from Comfort, 2014)
- Giving Him Something He Can Feel – En Vogue (EastWest 7-98560, 1992)
- Leavin’ on Your Mind
- She’s Got You
- I’d Fight the World
- Gotta Travel On
- I Just Got Back from There
- I’m Movin’ On (Parts 1 & 2)
- Make the World Go Away
- Permanently Lonely
- I Walk the Line
- Are You Sure?
- A Legend in My Time
- Look Down (Liberty single 55567, 1963)
- Call Me (Liberty single 55565, 1964)
- Without You (*) (rec. 1963, rel. Morello CD MRLLX5, 2015)
- There’s a Way (*) (rec. 1963, rel. Morello CD MRLLX5, 2015)
- Down in the Valley (Liberty single 55634, 1963)
- He’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain (rec. 1963, rel. Morello CD MRLLX5, 2015)
- Yesterday’s Memories (*) (rec. 1963, rel. Morello CD MRLLX5, 2015)
- Baby (*) (rec. 1965, rel. Jasmine JASCD1005, 2018)
- Pretend (*) (Mercury single 72515, 1965)
- Once a Day (*) (Mercury single 72515, 1965)
- You Took My Happy Away (Mercury single 72601, 1966)
- Don’t Keep Me Lonely Too Long (Mercury single 72601, 1966)
- Turn the World Around the Other Way (Mercury single 72618, 1966)
Stereo except (*) in mono