The boundaries between blues and soul is a fluid one especially today. A variety of releases illustrate the continuing appeal of performers who can straddle both worlds. Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham are among those who helped the development and evolution of soul music as songwriters, and in Oldham’s case as a member of some great studio bands.
Think of James & Bobby Purify’s I’m Your Puppet, The BoxTops Cry Like a Baby, and Solomon Burke’s Out of Left Field, and you have some of the classics the duo wrote along with other great songs like It Tears Me Up, A Woman Left Lonely and You Left the Water Running. And Penn with Chips Woman wrote Do Right Woman, Do Right Man for Aretha and the James Carr deep soul classic, The Dark End of the Street.
Proper American has just issued Moments From the Theatre, a collection of live performances from 1997 when they opened for Nick Lowe in England and Ireland triumphs red. Oldham’s Wurlitzer piano and Penn’s acoustic guitar provide the backing for Penn’s soulfully rendered vocals on the previously enumerated classic songs and others. The intimacy and sparse backing highlights Penn’s delivery of the lyrics that stand out even more than on so many classic recordings. Penn may not quite take us to church but he certainly does deliver the goods (Oldham sings one song) and this is quite a welcome release.
This review originally ran in the December 2005-January 2006 DC Blues Calendar, which was then the DC Blues Society’s newsletter. I received my review copy from a publicist.