Saturday, June 23, 2012

Shirley Brown's Classic Woman to Woman

Amongst recent reissues in Concord’s Stax Remasters reissues is the classic album Woman To Woman by Shirley Brown. Brown had one of the last big records for Stax (although on the Truth subsidiary) and the title track with an opening rap about calling this woman that Shirley found her number on a piece of paper in her man’s pants and then singing to tell the woman she will do everything to keep her man. Exhibiting a powerful gospel-rooted vocal, she delivers a commanding vocal performance.

The Arkansas native was brought to Stax by Albert King with whom she he performed shows with. On the album she was backed by a band that included Al Jackson Jr. on drums; Bobby Manuel on guitar; Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn on bass; Marvell Thomas on piano; and Lester Snell or organ with the Memphis Horns, and supporting vocals and orchestra. And they are present for varied material including It Ain’t No Fun, where she sings about her man coming home and acting just like a friend and that it ain’t much fun living by oneself and the one you love loves another. The song incorporates a rap in the middle.

A different mood is present on the Caribbean flavored groove of Long As You Love Me, as she lets us know she’ll be all right and she delivers this in a bit more relaxed vein. Jerry Ragovoy penned Stay With Me Baby, and Brown’s strong cover of the Lorraine Ellison original leads one to speculate how she might have handled other Ragavoy songs such as Piece Of My Heart and Cry Baby. More heat is present on Frederick Knight’s I Can’t Give You Up, with a relaxed rhythm.

Five tracks are appended to the original release. Yes Sir Brother, with a strong dance groove, is from the same sessions that produced the original album. There are three covers of Aretha Franklin recordings of which Ain’t No Way benefits from being less familiar than Respect or Rock Steady. Not that these are bad recordings, but they are overshadowed by Aretha’s original recordings and influence. The disc closes on a lengthy reworking of Signed, Sealed, and Delivered, I’m Yours, opening with a rap before she starts digging into the Stevie Wonder classic at a lumbering tempo and pouring out all her heart into her vocal. The tempo picks about 2/3 of the way through with the brass adding fuel to her vocal fire.

Included are the brief original notes as well as Lee Hildebrand’s notes to a 2008 English reissue and a more recent consideration from Billboard’s Gail Ellison that add background to what is contained but as Ellison whote “Stop reading and start listening.” Fans of Stax and souther soul who don’t have this in previous reissues will certainly want this excellent reissue.

I received a review copy from a publicist or the record label. In more recent years Shirley recorded for Malaco and here is a video of her performing.

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