Friday, August 11, 2023

Motown Blues

MOTOWN 31453-0613-2

MOTOWN 31453-0612-2

MOTOWN 31453-0611-2

While Motown is not remembered for its blues sessions, three releases in the label's Motown Masters Series should be warmly welcomed by blues fans. It should be noted that Motown's blues were not far removed from the rhythm and blues of the period. In fact on the compilation, "Motown’s Blue Evolution," perhaps only Luther Allison’s high energy tracks will strike some listeners as straight blues, the rest being viewed as R&B or soul-blues. However one pigeonholes this music, it certainly has a harder edge than the chart-making Motown recordings of the Temptations, the Supremes, and the Miracles that many of us loved then and still love today. While closing with three rousing Allison tracks with his high energy guitar and fever pitched singing, the highlights may be the six tracks by Sammy Ward whose gospel based soul-blues would have been at home on Stax. A couple of his early 5 sixties tracks, 'Part Time Love' and 'Someday Pretty Baby,' would be revived by Allison (and are on the Allison album). Also of great interest are three wonderful previously unissued selections of New Orleans R&B by Earl King, three rocking Amos Milburn selections, and two tracks each by another soulful singer, Arthur Adams and Little Willie John's sister, Mable John. While those having the rare Motown album, 'Switched on Blues' with have some of the tracks by Ward, Milburn and Mable John, much of the music here is previously unissued.

After his triumphs at various Ann Arbor Blues Festivals and a striking Delmark debut album, Luther Allison landed on Motown where he produced three albums, 'Bad News is Coming,' 'Luther’s Blues,' and 'Night Life.' 'The Motown Years 1972-1976' contains sixteen selections from those three albums, plus a previously unissued live 1972 Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival performance of Little Walter's 'Last Night' (although erroneously credited to Sam “Lightnin” Hopkins). Four tracks are taken from 'Bad News Is Coming' including an outstanding 'The Red Rooster,' 'Cut You A-Loose,' and 'Dust My Broom,' each delivered with the vocal passion of Elmore James and high energy Freddie King styled guitar mixed with some hot slide. 'Luther’s Blues' is represented by nine selections including the slow, burning title track, and a rocking revival of Sammy Ward's 'Someday Pretty Baby. 'These two albums sported smaller bands, whereas the three songs from 'Night Life,' have a bigger studio aggregation that perhaps heighten a focus a bit more towards Luther's vocals. Luther may have aged in the two decades since these came out, but as those witnessing his three hour performances can attest, has lost no energy, enthusiasm, or passion in his music.

The release of Amos Milburn, 'The Motown Sessions 1962-1964' is another valuable reissue. Consisting of remakes of his Aladdin recordings along with some strong new material like 'My Daily Prayer' and 'Don’t Be No Fool,' co-authored by Milburn and legendary Motown producer Clarence Paul, included are seven previously unissued performances including a new alcohol blues, 'I'm Into Wine,' along with a new rendition of 'Chicken Shack Boogie' which is distinguished by the brassy horns, a harp solo by twelve-year old Stevie Wonder and Milburn’s smooth singing over a funky groove. Milburn’s piano here and elsewhere is of the highest order. While Cub Koda notes how more sophisticated Milburn sounds here, those familiar with the Mosaic box of Milburn’s Aladdin recordings will not be surprised by his comfort with ballads as witnessed by the remake of 'Bewildered.' Among the previously unissued titles is a version of 'I Wanna Go Home,' which Milburn co-wrote and recorded originally as a duet with Charles Brown for Ace, although in this case the vocal backing detracts. As Koda correctly notes, these were Milburn’s last significant recordings. Based in Cincinnati he would suffer a series of strokes at the end of the decade, and this writer visited the wheelchair-bound Milburn in the Cleveland Veterans Administration Hospital in May, 1971. He returned to his native Houston sometime after that and recovered enough to record with Johnny Otis for the Blue Spectrum label but those recordings clearly reflected the effects of the stroke. Those who have never heard the rare original Motown album are in for some real pleasures, while the unissued selections break no new ground but certainly will add to the value of this important reissue.

I wrote this review in 1996 although I am not sure what publication (it may have been Cadence or Jazz & Blues Report).

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