Wednesday, 6 August 2008

"Otis Blue" by OTIS REDDING. A Review Of His 3rd Album From 1965 On Stax Records - Now Reissued And Remastered Onto A 2008 2CD "Collector's Edition" On Rhino.

With the groundwork of his first two albums behind him, “Pain In My Heart” in 1964 and “The Great Otis Redding Sings Soul Ballads” in early 1965, Otis Redding stepped into the Stax recording studio on McLemore Avenue in Memphis on the 9th of July 1965 to quickly slap down his 3rd album. And quick was the optional word. In one long adrenalin fuelled session (broken up by night gigs the band had to attend – only to reconvene in the early hours of the morning), its 11 songs took less than 24 hours to produce. In fact, Otis flew out of Memphis the very next day to do another gig! It is of course now recongnised as a bona-fide 60ts soul classic and this "Collector's Edition" is here to celebrate that.

TOM DOWD was the Engineer, ISAAC HAYES, JIM STEWART and DAVID PORTER were the Producers and the Stax House Band were the session players:
ANDREW LOVE on Tenor Sax
FLOYD NEWMAN on Baritone Sax
AL JACKSON, JR. on Drums
EARL SIMS on Backing Vocals
(Jones, Cropper, Dunn and Jackson, Jr make up the nucleus of Booker T. & The MG’s)

“Otis Blue/Otis Redding Sings Soul” was released in the USA on the 15th of September 1965 on Volt 412. It charted on the Pop Albums chart at a lowly number 75, but hit the big number 1 spot on the R’n’B LP chart of that month. It was released in the UK in February 1966 on Atlantic ATL 5041, originally in Stereo only – but later re-issued in 1967, again on Atlantic, but this time in both Mono and Stereo (587 036 for Mono and 588 036 for Stereo). Any sixties variant of the vinyl album has always been hard to find in playable condition here in the UK – and pricey too – so this 2CD Rhino “Collector’s Edition” released on Monday 28 April 2008 in a welcome addition for soul fans everywhere.

It has the same specialist gatefold digipak packaging that Universal’s 2CD “Deluxe Edition” series and EMI’s 2CD “Collector’s Edition” sets have – all wrapped up in an outer titled slipcase. There’s a 16-page booklet with detailed liner notes by ROB BOWMAN who has conducted interviews with the album’s engineer, the late TOM DOWD, Bass Player DONALD “DUCK” DUNN and Trumpeter WAYNE JACKSON among others. It pictures US Volt 7” singles and UK Atlantic 7” singles from private collectors, has a few black and white shots of Otis himself and detailed session notes. The release has been prepared by PATRICK MILLIGAN and CHERYL PAWELSKI for Rhino with Otis’ wife, Zelma Redding, adding her take on the re-issue in her own dedication – a very nice touch that.

The master tapes have been REMASTERED by Rhino’s long-standing collaborating engineers DAN HERSCH and BILL INGLOT at Digiprep studios (no date supplied) and the 40-tracks of the 2CDs are laid out as follows:

Disc 1 (72:30 minutes):
Tracks 1 to 11 is the original MONO MIX of the album, Volt 412
Tracks 12, 14 and 15 are mono mixes of the stereo album versions and are previously unreleased
Track 13 is the non-album B-side to “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)” issued April 1965 on the US 7” single Volt 126
Track 16 is the non-album B-side to “Satisfaction” issued in February 1966 on the US 7” single Volt 132
Track 17 is a stereo mix of the mono single version – it was first issued on the 1993 “Otis! The Definitive Otis Redding” 4CD Rhino Box Set
Tracks 18 and 20 were recorded live at The Whisky A Go Go sessions in April 1966 and were first released on the 1982 Atlantic LP “Recorded Live: Previously Unreleased Performances”
Tracks 19, 21, 22 and 23 are from the October 1968 Atco LP “Otis Redding In Person At The Whisky A Go Go”

Disc 2 (51:03 minutes):
Tracks 1 to 11 are the original STEREO MIX of the album (Volt 412)
Track 12 is the 1967 version of “Respect” which first appeared on the “Remember Me” album compilation from 1992 on Stax
Tracks 13 to 17 are from the “Live In Europe” album from October 1967 on Volt 416 and feature the Stax House band

As you will have noticed from the above breakdown, for the die-hard collector who already has all of Redding’s issued material to date, this 2CD set only really has 3 previously unreleased tracks, and they’re slightly alternate mono mixes of stereo album versions – so it’s hardly the great haul of soul joy the lovely outside packaging promises. The mono mix of the album is new to CD of course, but again, some may feel, it’s simply more of the same.

The mono mix of the album on Disc 1 is surprisingly clean – there is hiss on it given the less-than-sophisticated recording equipment and rushed nature of the recordings, but it is punchy and vibrant - and in many ways far more direct than the crude two-channel separation of the Stereo version. It’s better than I thought it would be and a nice addition.

Both discs contain live material - and a few seconds into any of the tunes - it’s easy to know why. Otis Redding ‘live’ must have been an awesome wonder to behold – you can only imagine what it must have been like to be in that audience – to see this force of nature literally slay an audience – and you get a sense of it 30 seconds into “Shake”. It explodes out of the speakers in that Sixties joyful way. The silver suit, the huge charisma, the guttural vocals, the band complimenting him – brass section choppy and tight – guitar, bass and drums funky as f**k – what a wow! In some respects, the live versions are far better than the studio ones ‘because’ they’re so ‘alive’. The live tracks are ballsy and far better recorded than you would imagine – they also give you a more rounded picture of the man and his talents – and to some degree – what all the fuss about Redding is all about.

The Stereo mix on Disc 2, however, is disappointingly drenched in hiss – and on the slower ballads like “Ole Man Trouble”, the Sam Cooke cover of “Change Gonna Come”, the William Bell song “You Don’t Miss Your Water”, the Smokey Robinson & The Miracles cover “My Girl” and particularly “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” – it detracts way too much from the magic of the songs. Personally I find them very difficult to enjoy with a wall of hiss blasting out ‘over’ the instruments. The hip shakers like Solomon Burke’s “Down In The Valley”, Sam Cooke’s “Shake” and the Rolling Stones “Satisfaction” fare far better – they sound great – really alive and kicking - with the wonderful low-down groove of B.B. King’s “Rock Me Baby” being a particular highlight (has a wicked Steve Cropper guitar solo). Basically the effect on the stereo mix is that brass and piano are in the left speaker with the vocals and guitar entirely in the right with some imaging in between. It works brilliantly on the mid-tempo Sam Cooke cover “Wonderful World” too. And when I A/B the 1992 remaster by Rhino with this 2008 version, the differences are there – much LOUDER and CLEARER. It’s just such a shame about the hiss levels on some of the tracks.

A classic album in a lovely package and one that fans will have to own. For those not wanting to fork out the near £15 price tag the hard copy commands, ITunes is offering the entire 40-track double set for £8.99 as a download (no booklet unfortunately).

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