WFMU Ichiban, Rock and Soul with Debbie D

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Joe Tex month day 22: The "uptown" albums

After recording his two greasiest records in '68 and '69, the ever attuned-to-the-times Tex switched up his sound for his next two records, going for the slightly more sophisticated soul sounds of the early 70s. Not that JT was going to in any way go all Isaac Hayes on us, but these records do represent an attempt to sophisticate the hard southern soul of JT, with mixed results.

It mostly works on the With Strings and Things album. For one thing, it's only about half transitional - much of it is business as usual. It's like there were some standard Textracks in the can and a slightly more uptown session was recorded to justify the name. Tex even talks about the fact that he's in transition on the album's hit, "You're Right, Ray Charles", which we discussed in the Dapper Dropper post. 

There are many other snazzy songs on this LP. The lead track, "Everything Happens on Time" has one of the oddest arrangements of any JT song, and Joe responds with a lyric that is another wild metaphor typical to the man who spent a lot of his time buying books, digging gardens, and picking plums (in the same old soup).  

"Take My Baby a Little Love" is a killer mover with many classic lines, like: "I've got to stop being the town clown before I tear myself down!"

And "A Little Friendly Advice" is one of those weird "addressed to a specific individual male with a single syllable first name" songs we've heard throughout Joe Tex Month. It is probably also his best pure country song.

Joe's next album, From the Roots Came the Rapper, is one I have never been able to crack the code on.  There is just so much wrong with it. From the outset - look at that weird mod cover - what does that have to do with our down-home, nitty-gritty philosopher?

The album was recorded in Muscle Shoals studios with Eddie Hinton and some of his fellow Shoalers, so the playing is fine, but this really does sound like Joe trying to make an Isaac Hayes album.  There's only one original on the record, and one of the two "raps",  on the tediously eternal version of Burt Bacharach's "I'll Never Fall in Love Again", is one of the few times I can't connect with a Tex sermon.  Sure there's some ringer songwriters - future Ichiban month candidate Jerry Williams Jr. (aka Swamp Dogg), Don Covay, and the Left Rev. Eugene McDaniels, but overall things just feel off.

I suspect that the main reason the record doesn't really launch is because it's produced by Dave Crawford and Brad Shapiro, rather than Joe's main man, Buddy Killen. It's the only record that Killen didn't produce after Joe joined Dial, and it shows. JT sounds more uptight and serious than usual, and the whole thing is just kind of a drag. Anyone who has any insight into why this album is worthwhile is encouraged to open my ears to it.

A new direction was coming, though, as was Joe's biggest hit yet.