Since September 2010, this blog has recorded the journey of this middle-aged man as I attempt to listen to all the music in my CD collection. CDs revisited in their entirety from start to finish - no skipping tracks, no shuffle. CDs only - no vinyl, no tapes, no downloads. And just as CD technology (and the album format itself) becomes obsolete. I'm no music critic, just a music junkie with too much time on my hands.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Dusty Springfield - Dusty in Memphis (1969)

A mismatch made in heaven. This album had no business getting made, but the impeccable taste and vision of Jerry Wexler proves me wrong. And I've never been happier to be wrong. A stone cold classic.  While Dusty's best performance is The Look of Love, this is easily her best album. Although just another day at the office for the American Sound Studio house band (hard to imagine), they tear up the arrangements and the material is first rate from a slate of now-legendary songwriters: Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil, Gerry Goffin/Carole King, Randy Newman, Burt Bacharach/Hal David, etc.

Billboard, February 8, 1969 

Robert Christgau in Newsday (1973):
More than any other contemporary female singer, even in soul or country-western, she sounds as if she needs me. Simultaneously gushy and lady-like, she sings like the beautiful maidservant of men's vainest and most shameful fantasies--always the supplicant, always in love. Her male fans usually take her at face value, but, since every woman must somehow contain the male-created ideal she embodies, women respond to her with sisterly sympathy--sometimes self-conscious, sometimes not.

Dusty was captured definitively about four years ago by another great producing team--Jerry Wexler, Arif Mardin and Tow Dowd--on an LP called Dusty in Memphis. When Brian Potter calls it "the best album by a girl singer in the past 10 years," he's not just being polite to the opposition. Dusty in Memphis is a pop standard and classic, the kind of record that will sell for years because its admirers need replacement copies, and it is the perfect instance of how a production team should work.

The concept originated with Wexler, a vice president of Atlantic records who has been making brave and imaginative music since Atlantic was a tiny r&b label in the '50s. He selected some 40 songs and a complement of studio musicians, then convinced his artist that he had no intention of turning her into a soul singer. This record would exploit what she could do best. Dusty picked about 15 songs, and everyone worked out arrangements in the studio together. Mardin, originally an arranger, orchestrated to cushion emotional highs and shade in the subtler moments. Then Dowd, originally an engineer, mixed down the best takes, bringing every nuance of the voice up front, so that on a good system it sounds as if Dusty is hiding in the speakers.

The result is a tribute to the spirit of the girl singer. The songs--including two moderate hits, "Son of a Preacher Man" and "Windmills of Your Mind," plus many then-obscure compositions by the likes of Randy Newman and Carole King--emphasizes playfulness, sensuality and, of course, vulnerability. The singing makes the emphasis come alive. But for some reason there was no follow-up.

The studios at 827 Thomas St in Memphis in 1968 around the time this album was recorded.
The studio is the unmarked bulding in the center of the photo (door with diamonds).

Well-deserved accolades for the album:

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: #99

Tracks:  Yes, please.  My favorites are Just A Little Lovin', Don't Forget About Me, Breakfast In Bed, Just One Smile, and No Easy Way Down. Son Of A Preacher gets a special mention as being a Top 10 single as well as my wife's personal ringtone for yours truly 👿.  If I skip any track it's usually The Windmills Of Your Mind, not because of the performance, but I've just never cared much for that song.

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: Nothing stands out in my mind, but I recently took a 6 hour round trip to Ft Worth and this CD never left my truck's player.  I must have heard it over 10 times over a two day period. Heck, I've just listened to it 3 times this morning.

I preparation for this post, I read the book about the album from the 33⅓ series.  I needn't have bothered as the author chose to focus almost exclusively on the mythology of the South instead of the album. Being born in the Mississippi about an hour south of Memphis, I didn't learn anything new from Dr. Zanes' thesis. I've lived the mythology.

1 comment:

  1. This is some really good stuff and a long time coming on The CD Project.

    An amazing predecessor to the sophisticated fusion of pop & soul that would come almost immediately from Philadelphia. Dusty In Memphis has continued to shape and influence the musical landscape ever since.