One of my music passions is for STAX music, southern soul and those important songwriters from the era such as Dan Penn, Chips Moman, Isaac Hayes, David Porter etc.
In 1994 Dan Penn released a classic album singing his own compositions ‘Do Right Man’ while in 2005 Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham (the great southern-soul keyboardist) toured internationally and released their outstanding live album ‘Moments From The Theatre.’
While their original compositions performed by Aretha Franklin and Percy Sledge were absolute classics, hearing these old men adding the true heart and soul to their own songs added a new heart-breaking emotion that carries the listener to another level.
If you are a fan of Elvis’ Memphis Sessions ‘Moments From The Theatre’ is an album you need to check out.
And it is the similar feeling that I get from Michael Jarrett’s ‘A Tribute To Elvis’ album.
So while Jarrett might not be considered on the same level as Dan Penn (and I hope he doesn’t mind me saying that!) this delightful album with the feel of a well-worn songwriter performing his own and other Elvis compositions touched me in the same way.
Jarrett was part of the band ‘Kenny Brewer and The Volcanoes’ as far back as 1959 and spent time on tour with Jerry Lee Lewis so he has certainly done his time on-the-road and with the musical greats.
The album of 11 tracks was released in 2009 by the 'Elvis For Everyone' fan club in combination with The Original Elvis Tribute Tour.
The key tracks are of course Jarrett’s own compositions for Elvis ‘I’m Leavin’’ and ‘I’ll Be Home for Christmas’ but there’s a lot more here....
The always fabulous ‘I’m Leavin’’ works here in its lighter arrangement with Jarrett imparting the emotion of the composer .. as Jarrett in the sleeve notes explains..
"I just started singing the la la la's and was just fooling around and the first verse just happened. It was then I realized I was singing about this girl I'd left behind in Portland who really wasn't supportive of my quitting the band and taking off for parts unknown, and had said to me at one point, "What if your songs aren't good enough"? She said this to me when I told her I wanted to go to LA and get my songs recorded, and I'm thinking, "Gee baby, if you’re my girl, why can't you dream with me?" ... well, she just didn't understand so I said, "I'm leavin’ and that's that, I'm not beating my chops up in the bars anymore and if you can't dream with me, then what good is it anyway....."
I wonder where that girl is now and whether she knows the song is about her?
Ivory Joe Hunter’s classic ‘It’s Still Here’ that follows is perfect, reflecting the emotion as the old-timer reflects back on more lost love.
It’s the same feeling that the Dan Penn / Spooner Oldham album imparts and would be magical in concert.
‘I’ll Be Home for Christmas’ again captures the emotional edge that Elvis must surely have heard in the demo version that caused him to record it.
As Jarrett explains in the sleeve notes,
"My 5-year marriage had just crumbled, and it was heart wrenching for all as I had a daughter with my former wife and was a father to her 3 children from a previous marriage at the time. Here's the scenario: It's Xmas Eve 1969 and earlier that week I had a little going away party at my apartment, and the next day the furniture rental company came to take their stuff and the place was totally barren, not even a bed to sleep in, just me, my sleeping bag and my guitar and the silence.... the next part of the story is perhaps somewhat legendary in the annals of songwritingdom...To some, this next part of the story will probably cause them to frown and say, "gee, that's too bad", while others will understand and smile...... so, I'm sitting there looking out the window at the Xmas lights in Portland, and reflecting on the 10 years I worked in and out of that town"
Listening to the song with this image in mind empowers it with a new resonance,
In the same vein the album also features Jarrett’s versions of ‘Softly As I Leave You’ with a much lighter more appropriate arrangement and the lesser known ‘Suppose’.
But Jarrett also doesn’t ignore the more R&B orientated songs. ‘Pledging My Love’ introduced as "one of my very favourite songs that Elvis did" is another delight as the fragility of his voice imparts the emotion that many versions of this song have too often missed. (including the way-too-overdubbed official Elvis release. The undubbed Jungle Rooms version is the real deal).
‘They Remind Me Too Much Of You’ – a beautiful Don Robertson composed Elvis song from 1962 (flipside of ‘One Broken Heart For Sale’ single) similarly touches an emotion that a very spartan, light arrangement can only achieve.
‘Let It Be Me’ has always been one of my favourites whether by Elvis or The Everly Brothers and Jarrett’s touching arrangement is another delightful version.
On first listen to 'My Baby Left Me’ I was a little taken aback by this little R&B twist at the end of the CD. However having discovered that it was Duke Bardwell’s favourite on the CD a few revisits makes me take another look and Duke’s a cool-dude. It becomes a nice funk work out that suits the Southern-Soul feel – but Goddamn it fades out way too quickly!! More please…
The CD only runs 40 minutes in total (Ok, I know that some of Elvis’ original albums ran less than 30 minutes!!) so perhaps my disappointment is that I would have loved to have heard a few of these songs performed live as "Moments From The Theatre" - which is where we came in.
As anyone who has heard these guys in concerts know, the opportunity to hear songwriters from the soulful years performing with that well-worn and hard-living emotion that their compositions truly deserve is a real treat.
A live bonus version of ‘I’m Leavin’ would have been the perfect final track.
Overall Verdict: It is a privilege to hear composers bring their own heartfelt emotions to their own classic songs. If you understand the importance of songs of Dan Penn, Chips Moman and other Southern-Soul composers then you can understand what this album is all about. If you managed to get to the European ‘The Original Elvis Tribute Tour’ then presumably you discovered what this soulful music is about already. There is no doubt that that this is a delightful tour souvenir.
Click here to the fascinating Michael Jarrett Interview
It's Still Here
Softly As I Leave You
Pledging My Love
My Wish Came True
I'll Be Home On Christmas Day
They Remind Me Too Much Of You
Let It Be Me
My Baby Left Me
Click here for more info about purchasing this CD.
Review by Piers Beagley.
-Copyright EIN, June 2010