Wednesday, July 30, 2014

ESTHER PHILLIPS: Alone Again Naturally (Expanded Edition CD)

Following the 1972 release of her groundbreaking From A Whisper To A Scream album, Esther Phillips—who had enjoyed hits as a child star (Little Esther) in the ‘50s and as a R&B/jazz stylist in the ‘60s— was experiencing a career rejuvenation with Creed Taylor’s Kudu label after kicking a long-time drug addiction and a spell in rehab.  Keeping with the same basic formula of surrounding the distinctive soulful vocalist with redoubtable arranger Don Sebesky, top class label mates Hank Crawford, George Benson, Eric Gale and Ron Carter and all-star players (James Brown alumni Maceo Parker and rhythm arranger Pee Wee Ellis, Billy Cobham, Richard Tee, Cornell Dupree, Ralph MacDonald and Gordon Edwards), producer Taylor provided the perfect setting for Esther’s interpretative skills.  The result was the best-selling Alone Again Naturally, a Top 20 jazz and Top 30 R&B album in 1973.

The song choices were stellar: two songs from Bill Withers, “Use Me” and “Let Me In Your Life”;  “I Don’t Want To Do Wrong” (a 1972 hit for Gladys Knight & The Pips), “Let’s Move & Groove Together” (a 1965 R&B charted single for Johnny Nash), Eddie Floyd’s re-gendered “I’ve Never Found A Man,” an Aretha Franklin cover, “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man,” and two powerful reinterpretations—of Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again Naturally” and “Georgia Rose” (previously recorded by Tony Bennett) with a special intro penned by poet/artist Gil Scott-Heron (whose “Home Is Where The Hatred Is” had given Esther a 1972 hit).

A blistering blues, “Cherry Red,” originally cut by Joe Turner, was the perfect showcase for Esther’s emotive approach; this 2014 reissue from Real Gone Music in association with SoulMusic Records also includes a rare live 1972 recording of the song that Esther performed at a CTI All-Stars concert at the Hollywood Bowl in July 1972 as well as her superlative reading of Billie Holiday’s “God Bless The Child” from the same show, with accompaniment by Hubert Laws, Freddie Hubbard, Grover Washington Jr., Milt Jackson, Deodato, Airto, Bob James and Jack DeJohnette among others.  Liner notes are by renowned U.S. writer A. Scott Galloway from his original essay for the out-of-print (and jaw-droppingly expensive) reissue of the original album. Intense and soulful stuff.

1. Use Me
2. I Don’t Want To Do Wrong 
3.  Let’s Move And Groove 
4. Let Me In Your Life  
5.  Cherry Red 
6.  I’ve Never Found A Man (To Love Me Like You Do) 
7.  Alone Again (Naturally)
8.  Do Right Woman-Do Right Man
9.  You And Me Together Forever /
10.  Monologue /Georgia Rose 
Bonus Tracks:
11. Cherry Red (Live)
12. God Bless The Child (Live)


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