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JACKIE DESHANNON, When You Walk In The Room-- When You Walk In The Room reminds us, if we needed reminding, of the special treasure Jackie DeShannon is. Not as prolific as Carole King, no Tapestry-like success on her album discography, no Brill Building background, but a unique songwriter with a common touch people can relate to, a voice everyday folks recognize as speaking to their feelings, fears and joys. She does that here by stripping away all the big arrangements she’s used to working with and using only her voice, mostly acoustic guitar with only a meager dollop of electric (it’s needed on ‘Bette Davis Eyes’), a bass and strings so discrete they are easily overlooked.
THE STAPLES SINGERS, Be Altitude: Respect Yourself-- Be Altitude: Respect Yourself may be a reissue, but the fortuitous confluence of events that coalesced in the Muscle Shoals Studio where the basic tracks were recorded in 1972 produced a statement with unsettling resonance in 2011. Back in the day, Pops, Mavis, Yvonne and Cleotha would have you believe in a bright tomorrow. What to do now but soldier on? You have a better idea?
JOHNNIE TAYLOR, Taylored In Silk--In 1973 Stax artist Johnnie Taylor and his producer, Don Davis, crafted a remarkable album-length statement, Taylored in Silk, that played more into the artist’s balladeering/philosophizing strengths and less to the gritty, accusatory style of his big hit, ‘Who’s Making Love.’ With its low-key arrangements, lush strings, subdued rhythms, thematic cohesiveness and deeply nuanced Taylor vocals, Taylored in Silk was a hybrid Memphis/Philly Soul-style treatise on the complex nature of relationships. The philosopher in Taylor simply ate it up.
MIKE ZITO, Greyhound--Greyhound refuses easy answers and in the end leaves the future, and its protagonist’s fate, as uncertain as it was at the outset of this tale. It has the feel of life about it. Zito’s rough-cut voice doesn’t even come close to being pretty, but its urgent, lived-in quality makes his tales of restless wandering, in search of love—of the physical and spiritual type alike—and stability of any sort impress as nothing less than a blues epic.