Episode 71 – Esther Phillips

Welcome to this week’s episode of Sisters Sing Soul.

This week’s episode features songs from Esther Phillips.

Esther Phillips Sisters Sing Soul

Esther Phillips

Here’s where you can find the songs in this episode:

Esther Phillips

‘Release Me’, ‘Some Things You Never Get Used To’, ‘Cheater Man’, ‘I’m In Love’, and ‘Woman Will Do No Wrong’ — From the Album “Esther Phillips: The Country Side Of Esther Phillips/Set Me Free” — Collectables Records

‘Home Is Where The Hatred Is’, ‘Til My Back Ain’t Got No Bone’ and ‘I Can Stand A Little Rain’ — From the Album “Esther Phillips: The Kudu Years 1971-1977” — Raven Records

Please feel free to comment below with any questions or observations.

In next week’s episode, we’ll feature more music from The Staple Singers.

Thanks for listening!


2017 – New Programs For The New Year

Starting Sunday, January 15 the Sisters Sing Soul will kick off the new year with more great soul music.

The first program will feature the utterly distinctive and brilliant singing of Esther Phillips, with the emphasis on her soul-oriented recordings.

A week later we’ll return to the incomparable Staple Singers with a second episode featuring more of their finest recordings for Stax Records from the late 1960’s until the mid-1970’s.

The program right after that will pick up on a recurring theme of this series, namely showcasing the wonderful work of little known artists. In this case it will be the songs of Sandra Feva and Alder Ray who both deserved greater success.

I’m looking forward to bringing you these three programs and many more during 2017.

Stay tuned, and thanks for listening.


Review Of “Betty LaVette: Child Of The Seventies”

“Betty LaVette: Child Of The Seventies” was released in 2006. It contains all of Betty LaVette’s recordings for Atlantic records including the 12 brilliant tracks that were intended  to make up her first album, “Child Of The Seventies”. Inexplicably the album was shelved prior to its planned release in 1973. Nevertheless, the songs are among the very finest that Betty ever recorded.

Betty (later Bettye) LaVette is one of soul music’s greatest and most enduring artists. She employs her distinctive, rough-edged voice flawlessly to produce a wide range of tonal colours amidst breathtaking dynamics. She has a gift for conveying the deepest of human emotions, forging a powerful empathetic bond with her listeners.

Betty LaVette was born Betty Haskin in Muskegon, Michigan in 1946. Unlike most soul singers she didn’t learn to sing in church, but instead with her family in Detroit. Betty began her recording career as a teenager for Atlantic Records, and had singles released on a number of labels throughout the 1960’s. In 1972 Betty signed once again with Atlantic Records, and two singles came out on the company’s Atco label.

The second Atco single emerged from nine days of recording at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Alabama in November, 1972. Brad Shapiro produced the 12 tracks that were supposed to make up the album, “Child Of The Seventies”. But, as I mentioned in the opening paragraph, Atlantic decided not to release the album.To this day no one really seems to know why. Given the superb quality of the recordings it was quite plainly an ill-considered and inexcusable decision.

Through the heroic efforts of French soul music aficionado, Giles Petard, the missing master tapes were located in Atlantic’s New York vaults in 1999. Giles licensed the 12 tracks plus the remainder of Betty’s Atlantic releases, and put it all on a CD that came out in 2000 under the title, “Souvenirs”.

In 2006 the CD, “Child Of The Seventies”, was released. It included all of the material on “Souvenirs” along with two previously unreleased tracks and mono versions of two songs. The first 12 selections on the CD are the ones that were to be included on the unreleased album. Brad Shapiro is masterful in the producer’s chair, and the Muscle Shoals Sound Studios band accompanies Betty with a deft and sensitive touch.

“It Ain’t Easy” is a mid-paced slice of southern soul that is an ideal vehicle for Betty’s vocal skills. It’s followed by a country soul ballad, “If I Can’t Be Your Woman”, that demonstrates Betty’s exceptional versatility. Next up is “Fortune Teller” which gives Betty a chance to gently express a sense of hopeful longing.

Then comes the song that was released as a single in 1973. “Your Turn To Cry” ranks among Betty’s greatest performances. The depth of sadness and heartache that she expresses so sensitively makes this a certifiable deep soul classic. The contrasting flip side, “Soul Tambourine”,  is a catchy, bouncing serving of joy that amply benefits from the LaVette treatment.

“All Of The Black And white Children” is a message song notable for its lack of sanctimony. Betty’s treatment is pleasingly sincere and uplifting. In “Our Own Love Song” Betty takes the listener into a world filled with the sweet tenderness and unshakable bond of true love.

Betty shows a spirited toughness in “Ain’t Nothing Gonna Change Me” before offering some woman to woman advice in the southern flavoured “Outside Woman”. Then she takes charge of things with the funky “The Stealer”. “My Love Is Showing” gives Betty the chance to express the vulnerability  and helplessness of real devotion.

The twelfth and final selection from what should have been Atlantic’s release of “Child Of The Seventies” is, in a word, sublime. “Souvenirs” is an absolute gem of a deep southern soul ballad. Betty infuses every word with the pain of longing and loss.

Rarely have I heard an album’s worth of songs of such high quality. Betty emerges as a complete singer with a range and depth of expression that elevates her to the top level of soul artists.

The remainder of the CD includes the rest of Betty’s recorded work for Atlantic records. First come two tracks produced by Clarence Paul at Bolic Sound Studios in Los Angeles in late 1973. Neither cut saw the light of day until the 2006 release of the CD.

“Waiting For Tomorrow” was written by Betty herself. She is in top form in this searing tale of frustrated hope. Once again I am flabbergasted that Atlantic declined to release this sensational track. The hard-edged “Livin’ On A Shoestring” would have made a worthy B side.

Following mono versions of 1973’s “Your Turn To Cry” and “Soul Tambourine” we’re taken back to Betty’s 1972 Atco single. Both sides were recorded in Detroit. Betty’s cover of Neil Young’s “Heart Of Gold” is a pleasantly soulful take on the original while “You’ll Wake Up Wiser” is a rather commercial latin flavoured track.

The last four songs on the CD come from a decade earlier when Betty was still in her teens. The single with “Here I Am” and “You’ll Never Change” was recorded in Detroit and came out in 1963 as a follow-up to Betty’s first release a year earlier. Neither cut is terribly memorable. However, that first single, also recorded in Detroit, is another matter entirely. In “My Man – He’s A Lovin’ Man” the 16 year old Betty delivers a performance worthy of a woman of the world. Unsurprisingly it made it into the top ten on the R&B chart, a feat that Betty was never able to duplicate again. Go figure. The flip side, “Shut Your Mouth”, is a more commercial pop outing.

After her second and final stint with Atlantic Records in the 1970’s Betty LaVette never stopped trying to make it. Hers is a story of incredible determination and resilience. At long last, after more than four decades of striving, Betty began to get the recognition and appreciation for her vocal artistry that she deserved. The emergence of the long-buried Atlantic album  cemented her position as one of soul music’s greatest singers. The CD, “Betty LaVette: Child Of The Seventies”, is a must for every soul enthusiast’s collection.


Episode 70 – Blue Eyed Soul Singers & “Promises Should Never Be Broken”

Welcome to this week’s episode of the Sisters Sing Soul.

This week’s episode features a collection of “blue-eyed” soul singers and two artists’ interpretations of “Promises Should Never Be Broken”.

Here’s where you can find the songs in this episode:

Brenda Patterson

‘How Many Times’ — Found on Vinyl Only

Jewell Ausbon

‘Running Back’ — Found on Vinyl Only

Marcia Ball

‘Love’s Spell’ — From The Album “Hot Tamale Baby” — Rounder Records

Bonnie Raitt

‘Good Enough’ — From The Album “Home Plate” — Rhino Records

Chris Hamilton

‘I’ve Got To Cry’ — Found on YouTube

Sammi Smith

‘Saunders Ferry Lane’ — From The Album “Help Me Make It Through The Night” — Acrobat Records

The song “Promises Should Never Be Broken” can be found on:

Mary Gresham — From The Album “Mary Gresham: Voice From The Shadows” — Soulscape Records

Annette Snell — Found on YouTube

Please feel free to comment below with any questions or observations.

We’re off for the holidays and would like to wish our listeners the very best during the holiday season. We’ll be back in the new year with many more all-new episodes.

Thanks for listening!

Episode 69 – Jo Armstead & “Sure As Sin”

Welcome to this week’s episode of Sisters Sing Soul.

This week’s episode features songs from Jo Armstead and three artists’ interpretations of “Sure As Sin”.

Jo Armstead Sisters Sing Soul

Jo Armstead

Here’s where you can find the songs in this episode.

Jo Armstead

‘I’ll Never Let You Down’ — Found on YouTube

‘I Feel An Urge Coming On’, ‘A Stone Good Lover’, ‘I’m Gonna Show You (How A Man Is Supposed To Be Treated)’ and ‘Stumblin’ Blocks, Steppin’ Stones’ — From The Album “Jo Armstead: A Stone Good Lover” — Collectables Records


The song “Sure As Sin” can be found on:

Jeanie Greene — Found on YouTube

Laura Lee — From The Album “Reaching Out: Chess Records At Fame Studios” — Ace Records’ Kent Soul label

Candi Staton — From The Album “Candi Staton: Evidence” — Ace Records’ Kent Soul label

Please feel free to comment below with any questions or observations.

Next week’s episode will feature songs from six blue-eyed soul singers and a comparison of a deep-soul ballad.

Thanks for listening!

Episode 68 – Ann Peebles, Part III

Welcome to this week’s episode of Sisters Sing Soul.

This week’s episode features more songs from Ann Peebles.

Ann Peebles; Sisters Sing Soul

Ann Peebles

Here’s where you can find the songs in this episode:

Ann Peebles

‘Crazy About You Baby’, ‘I Pity The Fool’, ‘Heartaches Heartaches’ and ’99 Lbs’ — From the Album “The Complete Ann Peebles On Hi Records Volume 1” — Hi Records

‘I Needed Somebody’ and ‘Beware’ — From the Album “The Complete Ann Peebles On Hi Records Volume 2” — Hi Records

‘He’s My Superman’ — From the Album “Ann Peebles: Full Time Love” — Bullseye Records

‘When The Candle Burns Low’ — From the Album “I Believe To My Soul” — Rhino Records

Please feel free to comment below with any questions or observations.

We’ll be back with an all new episode in two weeks and will feature music by Jo Armstead & three artists’ interpretations of a deep southern soul ballad.

Thanks for listening!

Review Of “Mavis Staples: Don’t Change Me Now”

“Mavis Staples: Don’t Change Me Now” was released back in 1988, but thankfully it is still available for sale online. The CD has all but three of the songs on Mavis Staples’s two solo albums for Volt, a Stax Records subsidiary. It also contains five superb tracks that didn’t make it onto the original vinyl albums. The entire set demonstrates the artistic brilliance of Mavis Staples, an unparalleled interpreter of deep soul music.
Mavis Staples was blessed with a magnificent contralto voice that spanned an impressive vocal range. When she began singing gospel music as a youngster audiences were flabbergasted by the depth and maturity of her sound. But what makes Mavis’s singing so special is its sincerity and emotional sensitivity. Her performances are deeply moving because they come straight from the heart.
Mavis Staples was born in 1939 in Chicago, Illinois. Her father, Roebuck “Pops” Staples, would come home from his job at a meat packing plant, take out his guitar and gather Mavis and her three older siblings together to sing. With her exceptional voice Mavis soon became the family group’s lead singer.
In 1953 the Staple Singers signed with Vee-Jay records, and within three years had a gospel hit, “Uncloudy Day”. They began to tour and developed a strong following. In 1963 the group did a concert in Montgomery, Alabama where they met Martin Luther King Junior. That meeting had a powerful effect on the family, and for the next several years they wrote and sang songs to support the black civil rights movement including the famous “It’s A Long Walk To D.C.”.
In 1968 the Staple Singers signed with Stax Records. They had many top ten R&B hits on Stax’s Volt label including “I’ll Take You There” which made it all the way to number one on both the R&B and pop charts. However, before this huge success for the Staple Singers as a group, Mavis recorded her two solo albums. Unfortunately, and undeservedly, neither generated a lot of sales.
The first album, entitled simply “Mavis Staples”, was comprised of covers. It was produced by Steve Cropper at Stax’s Memphis studio, and released in 1969. Eight of the eleven tracks are included on the CD. However, the first song on the CD didn’t make it onto the original album which is a real puzzle because it’s pure dynamite. “Ready For The Heartbreak” is a fine vehicle for Mavis’s formidable vocal talents.
Mavis deftly cruises through “Sweet Things You Do” before delivering her emphatic declamations in “You’re driving Me (To The Arms Of A Stranger)”. Mavis then struts ably along with the tight pulse of “Chokin’ Kind”. Next Mavis shows us just what she can do with a ballad. She really puts her heart into “A House Is Not A Home” and the result is sensational.
Mavis’s version of Otis Redding’s stomper, “Security”, is a worthy successor. Her take on Carla Thomas’s “Pick Up The Pieces” takes the song to a new level of emotional power. And then comes Otis’s “Good To Me”. In my opinion this is the star of the first album. Mavis reaches down deep for this impassioned declaration of love. The final track from the album, “You Send Me”, is Mavis’s fine and feeling tribute to the great Sam Cooke.
Next on the CD are the four remaining previously unreleased tracks. Three of the songs do not have any writer credits as was the case with the CD’s opener, “Ready For The Heartbreak”. Mavis has stated that two of them, “I’m Tired” and “You’re All I Need”, were her own compositions. According to her, Stax wanted 50% of the publishing rights. She refused and the tracks were kept off her second solo album, “Only For The Lonely”. What a shame! Fortunately we’re now able to enjoy these fine recordings.
“You’re All I Need” is an infectious mid-tempo romp, but “I’m Tired” is in another world entirely. To me,this deep soul ballad is among Mavis’s most sublime recordings. Mavis expresses the pain and emotional exhaustion of endless betrayal with a mesmerizing depth of feeling.
If that weren’t enough, Mavis’s original version of Phillip Mitchell’s “The Only Time You Say You Love Me” is another immortal southern soul classic. Strangely, the song is listed on the CD as “Why Can’t It Be Like It Used To Be” with no writer credit. The only reason I can think of for this glaring error is that this previously unissued recording had been mislabeled by Stax.
Cissy Houston and Dorothy Moore both recorded superb versions of “The Only Time You Say You Love Me” during the 1970’s, but Mavis’s interpretation sets the standard. The song builds and builds as Mavis bares her suffering heart, pleading in desperation for the love that is no longer hers. It is incomprehensible that a marvel such as this was deemed unfit for release by Stax.
The final track not to make the cut, “Chains Of Love”, is beguilingly bluesy and atmospheric.
“Only For The Lonely” was recorded mostly at United Studios in Detroit in late 1969 with a six piece rhythm section assembled by producer Don Davis. Most of the tracks are originals rather than covers. Davis did an admirable job of bringing out the best in Mavis’s singing. The songs and arrangements provide her with plenty of scope to express herself, and amaze us with her artistry.
The ballad, “I Have Learned To Do Without You”, was released as a single in 1970 and deservedly reached number 13 on the R&B chart. “How Many Times” gives Mavis the opportunity to show what she could do with a country soul song, and she is more than up to the challenge.
Mavis’s beautiful interpretation of the Brook Benton standard, “Endlessly”, is an inspired affirmation of love. Mavis adopts just the right attitude for “You’re The Fool” before taking on Buddy Johnson’s “Since I Fell For You”. Mavis takes the song to new heights with her flawless phrasing, gripping vocal inflections and powerfully emotive wailing. This is a real tour de force.
“What Happened to The Real Me”, with its Spanish flavour, lets Mavis show another side of her vocal prowess. Her joyful take on “Since You Became A Part Of My Life” is a compelling affirmation of love. Mavis doesn’t let up one bit with the mid-tempo “It Makes Me Wanna Cry” and the country ballad, “Don’t Change Me Now”. Both songs are elevated by Mavis’s beautiful emotive touch.
Following the release of her two solo albums for Stax, Mavis achieved stardom as the lead singer for the Staple singers. She continues to perform to this day thrilling her legions of ardent fans. She deserves every bit of her considerable success.
“Mavis Staples: Don’t Change Me Now” features the songs that established Mavis Staples as one of soul music’s pre-eminent artists. Nothing she has done before or after has surpassed these brilliant recordings. “Mavis Staples: Don’t Change Me Now” deserves a special place in every soul lover’s collection.