I have a pet peeve and a personal rule when it comes to writing about music; never write in the first person. But every now and then you run into an album where merely trying to inform the reader as why it's good, based either on musical merit or social context just isn't enough, and doesn't do enough to really capture why a specific album is able to embody the intangible, is important and just plain brilliant... to you, as a person.
Which is just what has happened when I decided to review Otis Redding's stunning 1966 live album, Otis Redding in Person at the Whiskey A Go Go. I can easily tell you the album is a recording of a performance during his up and coming years trawling through the small club scene before his break out performance at the legendary Monterey festival. I can also tell you he is not backed by Booker T.& the MG's, who helped Redding garner international attention while touring Europe and supported him at Monterey. Instead he performs with his regular touring group. You may want to know that many people believe Redding embodied the rougher, edgier soul and r&b arising out of Georgia and the legendary Stax records. It's great to have some factual information about the album, but you know what? It doesn't convey what I really think of this album and Redding's performance on it.
This is a live album, and yes, you could hear a number of these songs on Redding's studio work; but what comes across on this live recording is a serious, honest, and multi-faceted account of suffering, desperation, and triumphant joy. All wrapped up into a great big sweaty ball of electrifying soulful energy furiously propelled along by a live band tight enough to bounce a quarter off of.
You can practically hear the tears streaming down his face on "These Arms are Mine" and "Just One More Day," where Redding sings, with his slightly gruff voice: "I keep wanting you darling in so many ways/ I can't get you off of my mind/ cause true love is so hard to find/ and I want me another day." The lyrics could be sung by anyone, and would, by a lesser singer, be nothing more then a standard love song. BUT IT'S THE VOICE that transcends mere sketch, veering away from the juvenile puppy love and sense of victimization frequently paraded by radio-friendly power pop groups. Instead he captures every single conflicting, illogical thought and emotion that crosses your mind when painfully left behind by someone you loved through nothing more then the dynamic use of his voice; taking it down a notch and then exploding outwards towards the audience with a pleading emotional urgency that isn't apparent in the lyrics, but is apparent in every little croak and roar of his delivery. It is what it is in the purest sense possible, unadulterated soul, musical or other wise
And it's the same with the up-tempo tracks, "Mr. Pitiful," flies along with fast paced rhythmic strutting, anchored down and lead by Redding blaring out to the crowd: "They call me Mr. Pitiful/ cause I lost someone just like you." On a cover of the Stones "Satisfaction," Redding takes the famous lyrics and injects them with the very sense of pure soul, and r&b that pasty-faced British invasion bands so desperately tried emulating in their own music, inverting the strutting peacock delivery of Mick Jagger and, instead, tying the song together with the same self-deprecating joyous ache heard on "Mr.Pitiful" that makes Redding's music far more poignant then anything delivered by his modern musical descendents.
Otis Redding goes beyond being soul music appreciated merely by fans of the genre. This is more then r&b or rock and roll. This is music that captures emotional experience, in all its contradictory ways, backed by an explosive band, and littered with funky extended break downs that should appeal to anyone. And you have here, on this live album, the culmination of a sound and performer that influenced Bob Dylan, the Stones, and should influence every other performer that came after him. This isn't just a good album and an impressive performance. This is one of those performances that will raise your neck hairs, move and touch you, make you want to dance, connecting you with every single bleeding emotion he magically squeezes out of each and every word.
1. I Can't Turn You Loose
2. Pain In My Heart
3. Just One More Day
4. Mr. Pitiful
5. (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction
6. I'm Depending On You
7. Any Ole Way
8. These Arms Of Mine
9. Papa's Got a Brand New Bag