The British based Soul Jazz label is best known for its reissues of jazz, reggae, dub, world music and its various permutations. The label has stepped out of its comfort zone a bit with a 25-track compilation that kicks off with an early recording by Lynyrd Skynyrd.
The title of this collection pretty much sums up what’s inside. These are, for the most part, lesser-known tracks by white artists who recorded in the American South at studios like Alabama’s Muscle Shoals and Fame, or in Memphis and Nashville. The 68-page booklet gives an extensive overview of the musical history of the area dating back to the early 1950s when Sam Phillips set up his Sun Studio in Memphis. Although the liner notes are well-written and thorough, beware…I found one glaring error…they name Dickey Betts, rather than Berry Oakley, as the bass player who died in a motorcycle accident.
While a lot of the artists in this collection will be familiar (Allman Brothers, Cher, Linda Ronstadt, Bobbie Gentry), the track selection is not. The only hit here is Tony Joe White’s Polk Salad Annie, the rest are album cuts, “B” sides or early demos.
The first track, Lynyrd Skynryd’s The Seasons is a good indication of what direction this compilation has taken. Rather than one of the band’s well-known Southern-fried boogie numbers, it is a wistful, reflective, mostly acoustic track recorded in 1971 as a demo. The pastoral, hippie vibe continues with Barefoot Jerry’s Smokies and Boz Scaggs’ I’ll Be Long Gone.
Most of the tracks featured are from the late 60s and early 70s, at a time when established artists like Cher and Linda Ronstadt travelled to the area to work with studio musicians like David Hood, Roger Hawkins, Norbert Putnam, David Briggs and Barry Beckett. The track by Cher, from her 1969 album 3614 Jackson Highway (the address of the studio), is one of this collection’s missteps. Cher herself sounds fine, but the crack session band seems to have problems finding the groove in Dr. John’s I Walk On Guilded Splinters. The same can be said for Leon Russell’s recording of Out In The Woods.
But there is plenty to enjoy here. In addition to the Allman Brothers tracks, Duane adds some beautiful slide guitar to Cowboy’s Please Be With Me. Area Code 615’s instrumental jam Stone Fox Chase, shows off Charlie McCoy’s harmonica playing (the track is also known as the theme to the Old Grey Whistle Test).
The three tracks from Bobbie Gentry turn out to be highlights. Her smoky, seductive voice is a perfect match for the Southern stories she tells in Papa, Won’t You Let Me Go To Town With You, Seasons Come, And Seasons Go and Mississippi Delta. There was a lot more to Bobbie Gentry than Ode To Billie Joe.
Guitar hero Link Wray turns in a fine vocal performance in Be What You Want To, the track recalling Delany & Bonnie & Friends. Waylon Jennings gets funky on Big D and June and Johnny Cash harmonize on If I Were A Carpenter.
Big Star’s Thirteen is charming, but sounds a bit out of place here, among such down-home country/soul boys as Dan Penn and Travis Wammack.
Overall, this is a fine, if flawed collection that might lead the listener to further explore the recordings of artists like Cowboy, Area Code 615 and Bobbie Gentry and reconsider what Southern rock powerhouses like Lynyrd Skynyd and The Allman Brothers Band were all about.
Click here to listen to Mississippi Delta by Bobbie Gentry:
- The Seasons – Lynyrd Skynyrd
- Smokies – Barefoot Jerry
- Hush – Joe South
- Papa, Won’t You Let Me Go To Town With You – Bobbie Gentry
- Stone Fox Chase – Area Code 615
- God Rest His Soul – Duane And Gregg Allman
- I Walk On Guilded Splinters – Cher
- Please Be With Me – Cowboy
- Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More – The Allman Brothers
- Be What You Want To – Link Wray
- I’ll Be Long Gone – Boz Scaggs
- Comin’ Home – Lynyrd Skynyrd
- Seasons Come, Seasons Go
- Out In The Woods – Leon Russell
- Polk Salad Annie – Tony Joe White
- Come To Me Tonight – Barefoot Jerry
- Morning Dew – Duane And Gregg Allman
- If Love Was Money – Dan Penn
- I Won’t Be Hangin’ Round – Linda Ronstadt
- Big D – Waylon Jennings
- Thirteen – Big Star
- Mississippi Delta – Bobbie Gentry
- I Forgot To Remember To Forget – Travis Wammack
- If I Were A Carpenter – Johnny Cash
- I’m Leavin’ Here Tomorrow, Mama – Billy Vera