Here are two more collections from Ace Records focusing on the songwriting skills of Otis Redding and Laura Nyro. Redding was the Stax soul singer who died in a plane crash in 1967 just as his popularity was about to peak with (Sittin’ On The) Dock Of The Bay. Nyro was a New York City songwriter and recording artist who penned hits for The 5th Dimension, Blood, Sweat & Tears and Three Dog Night.
Thanks to his legendary performance at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, Otis Redding is known more for his sweat-filled stage persona than his songwriting skills. But as this 25-track collection proves, Otis wrote his fair share of classic songs including Respect, I Can’t Turn You Loose, I’ve Been Loving You Too Long and, of course, (Sittin’ On The) Dock Of The Bay.
The only hit version found here is Aretha’s version of Respect which is almost incomparable. But while the remainder of the tracks may not be well-known, they all, without exception, sound like soul gems.
Some of the artists included are fairly well-known, such as New Orleans’ Irma Thomas, Etta James and Clarence Carter, while others such as Mickey Murray, Albert Washington and Jackie Hairston will only be known to collectors.
It doesn’t really matter as the quality of the songs and the performances are all top notch. Check out Judy Clay’s take on Redding’s Mr. Pitiful or Bettye Swann’s impassioned vocal on Chained And Bound.
Click here to listen to Sister Pitiful by Judy Clay:
Probably the high point is Mavis Staples’ version of Dock Of The Bay along with The Staple Singers, a version that rivals Otis’ own.
Redding himself shows up on a previously-unreleased take of Loving By The Pound and he can be heard singing backup along with his protégé Arthur Conley on Jackie Hairston’s Monkey On My Back.
Most of these recordings date from the 60s and early 70s although a few are more contemporary. They all are filled with the vibrancy and soul that made up Otis Redding’s music
Laura Nyro was an interesting artist. A nice Jewish girl from New York who wrote gospel-infused songs that sounded like they came from the deep South. For a while in the late 60s and early 70s her songs were all over pop radio…The 5th Dimension had hits with several of her tunes including Stoned Soul Picnic, Save The Country and Wedding Bell Blues. Three Dog Night topped the charts with Eli’s Coming and Barbra Streisand made her most soulful record with Nyro’s Stoney End.
Nyro was a performer as well and recorded 9 studio albums before her death in 1997 at age 49.
Sassafras & Moonshine (the title is taken from the lyric of her song, Sweet Blindness) shows off Nyro’s songs in a variety of settings. Her music was a sophisticated blend of gospel, jazz, pop and soul and a diverse range of singers have taken on her songs, from Mama Cass and Peggy Lipton to Chris Connor and Nnenna Freelon.
Like the Otis Redding collection, there is one hit version…The 5th Dimension’s Sweet Blindness…and one track by The Staple Singers…their version of Stoned Soul Picnic.
Again, all 20 tracks are excellent, with the jazzier versions a real standout. I should also mention that Bobbie Gentry’s sultry take on Wedding Bell Blues blows the roof off of The 5th Dimension’s more mainstream hit version.
Click here to listen to The Staple Singers’ version of Stoned Soul Picnic
So, two very good reasons to dig a little deeper into the songwriting prowess of two great American songwriters.