Wednesday, December 16, 2009
The Chambers Brothers - People Get Ready (Vault, 1966; 2007)
Prior to their smash hit "The Time Has Come Today" on Columbia in 1967, the Chambers Brothers had recorded for second-tier labels such as Folkways and Vault. Although they had something of a following among folk music enthusiasts, it is interesting to note that their use of amplification was not an issue with this particular audience as it had been with Bob Dylan. Was an exception made for them on account of their background? It's hard to say, but they were apparently well received at the 1965 Folk Festival. Perhaps the fact that the utilization of electric instruments did not seem to have an adverse effect on their magnificent, gospel-derived group singing had something to do with it.
Released in 1966, just prior to gaining mass popularity from their aforementioned Top 20 hit, People Get Ready was the first of two Chambers Brothers LPs to be issued during their tenure with Vault. Purported to have recorded at club dates in Los Angeles and Boston sometime in 1965, this album features an assortment of blues, early rock, soul, and pop standards that were typically played at concerts during this stage of the band's career. While certainly not as groundbreaking and mind-expanding as their more adventurous material on Columbia, these are all solid performances buoyed by the brothers' exceptional vocal harmonies. Although never flashy, Joe's capable lead guitar work and Lester's proficient harmonica blowing provide suitable instrumental accompaniment throughout the proceedings, with second guitarist Willie, bassist George, and an unknown drummer (probably not Brian Keenan) serving as the rhythm section.
Like a lot of other contemporary (but mostly white) groups, the Chambers Brothers display a Jimmy Reed influence with the inclusion of "Yes, Yes, Yes" (a retitled version of "Goin' Upside Your Head") and "You've Got Me Running." Even the version of Johnnie Taylor's "You Can Run" is done in the bluesman's characteristic style. "Reconsider Baby," is, of course, a nod to Lowell Fulson, while the rock rendition of "Summertime" from Porgy and Bess predates Big Brother & the Holding Company's version by at least a couple of years. Early soul is represented by covers of the Impressions' "People Get Ready" (written by Curtis Mayfield), Barrett Strong's "Money" (written by Berry Gordy and Janie Bradford), the Isley Brothers' "Your Old Lady," and the Valentinos' "It's All Over Now" (written by Bobby and Shirley Womack). "Tore Up" is a fine take on the Hank Ballard classic, and "Hooka Tooka," while probably inspired by Chubby Checker's hit version from the previous year, demonstrates an indirect folk music influence since the song is a member of the "Green Rocky Road" family. "Call Me" is the only track that is not a cover (with songwriting credits going to Joe and Willie), and, while a good tune, is at least slightly indebted to the sound of the early Isleys, although that's definitely not a bad thing. And one can't help but notice the prominent cowbell and think about how that same instrument would also be used to similar effect on "The Time Has Come Today."