Tuesday, April 26, 2011
The Chambers Brothers - Feelin' the Blues (Vault, 1970; 2007)
Released in either 1969 or 1970 depending on the source of information, Feelin' the Blues was the last of four Chambers Brothers albums issued by Vault Records. In similar fashion to the previously-reviewed Shout!, this LP consists of performances that had been languishing in that label's archives for at least a few years before the siblings' commercial success on Columbia made such material more commercially viable. While one can view this approach as an example of a record company scraping the bottom of its barrel to maximize profits, such methods can still yield a worthwhile musical harvest when dealing with a group as talented as the Chambers Brothers. Yes, the brief running time of Feelin' the Blues prevents it from receiving a five-star rating, but it contains a sufficient number of estimable tracks that will most likely appeal to completist fans.
The booklet notes provide no information about when or where these tracks were recorded, although they most likely date from 1965 and/or early 1966. Furthermore, since these selections are part of the Chambers Brothers' pre-Columbia output, they almost definitely do not feature the redoubtable drummer Brian Keenan. Nevertheless, his probable absence should not necessarily be interpreted as a negative. Vault might have envisioned some of these tunes as possible singles at one time, especially "Girls, We Love You," which is actually the second version of the song that the Chambers Brothers did for the label. (An alternate interpretation appears on the West Coast Love-In compilation.) "Don't Lose Your Cool" has all the hallmarks of the group at its best: organic blues and gospel-derived arrangements buoyed by their distinctive harmony vocals. The remaining titles sound like in-concert performances and are at their finest when the brothers do the kind of spiritual songs on which they cut their teeth while growing up in Mississippi. As a result, it should not come as a surprise that their takes on "Just a Closer Walk with Thee" and "Travel on My Way" are nothing short of transcendent. Ray Charles' "I Got a Woman" has deep roots in sanctified music, making it perfect for inclusion in the Chambers' live repertory. Less successful is their novelty cover of "Undecided," a popular swing-era jazz number that was originally waxed by the John Kirby Band in 1938. I can't really cite anything wrong with the rendition of "House of the Rising Sun" that appears here, but it's hard to get that excited by a song that is now quite overfamiliar to me. Finally, this album presents another version of "Blues Get Off My Shoulder" that is so similar to its counterpart on Shout! that one must question its appearance as anything other than filler.
1. Girls, We Love You
2. I Got a Woman (live)
3. House of the Rising Sun (live)
4. Don't Lose Your Cool
5. Just a Closer Walk with Thee (live)
6. Blues Get Off My Shoulder (live)
7. Travel on My Way (live)
8. Undecided (live)