may 2008

Flat Right

By David McGee


Otis Redding

That beautiful, aching, ascending horn line in "I've Been Loving You Too Long," followed by the tortured, yearning vocal contortions blending preacherly testifying with fevered sexual moaning. The skittering, stomping march of "Satisfaction" framing eager, staccato vocals shadowed by the horns’ insistent interjections. The transcendent mesh of pulsating, driving horns, Al Jackson's machine-gun drum shots, Duck Dunn's sinewy bass line as the vocalist shouts his romantic imperative—"give me a little respect!"—like a minister in the pulpit beseeching God for a miracle.  The majestic, funereal blast of horns, a split second of solemnity, then a stop-time passage as the voice cries out plaintively, "I was booorn by a river-oh, my!-in this little ol' tent/and just like this river/I've been running ever since...," as it begins a gospel-drenched journey in remembrance of a fallen friend and inspiration in Sam Cooke's "Change Is Gonna Come."

It is Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul, the incomparable Otis Redding's finest hour among many fine hours during his abbreviated time on earth, as heard on an essential two-disc reissue of a soul music monument. Over time most of these performances—including the ones noted above—have achieved well-deserved legendary status as models of flawless instrumental and vocal synergy and energy, when Redding, on this his third album for Volt, drove and was driven by the towering Stax house band (better known now as Booker T & the MG's, Isaac Hayes and the Mar-Key Horns) to transcendent peaks of artistry—all in the span of what the liner notes refer to as "one amazing adrenaline-charged 24-hour period." Including a sinister, grinding treatment of B.B. King's "Rock Me Baby" and a slinky realization of Smokey Robinson's "My Girl" that respects-yes!-the original arrangement even as it builds something new out of it at a more moderate tempo and with a decidedly bluesy approach to the vocal that finds Redding sliding at times into a rarely used but striking, keening upper register, the songs seem to have been selected with an eye towards fashioning a statement about soul music's past, present and future. Disc 1 contains the original mono album; Disc 2 the original stereo album. Both discs arrive with a wealth of extras. Disc 1 adds six album tracks as performed live in 1966 at the Whisky A Go Go, an unfortunate night during which Otis struggles for traction as his startlingly inept road band flails about behind him, out of tune and out of sync (Otis has to tell them the key of "I've Been Loving You Too Long" before he performs the song, and then even he hits a few flat notes along the way). Contrast this with Disc 2's four powerhouse tracks culled from Otis's Live in Europe album, capturing performances on which he was backed by Booker T and the MG's and the Mar-Key Horns. 'Nuff said. Disc 1 also features a mix of six single B sides and mono mixes of stereo album tracks; Disc 2 offers Otis's weird, breakneck-paced 1967 remake of "Respect." Otis had many more great moments ahead of him when Otis Blue was released in 1965: the ensuing three years would see The Dictionary of Soul album, containing "Try a Little Tenderness"; his searing Monterey Pop Festival performance; and the posthumous release of his enduring classic, "Dock of the Bay." But any time, any day, any year, Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul sounds right. And as Carl Perkins once observed, "When something's right, it's just flat right."

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024