By Jude Habib
Some days I’ll look up an old artist, a favorite or one I haven’t listened to enough, and listen chronologically through their albums, each as if it was a newly released album. I love doing this because rather than seeing these artists as the “legends” they are now, I get to see their progression: to hear their development as a person and an artist, because no one really starts as a “legend”.
One exception to this may be Otis Redding, who released his first album at 23, and released five more albums with massive popular success before dying in a plane crash at 26. With a mainstream career lasting only four years, Redding still managed to establish himself as one of the most influential soul singers of all time.
I was recently drawn to his fourth studio album, The Soul Album, as it signals, what I believe is, a notable change in Redding’s music. While many critics regard his third studio album, Otis Blue, as his best work, on The Soul Album Redding bares himself more than he had yet shown. The album is start to finish Otis, while with his previous albums the songs don’t always flow right, don’t always sound like him, due to the fact that they were quite cover heavy.
The album begins with Just One More Day, an original, as the listener can feel his longing and loneliness as he wishes to see his lost love again, then jumps into It’s Growing, a Smokey Robinson song that beautifully captures the excitement of the feeling of love that seems uncontrollably and limitlessly growing. The third song on the album is considered one of his bests, and Otis puts his spin on common “Sunday Morning” theme, tenderly singing Cigarettes and Coffee. The band then swings into Otis’ mandatory Sam Cooke cover, this time truly transforming Chain Gang into his own orchestration, using a powerful rhythm section leading into the chorus that eerily sounds like Edwin Starr’s number one Motown hit War that would come out 4 years later.
His next five songs fit him like a glove, seeming like they could all be written by him, when really only one, Good to Me, was. They’re a great balance of slow and fast, serious and silly, tender and brash, in true Otis form. Then comes Any Ole Way, which is, in my opinion, the best song on this album and in his top five greatest love songs. His simple songwriting lends to him filling the two minutes and thirty-two seconds with as much passion as he can give. He then closes out the album with the classic 634-5789, finishing off the album with some pure fun.
While Otis Blue may have more recognizable songs, The Soul Album captures the essence of Otis Redding. If you want to get closer to Otis, to hear his soul, this is the album to listen to. Also let me know if you can find me it on vinyl for less than $30.