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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Arthur Alexander: The Monument Years


1) (Baby) For You; 2) The Other Woman (In My Life); 3) Stay By Me; 4) Me And Mine; 5) Show Me The Road; 6) Turn Around (And Try Me); 7) Baby This, Baby That; 8) Baby I Love You; 9) In My Sorrow; 10) I Want To Marry You; 11) In My Baby's Eyes; 12) Love's Where Life Begins; 13) Miles & Miles From Nowhere; 14) You Don't Love Me (You Don't Care); 15) I Need You Baby; 16) We're Gonna Hate Ourselves (In The Morning); 17) Spanish Har­lem; 18) Concrete Jungle; 19) Taking Care Of A Woman; 20) Set Me Free; 21) Bye Bye Love; 22) Another Place, Another Time; 23) Cry Like A Baby; 24) Glory Road; 25) Call Me Honey; 26) The Migrant; 27) Lover Please; 28) In The Middle Of It All.

Arthur Alexander did not manage even one single hit since at least 1964, and switching labels did not help out any — it's a wonder that Sound Stage 7 and, later, Monument even bothered keeping him throughout the rest of the decade (granted, they did not bother a lot: he was never even offer­ed one chance to record a full album during all that time). Lack of promotion and overall misma­nagement were a key factor, but, it must be said, most of these twenty-eight tracks (about half re­present actual 45s released in between 1965 and 1972, the other half is taken from the vaults) are certainly devoid of hit potential.

One reason is that, having found the kind of sound that pleased him most — the modestly orches­trated, moderately sentimental country-soul of 'You Better Move On' and its heirs — Alexander, regardless of the circumstances, refused to budge one inch away from it. Perhaps he simply felt that this was his niche in which he was, if not king, then at least an established master of the art, and that further experimenting would be the death of him (he may have been right, too). But he took it way too far by paying virtually no attention to anything. All across The Monument Years, musical genres and directions came and went in bunches, yet you certainly couldn't tell by this compilation — in the early Seventies, Alexander sounded exactly the same way as he did in the early Sixties. In a time period dominated by the likes of the Beatles, how could that ever be a re­cipé for critical success and commercial recognition?

Today, though, when grand-scale experimentation has pretty much expired in favour of little niches with musical ant-workers doing their little schtick over and over again, it is perhaps high time we all grabbed this compilation and evaluated it on its own terms. Because most of this is lo­vely, enjoyable pop music, with pretty, if not tremendously catchy, hooks and Arthur's personal seal of quality all over them. Very few tracks approach such peaks as 'Anna' and 'You Better Move On', but the arrangements are tight, the singing is always on the level, and the soul is al­ways on the line. It doesn't really seem for a moment as if the man were trying real hard to come up with a crowd-pleaser — he just enjoys singing and, occasionally, writing this kind of material, and, in the long term, it does him a great service.

The discerning eye will quickly discover that he is doing 'Spanish Harlem', but you'd be wrong to focus on his interpretations of classic hits — they add little, if anything, to the originals. Much more juicy are his own songs, such as 'We're Gonna Hate Ourselves (In The Morning)', a catchy, toe-tapping pop tune on a rather risky subject (adultery, on the matter of which, so it seems, Ar­thur was quite an expert). 'Turn Around (And Try Me)' is totally infectious with its inventive vocal harmonies and mad trombone blasts; 'I Want To Marry You' strolls on for five minutes in a rarely witnessed humorous mood; 'You Don't Love Me' is a beautiful example of how to combine anger and pleading in a desperate love song; and there's quite a few more little observations like these in my backpack that, combined, make sitting through these twenty-eight selections a sincere pleasure rather than just a reviewer's chore.

Perhaps the best way to immediately ascertain that Arthur Alexander was more than a coinciden­tal one-hit wonder, and to get yourself to sympathize with his plight, is to move straight over to the last track. 'In The Middle Of It All' borrows its major transition from verse to chorus from 'He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother', and the rest of the song is no world wonder of songwriting, but Alexander's vocals, almost from the first notes, stimulate that sensory receptor that is responsible for our «epic-tragic» mode — beautiful, gracious bit of acting.

Considering how fine an impression it all gives — the Ace label people have done a great job not just finding this long-lost material, but remastering it in near-perfect sound quality — I definitely recommend this for any serious soul music collection, and it still makes both good party music and a useful soundtrack for one's lonely evening. Thumbs up.

Check "The Monument Years" (CD) on Amazon

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