CARLA THOMAS: CARLA (1966)
1) B-A-B-Y; 2) Red Rooster; 3) Let Me Be Good To You; 4) I Got You, Boy; 5) Baby What You Want Me To Do / For Your Love; 6) What Have You Got To Offer Me; 7) I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry; 8) I Fall To Pieces; 9) You Don't Have To Say You Love Me; 10) Fate; 11) Looking Back.
I do not know exactly at what point the moniker «Queen of Soul» was invented for Carla — I would guess around the time when she began singing duets with Otis Redding, so that he could be King, and she could be his Queen, and they could be Heroes just for one day, or, more precisely, for the period of time directly preceding December 10, 1967, because with the King gone, who'd really have any solid interest in the Queen?
But the good news is that at last, with new, louder and harder brands of R&B, soul, and funk beginning to take shape in the post-British Invasion period, even a Carla Thomas LP, on the whole, becomes more exciting. This one was based around two hit singles: ʽLet Me Be Good To Youʼ, a bouncy soul-pop number whose leapfrog bass line was every bit as important as its lead vocal, and ʽB-A-B-Yʼ, an even more bouncy soul-pop number whose backing vocals were every bit as important as its lead vocal (Carla /moaning and groaning/: "baaaybeee..." — Auxiliary Female Robots Built For Pleasure /faking amazement and excitement/: "BABY?"). Both hits were co-written by David Porter and Isaac Hayes, meaning that Carla was indeed transferred to Atlantic's top list of priorities, and both indicated that they wanted her to move on to a more rhythmic, sexy, seductive, bubbly-pop direction — something for which she was certainly vocally endowed, but probably not born specifically.
She does signal a readiness to expand in other directions as well — the blues, for instance, stepping forward with a cover of ʽLittle Red Roosterʼ that she probably inherited from Sam Cooke, and a cover of Jimmy Reed's ʽBaby What You Want Me To Doʼ that is, for some reason, integrated with a slow sentimental waltz tune (ʽFor Your Loveʼ) in a somewhat questionable artistic decision (not sure Jimmy would have approved). Or country: ʽI'm So Lonesome I Could Cryʼ is seriously softened up compared to Hank Williams, but does retain a bit of lonesomeness. And she still continues to write a few of her own songs — ʽI Got You Boyʼ is probably the best of these, but Isaac Hayes still wrote catchier ones for her, so why bother?
On the whole, though, the album still offers no evidence whatsoever that Carla Thomas could be a serious proposition in LP terms — ʽB-A-B-Yʼ is a perfectly endearing bubblegum-soul single for 1966, and the rest of the album is more listenable than the previous two because of the element of diversity and (occasionally) added R&B groove power, but for bubblegum-soul, your best bet would still be on The Supremes, and for R&B groove power... well, considering that Aretha had not properly arrived yet, maybe Martha & The Vandellas on the female side? Come to think of it, Atlantic sure suffered a lot from male chauvinism compared to Motown at the time. Not that it makes any difference — Carla Thomas is simply not a very viable proposition when it comes to power aspects; ʽGee Whizʼ and ʽB-A-B-Yʼ are far more to her liking.