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Monday, January 2, 2017

Carla Thomas: Comfort Me

CARLA THOMAS: COMFORT ME (1965)

1) Comfort Me; 2) No Time To Lose; 3) Yes, I'm Ready; 4) A Lover's Concerto; 5) I'm For You; 6) What The World Needs Now; 7) Let It Be Me; 8) A Woman's Love; 9) Will You Love Me Tomorrow; 10) Forever; 11) Move On Drifter; 12) Another Night Without My Man.

Ah, the good old cover art of understatement. Is it at all possible to resist upon seeing such a beautiful lady in such a suggestive pose, with the words COMFORT ME looming large against her well-coiffed hairdo? That finger alone would be worth at least ten bucks in 1965, and then, as an added bonus, you get twelve pieces of music that you can take or leave — most importantly, you'll always have Paris, er, I mean, that album sleeve. Just hang it on the wall, and...

...okay, okay, so we are here to talk strictly about the music, but truth is, I am not sure what to say. A lot of things happened in between 1961 and 1965, but you really wouldn't know if you had to judge by a comparison of Carla Thomas' first and second LP: these here are twelve more cases of tender balladry and soft R'n'B grooving, all of it pretty (because of Carla) and solid (because of the Stax backing team), but none of it particularly memorable. Interestingly enough, a lot of the songs feature Steve Cropper of Booker T. & The MG's as chief or co-writer, but it's not as if the man is really working his head off to provide Carla with genius hits: stuff like ʽA Woman's Loveʼ is based around the same old chord progressions, and on the whole, I think, Cropper got engaged in this simply to make a little bit of money in case the record sold well.

Problem is, it did not, and neither did any of the singles — they all stalled somewhere around No. 70 to No. 90 on the Billboard charts, not even remotely close to the impact of ʽGee Whizʼ, and it is easy to see why. As an energetic, groove-centered performer, Carla Thomas does not qualify: the «hottest» it gets is on songs like ʽNo Time To Loseʼ, which is basically just a pleading soul num­ber with a bit of vocal aggression mixed in — nice, but tepid and third-rate. As a balladeer, she had teenage appeal with ʽGee Whizʼ, but it is not easy for her to make a fully credible tran­sition into the mature adult stage: she does not have the proper vocal strength to turn ʽComfort Meʼ into anything more than pleasant background muzak.

The record also suffers from too little sonic diversity: when songs as substantially distant as ʽLet It Be Meʼ and ʽWill You Love Me Tomorrowʼ get pretty much the same jumpy, brass-heavy ar­rangements, you begin to seriously wonder if the arrangers and producers actually gave a damn about what they were doing, or, perhaps, they'd already settled upon the album cover and thought that it absolutely did not matter what they put under it. The cover of ʽWill You Love Me Tomor­rowʼ is particularly disappointing, but then, to be honest, nobody really did it full justice until Carole King took the lead vocal herself.

That said, the album is still fully recommendable to all fans of the Stax sound — just do not expect it to rage and rave, everything here is in the soft variety. Soft electric guitars, caressing brass riffs, soft gospel backing vocals, soft raspy-silky lead singer, the works. No highlights.

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