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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Chambers Brothers: People Get Ready


1) Yes, Yes, Yes; 2) Tore Up; 3) Reconsider Baby; 4) You've Got Me Running; 5) The Family Story; 6) People Get Ready; 7) Money (That's What I Want); 8) You Can Run (But You Can't Hide); 9) Hooka Tooka; 10) Call Me; 11) Summertime; 12) Your Old Lady; 13) It's All Over Now.

The Chambers Brothers were probably more interesting as a cultural phenomenon than a creative musical outfit: a bunch of hard-working folks from Mississippi that, instead of choosing a predic­table career as a vocal band, specializing in gospel and spirituals, decided to become... well, not exactly a «rock'n'roll band» as such, but a fairly eclectic ensemble, choosing their own material, playing their own instruments, and breaking as many stereotypes of «Southern African-American boys» as could be found to break.

Even this debut album of theirs, though hardly spectacular on its own, is an unusual artefact. Having relocated from Mississippi to Los Angeles in the early 1950s, the four Chambers brothers did not actively seek to record as long as they were still performing acoustic versions of tradi­tional folk and gospel tunes — but everything changed once they witnessed Bob Dylan going electric. That same year, they signed up with the small surf-rock (!) label Vault, and put out an LP of recordings culled from two live shows — one in their now-native L.A., and one in Boston, as they now actively sought to expand their presence to the East Coast as well. Thus, People Get Ready is a fully live, electric, eclectic album of cover tunes by four African-American guys from Carthage, Mississippi, who had only recently exchanged their washtubs for Danelectros, and were also supplemented by white guy Brian Keenan on drums. Interesting, right?

The eclecticism does not run too deep, actually: most of the numbers represent various forms of R&B, from the minimalist blues-rock of Jimmy Reed to the soulful rave-ups of the Isley Brothers and the gospel-influenced compositions of Curtis Mayfield. But with Motown (ʽMoneyʼ), pure blues (ʽReconsider Babyʼ), hully gully (ʽHooka Tookaʼ), and the inescapable omnipresent ʽSum­mertimeʼ, it is quite clear that these guys are not going to box themselves into any one single corner; nor do they shun provocatively jarring moments of unpredictability — for instance, I would say that it actually takes guts to launch from ʽPeople Get Readyʼ straight into ʽMoney (That's What I Want)ʼ: not that ʽMoneyʼ was ever a non-ironic song, of course, but still there is something potentially unsettling about singing "don't need no baggage, all you need is faith" one moment and then "just give me money, that's all I want!" the very next one.

As for the actual musical merits, well, these are all competent, but unexceptional renditions. As instrumentalists, the brothers show no special gifts and only very basic training — the only musi­cian worth paying attention to is brother Lester on harmonica, which probably makes sense, since this is the only instrument here that one of the brothers had played for more than a decade prior to these concerts; however, he does not get the spotlight to himself very often (the slow blues ʽRe­consider Babyʼ being the only exception). As vocalists, they have a rough, gutsy collective sound going on, with none of the suaveness typically associated with doo-wop or Motown acts, but they never really work themselves up to an ecstatic state; individually, they can trade baritone and tenor passages effectively (ʽIt's All Over Nowʼ), but not awesomely. Yet somehow, through their clever alternating of different sub-genres, an overall above-average level of energy, and a certain «protest charm» stemming from the very ruggedness of the performances, they may be able to keep your attention up throughout the whole show.

Midway through, in order to endear themselves to you even more, they give a brief rundown of their life story ("people sometimes ask if we're really brothers...") which, although I usually do not approve of extended banter passages on live albums, totally belongs here: the whole idea of The Chambers Brothers is to show how a deep country family, without losing its roots, can adapt to living and creating in the big city, adapting to modern times, and their brief summary of what it used to be back then and what it is now is perfectly suitable as an extended intro to the odd pairing of ʽPeople Get Readyʼ with ʽMoney (That's What I Want)ʼ. Perhaps it is still not enough to earn the album a thumbs up rating, but, after all, this was only a rough beginning for the boys, and the truly important thing here is that there is sufficient intrigue concealed in this LP in order to warrant further exploration of their discography.

1 comment:

  1. Hey George, would you consider reviewing some of Tom Petty's catalogue? I noticed on your old site you reviewed up to "Let Me Up (I've Had Enough). In light of his passing, I'd love to hear your thoughts on some of his most revered albums: Full Moon Fever, Into The Great Wide Open, and Wildflowers (or any others for that matter). They're some of my favorite records ever released. It'd mean a lot to me. Thanks!