Dobie Gray – 1973 – Drift Away
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Soul? Country? Pop? or all of them in a fine blend?
Dobie Gray never had the consistent recording career that, judging from his output, he surely deserved. Poor promotion, contract difficulties, bankrupt record labels…something always seemed to creep up and crush his career in its tracks. But with indefatigable energy, he kept on pushing, with the net result being only three Top 40 songs spanning fifteen years. “Drift Away” was the kind of song that had to make it, no matter how many curveballs it needed to dodge, simply because it was such a great record. Other great records of his fared much worse, but “Drift Away” was tenacious enough to float to position #5 on the strength of its lingering melody and Gray’s melancholy but soulful voice.
Decca DL7 5397 LP
A1. Drift Away
A2. The Time I love You The Most
A3. L.A. Lady
A4. We Had It All
A5. Now That I’m Without You
B1. Rockin’ Chair
B2. Lay Back
B3. City Stars
B4. Sweet Lovin’ Woman
B5. Caddo Queen
B6. Eddie’s son
Some six years before Dobie Gray laid down his debut long-player Drift Away (1972), the vocalist had established himself as a seemingly ‘one-hit wonder’ with “The ‘In’ Crowd“, scoring additional attention with “See You at the ‘Go-Go‘” and “Out on the Floor“. While the latter pair barely made an impact on the charts Stateside, both were considered classics throughout Europe — especially among fans within the U.K.’s Northern Soul community. Gray additionally tried his hand at acting, resulting in participation in the Los Angeles cast of Hair and as becoming a member of a jazz-rock outfit called Pollution. A fortuitous collaborative partnership with Mentor Williams — brother of noted composer/musician/actor Paul Williams — led to a deal with Decca/MCA and ultimately to a Mentor Williams’ tune that would become Gray’s signature, “Drift Away,” which also soared into the Top Five of the Pop survey in March of 1973, giving Decca their final Gold single prior to the label’s collapse into their MCA Records parent company.
The entire effort reflects the same insouciant vibe of the familiar title track with Gray’s Nashville-based backing band featuring Williams (guitar), Mike Leech (bass), Reggie Young (guitar), Troy Seals (guitar), David Briggs (keyboards) and Kenny Malone (drums) with Weldon Myrick (pedal steel guitar) and Buddy Spicher (fiddle) augmenting the lineup. Williams, Seals and Jennings provide a wide array of material, ranging from the driving “The Time I Loved You the Most“, “Rockin’ Chair” and the swampified funk-blues of “Lay Back” to the stunningly poignant acoustic ballad “We Had It All“. “Sweet Lovin’ Woman” is another refined love song with a slightly countrified lilt that is perfectly matched to Gray’s sensual expressiveness, clearly pointing in the direction that Gray’s subsequent endeavors would take. In 2004, a remastered version of Drift Away was included along with the other half-dozen LPs Gray recorded during the 1970s on Hip-O Select’s four-disc The Complete Dobie Gray (1969-1979) box set.