J.J. Barnes – 1973 – Born Again
Main Review by Soulmakossa
Rip, Research, Posting and additional info’s by Nikos
A rare set from Detroit soul legend J.J. Barnes!
Although J.J. Barnes originally started as a lighter, groovier northern soul singer, this “comeback” album from the early 70s has him singing in a very heavy, full-on righteous style, with lots of slow soulful tracks. Surprisingly, this style works well – and uncovers a side of Barnes that we wouldn’t expect. Patrick Adams, Deodato, and Tony Bell handled the arrangements.
A1 Can’t See Me Leaving You 3:24
A2 Time Is Love 3:29
A3 Good Men Don’t Grow on Trees 3:17
A4 You Are Just a Living Doll 4:30
A5 Wishful Thinking 4:34
B1 You Owe It to Yourself (Part 1) 4:13
B2 You Owe It to Yourself (Part 2) 4:12
B3 No Ifs and Buts 3:38
B4 I Just Make Believe (I’m Touching You) 3:43
J.J. Barnes cut a number of highly acclaimed singles in the mid- to late ’60s, all hits in the British ‘Northern Soul’ scene, which still thrives today. Curiously enough, Barnes only recorded one full-length album, and that wouldn’t be until the Perception sessions which yielded the ‘Born Again’ LP in 1973.
Where his singles for such Detroit-based labels as Revilot (a Hitsville sub) and Groovesville often smacked of Motown (albeit with a whole lot more grit), ‘Born Again’ sounds more like it could have come from Hi Records in Memphis. The orchestration is lush, the beat thick and heavy.
The gently plodding, richly layered “Can’t See Me Leaving You” sets things in motion, and pretty much sums up the general feel of this album. Aside a punchy, funky break in the middle, it’s a lavishly arranged mid-tempo loper that has Barnes making good use of his falsetto.
Delicious, warmly groovin’, spiraling notes from the keyboard open “Time Is Love“, a slow burning ballad heavy on the female backing vocals, but also with a nice emphasis on the understated bass and snippets of brass. Great use of the vibes here on the instrumental mid section.
Barnes delves into a slightly more funky bag with the incessantly driven “Good Men Don’t Grow on Trees“, with a snarling, crackling wah wah guitar in the back and a healthy dosis of wailing horns. A mellow groover that reminds me of Tyrone Davis’ Dakar sides from the era.
“You’re Just a Living Doll“, the only single culled from ‘Born Again’, is a tremendous powerhouse soul ballad, richly orchestrated and carried by a subtle, stuttering, waltzy beat. The backing vocals here work brilliantly, especially on the chorus.
Less appealing to me is the intro to “Wishful Thinking”, the last track on side A; the monologue by a woman prior to Barnes’ singing goes on way too long. When J.J. chimes in, though, the tune evolves into another mellow, mid-paced groove. The orchestration might be the most humble on this piano-driven selection.
Getting righteous and a tad political, side B opens with a surprisingly hard socking funk tune, split into two parts. The brooding, minor-keyed “You Owe It to Yourself” starts off with a great instrumental intro, where the meaty bass ‘n’ drums lay the foundation for a haunting groove, on top of which shimmering strings, noodling guitars and pensive horns flow in and out. Barnes testifies here, pleading for self-help, self-respect and ‘getting over the hump.’ The hardest song on this disc.
Up next is the highlight of ‘Born Again’, the beautifully melancholy “No If’s, And’s or But’s“. The persistent strings on the chorus evoke a sense of hopelessness that is only augmented by Barnes’ pleading vocal. A richly layered gem, featuring both piano and that typically Southern, purring Hammond.
The album ends the way it began; “I Just Make Believe (I’m Touching You)” is another lusciously arranged, well-executed soulful ballad, with a tough, dense beat that’s obviously only enhanced by the pulsing rhythm of the conga.
A warm, lavish, soulful experience.