Margie Joseph – 1971 – Phase II
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Amazingly, Margie’s second and last LP for Stax failed to chart.
For my money, as brilliant as ‘Margie Joseph Makes a New Impression‘ is – and brilliant IT IS – ‘Phase II’ actually surpasses its predecessor in coming up with beautifully orchestrated soul gems that still ride that Memphis-fatback-gutbucket groove.
Of course, with the Bar-Kays backing up, the latter is a foregone conclusion.
A1 That Other Woman Got My Man and Gone 3:36
A2 My World Is Empty Without You 5:23
A3 I’ll Always Love You 3:00
A4 Strung Out 3:58
B1 Please Don’t Stop Lovin’ Me 3:07
B2 I Love You Too Much to Say Goodbye 3:52
B3 Didn’t Have to Tell Me 3:00
B4 Takin’ All the Love I Can 4:10
Evidenly inspired by labelmate Johnnie Taylor’s huge hit “Jody’s Got Your Girl and Gone“, the album’s opener (and sole single) “That Other Woman Got My Man and Gone” nevertheless has a charm all of its own. The funk is less vicious here than on Johnnie’s opus; there’s more of a mood of despair here in Margie’s smooth vocal delivery, and the cut itself is ‘prettied up’ with the same kind of orchestral grandeur that made Joseph’s first album so appealing. Still riding a solid groove, the swelling strings and angelic backing vocals steer this more into Isaac Hayes’ territory.
Surprisingly, given the smash success of her treatment of The Supremes’ “Stop! In the Name of Love“, an equally lavish rendition of their “My World Is Empty Without You” was passed up for single release. This track is every bit as powerful and beautiful as the one that made her a star: the brooding atmosphere created by cascading string charts and gloomy Hammond riffs, along with flurries of flute and ‘angels in distress’ backing vocals, all in conjunction with that Memphis groove, transforms the Motown pop hit into a soundscape of Hayesian proportions yet again. Stunning…
More ear candy is served up with the uptempo “I’ll Always Love You“, a gorgeously arranged finger snapper riding a strong beat and sporting an infectious chorus.
Carla Thomas – whose vocal styling can well be compared to Margie’s – first recorded the romantic, forelorn ballad “Strung Out” for her stellar 1969 LP “Memphis Queen”; here, it too gets the Hayesian treatment, as it is slower, richly embellished with ‘left turn’ orchestral hooks and delightful piano and organ fills. Joseph’s quiet storm approach was made for stuff like this.
More dedicated to the bottom end of things is the funky “Please Don’t Stop Loving Me” – I can’t get over those superb backing vocals. This mid-tempo gem is the perfect example of what Stax executive Al Bell was hinting at at the time: the cross-fertilization of Memphis funk with Detroit sweet.
And then there comes another beautiful ballad: the intense “I Love You Too Much to Say Goodbye“: another grade A vocal by Margie, who sounds utterly despondent here. Set to a jazzy, slow grinding pace and slowly building up to another orchestral high, I especially adore the song’s pre-chorus, which sounds ominous and world-weary in the manner only hopeless lovers experience.
But Joseph could, as was already exemplified by her first non-LP singles for Stax, as well as the album that came before this one, churn out some funk as well: the greasy, gutbucket “Didn’t Have to Tell Me” has her in a more agressive bag. To be sure, the horns and strings are here as well, but they take a backseat to the groove: Michael Toles’ wah wah guitar, James Alexander’s booming bass lines and Willie Hall’s in the pocket drumming take centre stage here.
This perfect LP ends the way it should: the Memphis-Detroit vibe in full force. “Takin’ All the Love I Can” has the grit of the groove of Memphis and the luscious horns and strings of Detroit, creating an uptempo dancer for Margie to one more time put her lovely, smooth vocal on top of.
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