Sam & Dave – 1967 – Soul Men
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Sam & Dave, the Black Gladiators, had upstaged the music scene with blasting gutbucket Soul anthems such as “Hold On! I’m Comin‘”, “You Got Me Hummin‘” and “Said I Wasn’t Gonna Tell Nobody” in 1966…
A year later, riding high on the success of the superlative “Soul Man” single, it became obvious that the dynamic duo was also capable of churning out a perfect longplaying platter of 100% unadulterated Memphis-fried Southern Soul.
A1 Soul Man 2:36
A2 May I Baby 2:38
A3 Broke Down Piece of Man 2:46
A4 Let It Be Me 2:45
A5 Hold It Baby 2:35
A6 I’m With You 2:50
B1 Don’t Knock It 2:28
B2 Just Keep Holding On 2:52
B3 The Good Runs the Bad Way 2:15
B4 Rich Kind of Poverty 2:13
B5 I’ve Seen What Loneliness Can Do 2:58
Naturally, “Soul Man” kicks off the jam and may well be the finest way of starting a blissful musical journey into the sweat soaked hard sockin’ sphere of Total Groove.
“I got what I got, the hard way“, they sing… and it doesn’t take a degree in rocket science to detect the political overtone. Riding on top of a preposterous groove, Sam & Dave declare that they have lived, breathed, suffered and enjoyed the meaning of SOUL.
The musical accompiment to Sam & Dave’s sermonizing is provided by the greatest little band in the world: Booker T. & the MGs. And they keep up the beat relentlessly throughout… “Soul Man” was the ‘no hankey-pankey’ intro, but there was so much more to come.
The mock-Chinese opening to “May I Baby“, played on piano by Isaac Hayes, welcomes your ears after the horn-infested, gritty climax to “Soul Man” has faded. A heartwarming, pleading ballad featuring delicate, infectious stabs at the xylophone on every downbeat, this is one of those moments where Sam & Dave mix the sweetness of a ballad with the grit of Memphis soul.
Drummer Al Jackson Jr. gets right back in the down home, greasy pocket on “Broke Down Piece of Man“, a criminally overlooked gem in Sam & Dave’s discography. A thudding, thumping tour de force dealing with the unbearable hurt of love gone ‘n’ done wrong, with Sam’s beautiful wails and moans and Dave’s incredibly nasty groans. It’s a shame the delicious, brassy finale is cut to fade so rapidly, but oh what a tune, nonetheless…
Who hasn’t covered “Let It Be Me“, the deathless Everly Brothers classic? Trust me when I say you’ll never hear a more thrilling reading than Sam & Dave’s interpretation… It never gets schmaltzy or overly dramatic, it’s another one of those strange examples of the ‘pop/soul’ hybrid that, at times, can work tremendously well. Naturally, given the pedigree of the singers and musicians, this could only result in a brilliant tune…
It’s right back to Swingville with the stuttering, rocking “Hold It Baby“, with its menacing cascading riff on the chorus. The vocal interaction between Sam and Dave on this one is particularly awe-inspiring… Some call it ‘improvisation’, I’d like to call it pure Soul skills. The same goes for the funky “Don’t Knock It“, which picks up the pace after the wonderfully bluesy, laidback “I’m With You”.
“Just Keep Holding On” possibly is one of the duo’s most chilling ballads… A sense of melancholy hangs all ’round this beautifully executed song, the same kind of world-weariness that can be found on the LP’s final track, the haunting “I’ve Seen What Loneliness Can Do“.
Sandwiched between those two moments of quiet introspection is a last blast of hard sockin’ boogaloo Soul: The superbly written “Rich Kind of Poverty“, featuring more of those thick-as-molasses layers of brass by The Memphis Horns.
In all, a perfect album. All killer, no filler.
A Southern Soul masterpiece by two of its most talented inventors.