Sugar Pie DeSanto is one of the most overlooked ladies of soul, and this CD of her complete Chess singles is long overdue.
Although she was frequently overshadowed by her more successful childhood friend, Etta James, Sugar Pie had a sassy manner and a bouncy rhythm all her own, as is well demonstrated on this release. She first came to my attention when my favorite vocalist, Tracy Nelson, told me that she had learned the song, I Want To Know, from the singing of Sugar Pie DeSanto. Intrigued, I checked her out, as Tracy has never steered me wrong on the subject of singers or musicians that I've never heard of. I first sampled Sugar Pie with an earlier Chess collection (Down In The Basement), but with the acquisition of Go Go Power, my admiration for her talents really took off.
Go Go Power begins with Sugar Pie's best known hit, Soulful Dress, which was later covered by NOLA singer/pianist Marcia Ball on a CD of the same title. Soulful Dress is about the most finger-snapping, get happy R & B number I think I've ever heard. I have never played this track for anyone who didn't immediately want to know who Sugar Pie is, and how she escaped their radar. While there is not a bad track on the whole CD, several songs stand out.
I Don't Wanna Fuss has a rhythm that doesn't quite invite description; it simply has to be heard and absorbed. Pure R&B, the backup instrumentals on this track are just heavenly, especially a single sax that comes in between one verse to chase Ms. DeSanto's amazing phrasing.
Next up is a duet with her childhood pal, Etta James. In The Basement is a tribute to the type of party that tends to spring up in the inner-city when times are tough but spirits run high. This song has long been associated with Etta James as much as Sugar Pie, and pops up frequently on reissues of Etta's early hits. I have been playing this CD in my car on rotation for months. Just these first three tracks alone managed to imbed themselves in my mind and heart so thoroughly that I was singing along within a few days. But it sure doesn't stop there. Slip In Mules is another finger-snapper on the order of Soulful Dress. Every time I listen to this CD, and I listen to it a lot, I find myself wondering how all these delightful songs had slipped past me for all these years. While I'm a little young to remember the period in question (1961-1966) I just can't believe that such a wealth of R&B material escaped my attention until now.
The CD includes a total of 24 tracks, and after just a few listens, I decided that each one had its own merits, and more than one style is represented - R&B, Rock and Roll, Blues, Funk, Soulful Ballads and even a touch of Country-Western. Can't Let You Go has a baseline remarkably similar to the previously mentioned I Want To Know, which unfortunately is not included here. There are three duets with Etta James, and a curiously country-infused number, It Won't Be Long, which (for me) seems to bring up images of Patsy Cline
Additional songs of note include Mama Didn't Raise No Fools, Do I make Myself Clear; and the wonderful wry rocker Ask Me. Last but not least, the delightful, earthy pure blues Use What You Got, which has become my favorite track. Sugar Pie's talk-song delivery is every bit as delicious as it is sassy.
If you have never heard of Sugar Pie DeSanto, or are even curious, this CD is a damn good place to start. If you know her but don't have this collection, what are you waiting for? You know you have to have it.