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He was never out of touch
on 1 September 2011
Chris Farlowe was simply THE UK white soul singer cum blues shouter. No one came near apart from possibly Winwood who moved into different pastures with Traffic, or Fame who was always more jazz and Mose Allison inclined. Along with Georgie he was the man with the residency at the hip Flamingo club famed for jazz blues crossover music. He was the man who Sue records turned to take on the role of the pseudonymous blues singer Little Joe Cook on that marvellous "Stormy Monday". He was the man Jagger produced singing Mick'n'Keef material, gaining a huge hit with "Out of Time". The full results of Chris' recording career at Immediate are contained in this two volume set and to say it's marvellous is a massive understatement.
The range on the album is immense; from predictable soul covers like Otis Redding's "Mr Pitful" and a superbly arranged, "I've been loving you too long", to much less predictable jazz covers like "Moanin'" (of which we get two versions), from a host of Stones covers at which he was uniformly excellent - he really had a way with Jagger/Richards songs, to big, and I mean big, ballads like a "Handbags and Gladrags" which wipes the floor with other versions, from good old rock'n'roll - checkout Fats Domino's "My Girl Josephine" and "The Fool" to an inspired version of Bob Dylan's "It's all over Baby Blue" - a song that's been covered by many but few so successfully.
As for personal favourites, I've so many it's difficult to know where to start. "Paint it Black" has to be in there - I always loved the Stones original but this one stands proudly alongside it with Chis giving his utmost as usual and a manic eastern cum east European, I don't know what, brassy knockout arrangement behind him. Then there's Chris's take on Sanford Clark's "The Fool" - this one's almost a different song from the original, the backing is so strong. But occasionally he toned down the arrangement to more of his club sound as in his own "Treat her Good" which is actually Roy Head's "Treat her right" under a different name but still with that insane rhythm. I'm also partial to Chris' version of the oldie "Summertime", a song that seems to inspire good versions (I've always treasured the Gene Vincent one). And there's "Out of time" itself of course but where do I stop...
I should more than mention that the backing, whether it's just the Thunderbirds or a full orchestra is uniformly excellent often with quite inspired arrangements. Even when said backing is ridiculously strong it doesn't overpower Chris' own awesome voice. The fact that Chris never went on to superstardom unlike some of his compatriots like a certain Mr Stewart, is an unfortunate fact of history but at least we are left with this great legacy.
A splendid set without a duff track in it. It's also an instant guide to the hipper side of the 60's.
As a postscript I would add that I always saw Chris as a UK version of Texas R&B man Roy Head - see reference earlier to "Treat her good/right". Both were blue eyed soul shouters, both were one hit wonders (more or less), both were essentially bar or club performers rather than concert hall artists, both put out R&B flavoured material but could perform ballads without stretching unduly - Head could do a nice line in country soul. While what little we have of Roy Head's output is mainly in a funky vein unlike much of this set, Chris Farlowe's club performance was almost all up-tempo R&B with very few ballads (if any) - I still remember his version of Rufus Thomas' "The Dog" well before I knew such a record existed, I'd only heard "Walking the Dog" at that time.