I'm loving these newly-launched 2011 and 2012 "Stax Remasters" Series (wish there was more of them - see list below) and Shirley Brown's popular debut album from 1974 is an obvious and smart choice for a reissue. Here's the gossip... UK released Monday 10 October 2011 -"Woman To Woman" is on Concord Music Group, Inc 0888072331778 and breaks down as follows (64:21 minutes):
1. It Ain't No Fun
2. Long As You Love Me
3. Stay With Me Baby
4. I've Got To Go On Without You
5. Woman To Woman
6. So Glad To Have You
8. I Can't Give You Up
9. I Need You Tonight
10. Between You And Me
Tracks 1 to 10 are the album "Woman To Woman" by Shirley Brown - released October 1974 in the USA on Truth Records TRS-4206 (a Stax subsidiary label) and August 1975 in the UK on Stax Records STX 1031 (reissued on Stax STX 3005 in May 1978)
Track 11 is "Yes Sir Brother" - the non-album B-side to the 7" single of "Woman To Woman" on Truth TRA-3206 (August 1974) and Stax STXS 2019 in the UK (January 1975)
Tracks 12, 13 and 14 are "Ain't No Way", "Respect" and "Rock Steady" - all Previously Unreleased in the USA
Track 15 is a cover version of the Stevie Wonder classic "Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I'm Yours)" which is Previously Unreleased
The 12-page booklet has new liner notes by GAIL MITCHELL of Billboard Magazine (pages 4, 5 and 6) and then repeats the liner notes of LEE HILDEBRAND from the 2008 UK CD reissue immediately after (Pages 6 to 9). Like all the other releases in this series, you get the original artwork on the front & rear of the booklet (repeated beneath the see-through tray and on the CD itself). There are no pictures, which make it a little lacklustre in presentation - but the really big news is the SOUND...
I've reviewed the other titles in this new "Stax Remasters" series (see list below) and duly raved about the fabulous sound quality on all - especially after years of lacklustre reissues in jewel cases and repro digipaks. Well this is the same. 24-bit remastered from the first generation tapes at JOE TARANTINO Mastering in Berkeley, California - the audio quality is FANTASTIC. Those who've owned the "Complete Stax/Volt Soul Singles 1968-1971" Box Set (Volume 2 of 3) from 1993 - which has some of these tracks on it - will not know themselves when they hear what's been sonically achieved in 2011. And of course the new fidelity makes you reassess every song...
While the album is dominated (and overshadowed by) the 'your man done me wrong' tune "Woman To Woman" - there's hidden goodies on here well worth investigating. First up is the wonderful opener "It Ain't No Fun" - the first of two gems penned by fellow Stax label mate Frederick Knight (the other being "I Can't Give You Up"). The slow and soulful "It Ain't No Fun" (lyrics above) reached No. 32 on the R&B charts in May 1975 on Truth TRA-3223. It was actually the B-side of "I've Got To Go On Without You" - a far better song - but DJs preferred "It Ain't No Fun" probably because of its 'talking' end portion which aped the Number 1 hit "Woman To Woman". Both tracks are superb and "It Ain't No Fun" in particular features a powerhouse vocal from Shirley - a lot more hurting and sincere than the slightly cheesy "Woman To Woman". Knight also had a hand in writing the slinky "Between You And Me" which is done Aretha style - like a more mellow "Rock Steady". But the record belongs to the monster confessional Southern Soul of "Woman To Woman" where we get the lay of the land in the spoken intro "...Barbara, this is Shirley. You might not know who I am, but the reason I am calling you is because I was going through my man's pockets this morning, and I just happened to find your name and number..." And the sound quality on it is stunning. Great stuff.
The bonus 'previously unreleased in the USA' tracks (12, 13 and 14) turn out to be a sort of audition session found in a long lost tape box. Using the Stax house band on 3 songs more closely associated with Aretha Franklin, Shirley and her guys attack the tunes with gusto. Best among them is a frantically funky version of "Rock Steady" that is part JB's part The Meters part AWB - it's just brilliant and stretches out to an impressive five and a half minutes.
To sum up - the album contains several lost gems and the funky bonuses are a nice counter to the largely smoochy feel of the LP. This is a superlative value-for-money reissue highlighting unfairly forgotten Seventies Soul - and all of it topped-off with sound quality that trumps everything that's gone before.Recommended...
PS: titles in the "STAX REMASTERS" series are (all reviewed):
1. Green Onions - BOOKER T. & THE M.G.'s (1962)
2. McLemore Avenue - BOOKER T. & THE M.G.'s (1970)
3. Woman To Woman - SHIRLEY BROWN (1974)
4. Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get - THE DRAMATICS (1972)
5. Born Under A Bad Sign - ALBERT KING (1967)
6. I'll Play The Blues For You - ALBERT KING (1971)
7. Be Altitude: Respect Yourself - THE STAPLE SINGERS (1972)
8. Taylored In Silk - JOHNNIE TAYLOR (1973)
9. Do The Funky Chicken - RUFUS THOMAS (1969)
on 27 January 2002
Whilst undoubtedly one of the finest female vocalists of seventies soul, the intial thing that hits you about this album is it's straight ahead confessional style. Over 25 years before Jill Scott, Brown was offering woman outside in order to retain possession on a cheating man.
This album's soul credentials are in full bloom, not least because half the MGs play on it. Every track is a deep soul standard bearer. When Shirley sings 'Stay with me (baby)', it is the definitive version.