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This review is from: Nineteen Sixty Six (Audio CD)
This is an intriguing album and one which might have provided a late fillip to Willie John's career if it had been released at the time. It was recorded in 1966 while the courts were considering an appeal to John's conviction for manslaughter after a knifing incident. At the time his career had effectively finished. The series of hits in both the US R&B and National charts, which started in 1955 were virtually over by 1962 though his label, Federal, did keep trying up to `63. I should add that the appeal was turned down. John returned to prison where he died from pneumonia or a heart attack, depending on who you believe, in 1968.
When the tracks for the album were laid down, John evidently still commanded considerable respect in the recording world since he was assigned David Axelrod as producer plus the absolute cream of the LA session world as instrumental support. Much of the album is in the heavily orchestrated style with some jazzy touches that we also hear in the later Duke recordings of Bobby Bland or in some of the later Ray Charles (when he stuck more to a blues agenda that is). John is so well on form vocally that many of these tracks could be seen as the epitome of his syle of soul - impassioned blues with loads of orchestral colouration.
Because there were relatively few tracks recorded Ace have added a goodly number of alternate takes plus at least one number, "Endless Sleep" which one understands was not intended for release. In some respects that number is one of the most interesting present. Originally a slow, doom filled track from white rocker, Jody Reynolds with almost a David Lynch sound on guitar, and with Reynolds fated to be virtually the epitome of the one hit wonder. The Willie John version ups the tempo with a near latin feel not unlike his famous "Fever" and the performance of the song is almost unrecognisable compared with the original.
Another one I have to mention is again, an unlikely presence here, and that is "You are my Sunshine". What is it about this song that both attracts covers and inspires great versions? I know I've said it before but I've rarely heard a bad one. Up-tempo as one might expect with the band obviously enjoying the chance to add some funk to the proceedings. Apart from this one plus a couple of others like "Country girl" and "Early in the Morning" the mood is generally slow and contemplative but with the occasional melodramatic touches like those on "In the Dark".
A great recording though one, perhaps, with no absolute standout track. One certainly wonders what might have happened if it had been released at the time of recording.