Johnny Nash: Hold Me Tight (LP) 1968

Johnny Nash
Hold Me Tight
JAD 1207
Rating:**** (Recommended)

Nash is mostly known for bringing reggae to the mainland with his 1972 #1 hit “I Can See Clearly Now,” but his career went back to the 50s, and this 1968 offering played a part in bringing reggae to the States years before his #1 hit.  The title track was a tranatlantic #5 on the pop charts (#21 on the U.S. R&B charts).  Of course, Nash was from Texas and reggae wasn’t a category known by most Americans at this time or even when they listened to his 1972 hit, and most simply saw his records as soul.  But this set as much as any of his clearly came from Jamaica’s music traditions.  In fact, it was recorded on the island after he’d toured there.


While the Jamaica sound runs through the entire set, the songs come from a variety of sources, Sam Cooke (“Cupid”), the Rascals (“Groovin'”), Peter Tosh (“Love” and “You Got to Change Your Ways”), Jimmy Norman (“Don’t Cry”), and others–including Nash himself.  This album isn’t great but it’s enjoyable and has several highlights.

— winch

(author of Kalamazoo: Growing Up Sideways in the 1970s)


The Wailers: Out of Our Tree (LP) 1966

The Wailers
Out of Our Tree
Etiquette 026
Rating:***** (Good Shit)

Sixth album by this Tacoma outfit, their last for Etiquette, the band sporting their influences on their sleeves but delivering in their own raw style, laying down the foundation for punk rock, ripping through Memphis and Motown, Little Richard and the Beatles, slowing it down without any trouble, offering versions of “Summertime” and “Unchained Melody,” and really shining on a handful of originals.


The first side is solid, but the flipside is nothing short of killer.  While Little Richard, the Animals, the Who, and the Stones appear to be influences, the Wailers’ own take on R&B had to have a huge influence on bands such as MC5.  Classic NW garage rock.

— winch

(author of Kalamazoo: Growing Up Sideways in the 1970s)

Stevie Wonder: Hotter Than July (LP) 1980

Stevie Wonder
Hotter Than July
Producer: Stevie Wonder
Rating: **** (Recommended)
Released October 1980, reached #3 (#2 in UK)
This set doesn’t match the albums from his classic 1970s era, but it’s certainly stronger than most of the sets that followed this album.  While a few cuts don’t stand up to the high standard he had created, many of the cuts are classic Stevie.
If you’re starting with this set, work your way back from here.  While the sleeve points out that Motown was celebrating 20 years as a label in 1980, it doesn’t mention that Wonder had released about 20 albums in that time.
— winch
(author of Kalamazoo: Growing Up Sideways in the 1970s)

Heatwave: Central Heating (LP) 1978

Central Heating
Epic 35260(GTO in the UK)
Producer: Barry Blue
Rating: **** (Recommended)
This international outfit keeps it rolling with this second set, again using producer Barry Blue and following the format established with the debut, opening with three funky cuts, slowing down for a soul number to close the side.  The flipside also mirrors the debut, features three soul cuts and two dance cuts.  And it’s not just the format that mirrors the debut, the quality of the material matches the debut as well.  While this didn’t have “Boogie Nights,” it did have “The Groove Line.”
Of course, although the similarities are clear, this second set wasn’t a copycat.  While Temperton wrote all the songs for the debut, on this set lead vocalist/founding member Johnnie Wilder contributes “Happiness Togetherness” and “Mind Blowing Decisions” which are actually stronger than Temperton’s soul numbers.  (Plus this sleeve has the photo with the band members sporting those cool sweaters.)

While the first album was a promising start, this second set kept the promise.  (Unfortunately, the band would soon splinter, and this would be their final essential outing.)
— winch
(author of Kalamazoo: Growing Up Sideways in the 1970s)

Heatwave: Too Hot to Handle (LP) 1977

Too Hot to Handle
Epic 34761
(GTO in the UK)
Producer: Barry Blue
Rating: **** (Recommended)
American brothers Johnnie and Keith Wilder were stationed in Europe, joined forces with Rod Temperton and formed this outfit, the brothers providing the vocals, Temperton providing the songs, adding Mario Mantese from Spain and Ernest Berger from Czechoslavakia to handle the rhythm section, American Eric Johns to help carve out the groove, hooking up with producer Barry Blue for their early works, including this debut set.  
While this is mostly known for its disco anthem “Boogie Nights,” the band dedicates nearly half of the set to smooth urban soul, some cuts fitting into the quiet storm category.  Side one features funky dance cuts but closes with a soft soul number, and side two features three soul cuts sandwiched between two dance numbers.  
While the slightly extended version of the hit single is worth the price of admission, this long-player was more than just a home for the hit, and this fact helped make this set outlast the disco craze.  The lasting quality of the album was likely assisted by the fact that Rod Temperton would go on to write cuts for Rufus, Brothers Johnson, Herbie Hancock, Quincy Jones, and Michael Jackson, including “Off the Wall” and “Thriller.”  On the other hand, he might not have gotten to Quincy Jones without the Wilder Brothers helping deliver the message on this set.  This is the place to begin with this band.
— winch
(author of Kalamazoo: Growing Up Sideways in the 1970s)

Bobbie Gentry: Fancy (1970) LP

Bobbie Gentry
Capitol (ST-428)
Producer: Rick Hall
Rating: **** (Recommended)
The title track starts off sounding a bit too much like a sequel to “Ode to Billy Joe,” but soon the song takes on a life all its own and becomes another classic short story by Gentry.  A reading of Bacharach-David’s “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” comes second on the bill, and while Warwick got the big hit from this song, Gentry’s version is the one to end all, and its melancholy fits perfectly after the title track.  The third cut also fits in the progression with our protaginast going back to the South for her “Delta Man.”  The themes also mirror the story of Gentry and the recording of this album.  In 1969, Gentry not only married Mr. Harrah, she also left him.  Then came this record, her first produced by Rick Hall at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.  With the first song, we have the character leaving the Delta, but by the third she’s back where she belongs.

While that opening was hard to follow, Gentry has no problem keeping it interesting and enjoyable.  We certainly didn’t need another version of “Raindrops…” or “Wedding Bell Blues,” but the other hand-me-downs are top-notch, Gentry easily alternating between folk-rock and soul, switching the point of view with Leon Russell’s “Delta Lady” and James Taylor’s “Something in the Way She Moves,” breathing life into Nillson’s “Rainmaker” and returning Rudy Clark’s “If You Gotta Make a Fool of Somebody” back to the States, offering more than respectable versions of Bettye LaVette’s “He Made a Woman Out of Me” and George Jackson’s “Find ‘Em, Fool ‘Em and Forget ‘Em” (co-written with Rick Hall). Some cuts work better than others, but most work like good-luck charms.  


While some have argued that these songs didn’t really fit Gentry, I’m not sure how they came to that conclusion.  She takes the material and tailors it to fit like a satin dress on a beautifully built lady, one like Bobbie Gentry.  If you don’t like this album, you might as well give it up, take a slow walk on a trestle bridge, chuck yourself over the side when the train comes, jump off or get on board.  Gentry was an American original, captured this country as well as anyone.  Some complain that she shouldn’t have dropped out of the music scene, or should have came back, but I don’t know why anybody would try to tell Gentry what to do.  She obviously knew what she was doing; otherwise she wouldn’t have made albums like this.

— winch

(author of Kalamazoo: Growing Up Sideways in the 1970s)


The Best of Mississippi John Hurt (LP)

Mississippi John Hurt
The Best of Mississippi Hurt
Vanguard (VSD 19/20)
Producer: Bob Scherl
Rating: ***** (Good Shit)
Recorded April 15, 1965, released 1970
For some reason, Vanguard was famous for these albums with misleading titles.  This one is actually a four-sider capturing Hurt in concert at Oberlin College.
On the other hand, the title is not really inaccurate as this set is thoroughly enjoyable, Hurt alone with his acoustic guitar, sounding like he’s singing off the back porch of his Mississippi home, likely the place these were typically performed.

While Hurt only had a few years of recording, he sure didn’t waste any time.
— winch
(author of Kalamazoo: Growing Up Sideways in the 1970s)