Monday, January 23, 2006

It's Harder Now

Soul Survivors

Lou Rawls - "Lifetime Monologue" (mp3)
(purchase here)

Wilson Pickett - "Don't Let the Green Grass Fool You" (mp3)
(purchase here)

Jerry Butler - "Soul Survivor" (mp3)
(purchase here)

Funny how folks drop by and say hello. For me, one drifted through a sample, the other through a strip routine. Then, just as quickly, it was time for them to go.

I suppose for many the recent passings of Lou Rawls and Wilson Pickett were, at most, a momentary disturbance. Neither was discussed as being a cultural icon in the Top Ten sense, yet both were accepted as being "one of the best..."

The trouble is that music journalism often hinges on such list-making, so eulogizing becomes a 'make-up' opportunity. The result then comes off as awkward overcompensation. While the above Times and Post pieces offer lucid reminders of why Rawls and Pickett were indeed so wonderful and talented, the highlights reel approach feels numb, even of sentimentality.

I won't offer much in the way of dates and dates played, because I honestly don't know a great deal about their personal lives. However, a couple thoughts and memories:

A friend once summed up Lou Rawls' voice for me: syrupy. When I first heard that description, it made me laugh as I realized that there was such a thing as being too velvety for me. However, in certain instances, Rawls came through in a pinch. While his voice's low, rich tone probably stoked more than a handful of fires, I instead felt comforted by its paternal presence. "Lifetime Monologue" pretty much sums up the regular-guy charm he held for me, a solid speech of encouragement for anyone who has not had the time to ask, "Why?"

A counterpoint was my first response to Pickett's voice. That piercing axe slamming down "1 - 2 - 3!!!" in the intro of "Land of a 1000 Dances" was pure nut-buster. In a landscape defined by the James Brown shriek, Pickett was something completely different: a revelation, an embodiment of Soul. Subsequently, I delighted in his lurid and randy persona, a mixture of impatient urgency and sharp wit that screamed wicked. Then along came Philadelphia. Recorded under the supervision of Gamble and Huff, the album reeled in the wild horse and tamed his tone with clean, crisp production. And it was mind-blowingly great. While the "Engine No. 9" break got me open, it was the down-home sensibility that provided the constant. "Green Grass"' title alone may come off trite, but Pickett rides that chorus like he's learning a new lesson each time he sings it.

Both men often sang and spoke of how life is hard to earn. Yet both also made the effort seem surmountable, worthwhile and simply human. So, as a thank you, here's another one from one of their peers. Snowmen, please take note.


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