When I left Seattle, I vowed to dial back my ravenous music consumption. Not that I was listening to too much bad music (zip it, Aaron!), just that there's only so much time in a day, and I was spreading my iPod a little too thin to properly appreciate a great record when I found one. So now here I am in Köln, and still I'm taking in music faster than the Titanic took on water. Mind you, I'm not buying CDs, but I am making very good use of my eMusic subscription, and buying more than the occasional song from iTunes, Beatport, etc. Anyway, before I get too far off-topic,what I'm getting at is that, in the hunt for new music, I find it all too easy to overlook gems already in my collection.
A recent, very long-winded example: Well more than a year ago I fell hard for Betty Harris's rendition of Solomon Burke's “Cry To Me,” which I'm not ashamed to say I discovered on a Time-Life CD. That song I hope to discuss more in a later post, but for now suffice it to say that it compelled me to track down a compilation of her finer 1960s recordings. Though the sound quality left plenty to be desired, Lost Soul Queen had plenty of very good songs. But, tut mir leid, nothing that compared to “Cry To Me.”
So anyway, I'm listening to Christina Aguilera's last album and there's this track “Understand” that opens with a gloriously disarming soul sample, with the kind of dusty, melancholy hook you'd expect to hear backing the Wu-Tang Clan. Immediately, I must have the song from which this plodding but emphatic “I... May do things... You don't understand” plaint is drawn. It's a couple days before I get the chance to connect to the internet and Google up the song title and performer. But I guess I've already kind of undermined the suspense, haven't I? The song is “Nearer To You,” by none other than Betty Harris. It's the fourth track on the collection I already had. (It's also on the Soul Perfection Plus set, which I'm inclined to think is the better disc, though perhaps a little tougher to find.)
Betty Harris – Nearer To You (1967)
Produced and written by New Orleans' Allen Toussaint for Sansu Records, it's no wonder I'm head-over-heels. Toussaint's the dude who helmed some of the best songs Irma Thomas ever sung. His piano playing from this period is nice and bluesy, but perfectly understated. And of course, Harris' voice is just plain raw and, much like ODB, that tends to be how I like it. No mystery how Aguilera's producer settled on the song's sweet spot - it practically grabs you by the collar and shakes you.
According to my iTunes stats, I'd already listened to the song a number of times, but somehow it failed to make a lasting impression on me. Strange now that I can't stop wanting to hear it. Do I have Xtina to thank? Or do I just need to slow down and more carefully listen to the music I already have?
And hey, since I mentioned the Wu, here are a couple of terrific Stax Records cuts that should ring some serious bells for any fan of Enter the 36 Chambers.
Wendy Rene – After the Laughter (Comes Tears) (1964)
The Charmels – As Long As I've Got You (1967)
If these three songs don't keep you warm on a lonely autumn night, I worry nothing ever will.
More Information on Betty Harris.