Carla Thomas – 1969 – Memphis Queen
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Rip and research by Mr.Moo Review by Soulmakossa
Posting and adittional info’s by Nikos
Here’s a record that really takes its title seriously – as Memphis Queen features Carla Thomas working in a proud, bold mode that really inherits the crown of the scene she helped usher in during the 60s! The record’s got a deeper soul feel than previous work, yet still also uses some full orchestrations – making for a classed-up approach to southern soul that’s perfect for the growing vocal range of Carla’s talents – a style that really reached its pinnacle on this classic set. Don Davis produced, with that wonderful mix of smooth and rough he was using at the time.
Half recorded in Memphis with the usual stellar Stax crew and half recorded in New York with local session musicians (all overdubbed in Detroit), Memphis Queen finds Thomas and the Stax label in transition. Motown alumnus Don Davis handled production, draping many cuts in large, lush orchestral settings. “I Like What You’re Doing (To Me)” was a Top Ten R&B hit, and three other tracks had brief chart runs.
A1 I Like What You’re Doing To Me 2.58
A2 I Play For Keeps 2.45
A3 Don’t Say No More 2.20
A4 More Man Than I Ever Had 2.46
A5 I’ve Fallen In Love With You 2.44
A6 He’s Beating Your Time 3.01
B1 Unyielding 2.47
B2 Strung Out 2.37
B3 How Can You Throw My Love Away 2.33
B4 Guide Me Well 4.16
B5 Precious Memories 2.40
B6 Where Do I Go 2.21
Reviewing Carla Thomas’ penultimate album ‘Memphis Queen’ is something of a fix… Detroit guitarist/producer Don Davis had pretty much taken over come 1969 and added a – in my opinion usually tasty – chunk of Detroit/Chicago-styled gloss to the Southern Soul coming from Stax in Memphis.
Carla Thomas, for one, didn’t like the new working method. It’s unclear whether she disliked the aformentioned gloss, what IS known is that she resented having to overdub her vocals to ready-made musical backing tracks, usually recorded in Detroit or Muscle Shoals. She was used to singing and improvising with Booker T. & the M.G.’s, live, in the studio. According to Rob Bowman’s essential tome on Stax, Carla in fact dubbed Don Davis’ new approach as something decidedly ‘NOT Stax’.
This record here, however, isn’t terrible at all. It does miss the ‘open mic’, raw energy of her previous records, but in return, it offers twelve richly orchestrated, beautifully executed soul gems that retain the essence of Southern Soul.
Don Davis added quite a bit of mean, funky guitar licks of his own on this LP, most notably on the opener – and hit – “I Like What You’re Doing to Me”, where Carla shares the chorus with Stax writer Homer Banks. (“THAT”… she later testified, “is what made it soulful… Homer.”)
But there’s plenty of sweat inducing funk here: the incredible, tight jamming “More Man Than I Ever Had” mightily struts along and features a superbly infectious horn riff. “Unyielding” is menacing, dangerous… a dark, lurching groove fest smothered in wah wah guitars and dense layers of bass. Also, “Where Do I Go“, from the ‘Hair‘ musical, adds plenty of funky rock to the mix.
Nonetheless, it’s the ballads that take centre stage. Carla’s self-written “I’ve Fallen in Love With You” is gorgeous, beautifully sung and tastefully arranged with swirling strings. “Strung Out” is equally heavy on the violins, and features Carla in her most pleading bag. The swooping, swelling strings of “Precious Memories“, a delightful mid tempo jam, are pure ear candy as well.
It would be the very bluesy, downhome and super gritty “Guide Me Well“, however, that gave Thomas another hit single.
‘Memphis Queen’ is a great album; divinely orchestrated and still deeply rooted in the Memphis sound. Perhaps a little too glossy for some, and certainly nowhere near as gutsy and raw as her previous albums, it surely does belong in this list.