Charles Brimmer – 1976 – Soulman
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Although a lot of other LPs on the Chelsea label had more of a pop soul feel, this album (and the other one) by Charles Brimmer is an excellent batch of modern Southern Soul recorded in New Orleans with Senator Jones at the production helm. Brimmer’s in top form, and he lays down a great batch of tracks written by himself, Allen Toussaint and Willie Mitchell.
A1 I Love Her 3:52
A2 Dedicating My Life To You 7:07
A3 With You In Mind 4:09
A4 My Sweet Thing 3:20
A5 That’s How Strong My Love Is 4:01
B1 I Want To Be Your Bread Winner 4:49
B2 Play Something Sweet 3:48
B3 Don’t Break My Heart 4:03
B4 Your Man’s Gonna Be In Trouble 3:38
By Dan Phillips
The LP was the second and last of his career, the follow-up to Expressions of Soul, which had sold well due to the inclusion of his 1975 deep soul hit single, “God Bess Our Love”; but, by the time Soulman came out, the buzz created by that hit had faded, and subsequent singles on Chelsea resulted only in diminishing sales. Not having a new hit to lift it, the second album, though well-done, could not overcome the downward trajectory. Although I stated last time that Soulman is generally agreed to be the better LP, after repeated listening, I have to say that both have their attractions. Soulman noses ahead for me due to more and better upbeat material, improved arrangements and playing, and Brimmer’s voice, which seems much more seasoned and expressive, gritter where needed, with a fluid range. Perhaps this had something to do with the intense touring he did as a result of the earlier hit, with all that singing giving his tenor more character and improving his control.
One of two Toussaint compositions on the album, “Play Something Sweet” was covered by a number of national artists of the era, including Maria Muldaur, B. J.Thomas, Frankie Miller (a Toussaint production), and Three Dog Night, who had a big hit with it in 1974. I believe that Brimmer’s version was unique in one sense, at least. He was the only local artist to record the song back then. Toussaint didn’t even put it on any of his own solo albums. For some reason, though, Brimmer’s team changed the lyrics of the chorus slightly to say “play me some old time blues”, rather than Toussaint’s intended and more poetically effective “brickyard blues”; but, still, this take, arranged by Raymond Jones, while not groundbreaking, was a strong and solid mover. Anything less would have been unthinkable, since the LP, like its predecessor, was recorded at Sea-Saint Studio, Toussaint’s home turf.
On the album’s other Toussaint-penned offering, the soul-stirring “With You In Mind”, Brimmer gave it an effective and more nuanced performance, befitting the varied dynamics of the tune. Ray Jones was a capable arranger, but certainly no Toussaint. So, one naturally wonders what wonders might have befallen this project had the master himself handled the sessions. That thought may have occurred to Brimmer, too, since he told Jeff Hannusch that he was never satisfied with the production quality of his Chelsea releases, feeling Senator Jones cut too many corners.
Another thing Charles Brimmer has brought to our attention in his comments is that the composer of this song as well as one of the LP’s big ballads, “I Love Her”, was THE Willie Mitchell – Memphis music master. As the singer states, “He personally gave it [“I Love Her”] to me at his studio in Memphis. He told Senator to go back to New Orleans and duplicate it. Of course, he could not do it.” I’ll admit that before hearing from him I had my doubts about the authorship of both these tunes credited to the great Poppa Willie.
Of the other two upbeat tunes on Soulman, “Don’t Break My Heart” by Brimmer had the soulful infectious bounce of “Just Another Morning”, while “Your Man’s Gonna Be In Trouble”, written by Tony Owens, a musical take-off on the Bill Withers hit, “Use Me”, groove and all, was as well-rendered as it was derivative.
Chelsea dropped Brimmer soon after, if not right before, Soulman came out. Either way, the record didn’t have a chance in the marketplace and likely had a limited pressing. That mine is a stock copy rather than a promo indicates that at least a few saw daylight before the curtain fell. After his deal unwound, Brimmer, tired of Senator Jones’ double dealing ways, severed ties and moved to Los Angeles to try to make it in the big time. He did not have much luck gigging out there, nor could he secure a record deal in that intensely competitive scene. One example of his work on the Left Coast can currently be heard via YouTube, an unissued cover of “Show and Tell”definitely directed toward the commercial mainstream. Not that it got him anywhere.