James Govan – Wanted: The Fame Recordings
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A ‘jump for joy’ release for Southern Soul buffs!
James Govan, the Mississippi-born, Memphis-bred soul singer, only released three singles in the 1970s and one latter-day album in the early 80s. Among connaisseurs, his rare 45s for FAME have long been regarded as some of the finest in the Southern Soul genre. What a delight, then, to know that the FAME vaults contained an album’s worth of grade A material that somehow was never deemed worthy of release before.
James Govan sounds eerily like Otis Redding, but he’s no mere sound-alike. His style is totally his own, and when wrapped around the smoky, earthy rhythms of the Muscle Shoals house band, it’s all pure gold.
First off, there are his two FAME releases.
“Wanted: Lover (No Experience Necessary)” should have been a huge hit. Govan’s roaring vocal oozes romantic despair. Musically, the horns are there, David Hood’s popping bass line is insanely catchy and Roger Hawkins cooks up a stellar groove. Also features a tastefully arranged string chart. The flip is a greasy rendition of the Hank Williams hit “Jambalaya”, somehow titled “Jambolyia” on its release.
The second – and final – FAME single consisted of a soulful remake of the deathless Beatles’ classic “Something” and one of those delicious Muscle Shoals concoctions courtesy of George Jackson – the song smith who wrote a plethora of soul classics, and whose name pops up on this compilation many more times – and Mickey Buckins. “You Get a Lot to Like” rides a frantic, fatback beat, with Govan’s passionate wails augmented by a meaty guitar hook and more glorious horns.
Then the previously unreleased material. Whereas Govan’s spin on the Bob Dylan song “I Shall Be Released” is the closest thing to filler here, his haunting take on Bobbie’s “Just Like a Woman” is a deep soul nugget. Where other cover versions are concerned, James makes Solomon Burke’s “Take Me Just As I Am” his own.
The Otis Redding-comparison probably shines through most vividly on a barn burning take on the late King of Soul’s “You Left the Water Running”
George Jackson provides most of the heavy duty umptempo soul stuff here, with the hunk of funk work-out “Oh Baby What You’re Doing to Me” as a primer. The groove is preposterous here with Hood and Hawkins tightly interlocking, providing Govan with a hand-clappin’, foot-stompin’ rhythm to belt over. “Your Love Lifted Me” is in the same vein, with more of David’s thumping bass lines. Also features the rollicking keyboard notes of Barry Beckett. “I Bit Off More Than I Can Chew” is more laid back, a mid-tempo, lazily strutting gem. But it’s back to uptempo funk with the floorshaker “Stuck On Her“. These are the 4 treasures of this disc: Muscle Shoals soul power in full force, headlined by an obscure, but highly emotional and skillful vocalist.
But the slow stuff is ace as well. Govan’s rendition of “Bye Bye Blackbird” ranks as the absolute definitive version to my ears. And where deep soul is concerned, check out the devastating ballad “I’ve Gone Too Far” (co-written by FAME head man Rick Hall). Credits are lacking for the colmposer of “Way Over Yonder“, but it’s another smashing slab of slow burning testifyin’, suited perfectly for Govan’s churchy approach. Also: check that vibrato in his voice.
Finally, the most unorthodox track… a country/rock/soul/funk reworking of Arthur Crudup’s “That’s Alright Mama“. Govan was just as much at ease with guitar-heavy stuff, as is plainly evident from this sweat soaked take.
A must for soul fans, and a great way to pay tribute to one of Southern Soul’s most underrated artists.