Tag Archives: James Hunter

For The Only Joy In Life Is To Be Loved

People rave about how good the Temptations were. They wax poetically on how great their sound was & how they innovated that ’60’s Motown sound. The truth, however, is that The Four Tops while not as widely recognized are in fact just as good if not better than the Temptations. This, though, is not a comparison piece, it is merely a testament to the effect of the Four Tops in the evolution of soul music.

The Four Tops lead singer Levi Stubbs had the voice of a gravely angel as he raspily sang songs such as: “Standing in the Shadows of Love”, “Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch” & my favorite “Bernadette”. The problem the Four Tops face is that their music doesn’t necessarily translate to today’s society as their most popular song the aforementioned “Sugar Pie, Honey bunch” is filled with slang & colloquialisms of that time. This does not take away from the affection of the song, just makes it less palatable to this generation.

Soul music today, has been bastardized to the point of nearly no return. It has formed a partnership with Rap/Hip-Hop which is fine in that music must constantly evolveĀ  but in some instances, this being one of them, a genre can lose it’s value to the point that it’s completely worthless. This is the case with modern Soul/R&B with a few exceptions, John Legend, Amos Lee, James Hunter & perhaps Jill Scott being those exceptions. They are far & few between, though. The Four Tops exemplified that harmonious street corner sound of 60’s soul.

Where Sam Cooke took gospel to new heights, the Four Tops took that soul sound & created a genre that the Temptations followed. it was the Four Tops, though, that from their inception in 1953 to their end in 1997 that not once had a personnel change. It was the sound of the Four Tops that created Motown. The Four Tops begot the Temptations & the Supremes who begot Marvin Gaye & Tammy Terrel. It was from this quartet that Soul escaped the Blues/Jazz/Gospel sound of the ’50’s & for better or worse became a marketable entity for white America in the ’60’s.

The ’50’s sound of gospel was very close to Blues & the Negro spiritual anthems that were the forebearers to R&B/Soul that Berry Gordy, in collaboration with The Four Tops among others, perfected. My contentionĀ  is merely that the Four Tops are simply not given the credit for which they so rightly deserve. The emotion that Stubbs sings with in the beautiful “Bernadette” about his longing for the girl that he adores & how he fears losing her to the “other men”, is palpable.

The Temptations are certainly more polished than the Four Tops. They go down easier. The Temptations are great in their own right, don’t get me wrong, but they are simply not as good as the Four Tops. Whereas the Four Tops are coffee black, the Temptations are 2 creams & a little sugar (nothing to do with race, sycophants).

The difference is & we’ll use the example of “Bernadette” once again, is the crescendo in the music as Stubbs goes right along with it. The music hits it’s peak just as Stubbs hits his, it’s brilliance is all consuming as you can sense the feelings in his voice getting more desperate as the song goes along. He pleads with “Bernadette” to “tell the world” of their love. Begging her to not leave him for the “other men” by expressing all the feelings of adoration he feels for her. All he wants is her to keep on loving him & then the best part when you think the song is going to end & Stubbs screams out her name without any accompaniment as one last plea for her to feel the pain he would feel if he were to lose her again to the “other men”.

It is music like this that should be recognized as the epoch of R&B brilliance, but instead they are a footnote to the easily digestible Temptations. It is my goal as a lover of the purity of all forms of music that they should be as widely recognized as the Temptations or the Supremes or even Marvin Gaye. The Four Tops live in the hearts & minds of those that have experienced their enduring legacy & learned from their example of stability & brilliance.



Don’t Walk Away Renee

It’s the Same Old Song


2008 Top Ten Albums

2008 was not the best year for new music. I wouldn’t call it a total wash, but it was just average in comparison to even 2007. There were a few that were amazing & a couple were just out on the periphery. Loudon Wainwright III’s album, “Recovery” was good, but a little too weird to fully get into. Lil’ Wayne’s album had fantastic beats & catchy hooks, but the lyrics are average at best, so, to me, it didn’t have the tonal quality that I think a great album must adhere to. All that being said here are my top ten albums of 2008:

10Conor OberstConor Oberst – Generally I have issues with people naming albums after themselves & I am not a fan of Bright Eyes (Obersts’ previous/current band). His voice grates on me like nails on a chalkboard, but something about this album resonated with me & I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge it as one of the best albums of the year.

Mp3 – Conor OberstSausilito

9Blue MountainOmnibus – True, this album was just a redoing of former songs, but they are redone with such vigor and heartfelt emotion that they come across as more poignant now than they ever did before. The alt-country scene is alive and flourishing with bands like Blue Mountain part of that revival.

Mp3 – Blue MountainMountain Girl

8Counting CrowsSaturday Nights and Sunday MorningsAdam Duritz is one of my favorite rock personalities, being that he always has something to say & usually it’s relevant. This, Counting Crows’ first album in five years, isn’t their best but it’s still pretty damn good. The first half of the album is rock oriented like a party on Saturday Night while the second half is mellow and reflective like an easy Sunday Morning.

Mp3 – Counting CrowsCowboys (Live on WXPN)

1492 (Live on WXPN)

7 Mason JenningsIn The Ever – Mason Jennings is Lou Reed if Lou Reed sang folk music. This album was absolutely amazing. I loved it and played it over and over again. Simple melodies with great lyrics make this album something that I’ll enjoy for many years to come. Like I pretty much do with everything Jennings puts out there. My favorite song on the record is Memphis, Tennessee. It personifies everything about that style of music that I love.

Mp3 – Mason JenningsMemphis, Tennessee

6James Hunter“>The Hard Way – It’s odd to see James Hunter and then hear the voice that comes out of this little British man. Reminiscent of old R & B artists such as: James Brown & Wilson Pickett, Hunter is a pleasant change in a world of music that is becoming increasingly similar in all facets. The Hard Way is an album with the main theme being love. With twinges of ska thrown in this may be the funnest album of 2008.

Mp3 – James HunterThe Hard Way

5Jackie GreeneGiving Up the Ghost– Jackie Greene has no one genre you could pigeon hole him into. he is parts country, alternative & blues. Giving Up The Ghost may be his best album yet. With bluesy riffs & mellow hooks this album should’ve achieved more recognition and success than it has, but rest assured if he keeps putting music out like this then it won’t be long until Jackie Greene is on the same level as Pete Yorn and Ryan Adams.

Mp3 – Jackie GreeneShaken

4Okkervil RiverThe Stand Ins – With 2 singers trading vocals back and forth with one sounding like Dave Gahan & the other sounding like Robert Smith Okkervil River has been blowing away the music scene under the radar for quite a few years now, but with the Stand Ins they’re finally getting the recognition they deserve. It’s an absolutely brilliant companion piece to 2007’s The Stage Names which it was intended to be a double album with.

Mp3 – Okkervil RiverSinger Songwriter

Lost Coastlines

3Kathleen Edwards Asking For Flowers – If you don’t know who Kathleen Edwards is & it’s very possible you don’t, then you’re missing out on one of the best female voices around today. Not only is she beautiful but lyrically, melodically & musically she is superb. Asking for Flowers followed the tradition of her previous albums Back to Me & Failer by keeping basic finger picking guitar melodies with complex heartfelt lyrics. As evidenced in the song Scared at Night. The pain and passion that comes across in Kathleen Edwards’ voice is enough to bring a grown man to the verge of tears. Not this grown man, but a grown man.

Mp3 – Kathleen EdwardsScared at Night

2Ryan Adams & The CardinalsCardinology – It’s no secret that I think just about everything Ryan Adams touches is gold, but I was particularly struck with how good this album was. It took me a long time to really get into Easy Tiger, but with Cardinology I really felt it from the beginning. Ryan is easily the best lyricist of this generation. I don’t think it’s a stretch to put him on par with Bruce Springsteen if not Bob Dylan. It has the band still entrenched in that steel guitar sound the Cardinals are famous for without compromising that rock sound that Adams loves.

Mp3 – Ryan Adams & The CardinalsEvergreen

Sink Ships

1Jakob DylanSeeing Things – This is about as stripped down bare as an album can get. I saw the Wallflowers twice once at the Palace in Hollywood and once in Petaluma & the main cog that held that band together was the brilliant writing and voice of Jakob Dylan. Not merely a famous son he is in his own rite a talented musician with one of the best albums I have heard in a long time. That is not mere hyperbolic conjecture on my part, this is a beautifully composed album combining elements of folk, blues and country which is the reason it is my favorite album of 2008.

Mp3 – Jakob DylanWill it Grow

All Day & All of the Night