Otis Redding’s third album, and his first fully realized album, presents his talent unfettered, his direction clear, and his confidence emboldened, with fully half the songs representing a reach that extended his musical grasp. More than a quarter of this album is given over to Redding’s versions of songs by Sam Cooke, his idol, who had died the previous December, and all three are worth owning and hearing. Two of them, “A Change Is Gonna Come” and “Shake,” are every bit as essential as any soul recordings ever made, and while they (and much of this album) have reappeared on several anthologies, it’s useful to hear the songs from those sessions juxtaposed with each other, and with “Wonderful World,” which is seldom compiled elsewhere.
Presenting the music of Otis Redding, who arrived anonymously at 926 E. McLemore Avenue in Memphis– as a chauffeur for another artist – in 1962, and would go on to become an R&B supernova, with a body of work that helped transform Stax from a small record label to a musical institution. Starting with “These Arms of Mine,” which floored Stax owner Jim Stewart when Redding humbly asked to audition on that fateful day, through a host of bona fide soul classics from “Mr Pitiful,” “That’s How Strong My Love Is,” “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now),” “Security, “Try A Little Tenderness,” and of course the self-penned “Respect,” later immortalized by Aretha Franklin, all included on this collection. The life and career of The Big O tragically ended with a 1967 plane crash, but his legacy was cemented with the posthumous single release, “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay,” a chart topper on both the R&B and pop listings, and a lasting reminder of the true genius of The King Of Soul.
Sometimes even the most consistent artists need to shake things up a bit. In Robert Cray's case, that means shuffling his lineup – he retained longtime bassist Richard Cousins but brought in drummer Les Falconer and keyboardist Dover Weinberg – and bringing in producer Steve Jordan, who last worked with Cray on 1999's Take Your Shoes Off. There's a reason this record is called In My Soul: Jordan assists Cray in moving toward Memphis soul, dedicating the entire record to slow, sultry burners that emphasize his mellow vocals and dexterous grooves. This may primarily be a mood record but the individual songs are also quite strong, whether it's the originals ("Fine Yesterday" is so gorgeous it makes heartbreak seem welcome) or sharply chosen covers. Among the latter is a cleanly funky reading of Otis Redding's "Nobody's Fault But Mine," which features Falconer on co-lead vocals, an unusual change of pace for Cray that also signals how the veteran guitarist has been revitalized by his change in companions.