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Album Review: Clarence Carter

This Is / The Dynamic Clarence Carter And More (KENT)

The soul and blues man’s first two albums, plus unheard bonus tracks.

BORN IN MONTGOMERY, Alabama in 1936, gritty-voiced singer-songwriter and guitarist Clarence Carter had already been recording for seven years when his debut album, This Is Clarence Carter, was released in 1968. The seven singles Carter had issued in partnership with organist Calvin Scott between 1961 and 1965 all flopped, but the last had been recorded at Rick Hall’s Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and it was with Hall and Fame that Carter would eventually find success. Carter’s 1966 debut solo single Tell Daddy was his own composition (later covered by Etta James as Tell Mama), and it reached the R&B Top 40.

But it was when Carter’s records started being released on the main Atlantic label, instead of Fame Records, that his career really took off, with huge hits that still featured the super-tight musicians of the Fame rhythm section and associated horns.

This CD pairs Carter’s first two albums, 1968’s This Is Clarence Carter and 1969’s The Dynamic Clarence Carter, both recorded at Fame Studios, produced by Hall, originally released by Atlantic Records, and packed full of first-rate southern soul.

The former album is built around early single sides such as the million-selling cheating song Slip Away, its dance-floor-aimed flip Funky Fever and the strutting Looking For A Fox, while the latter album is a bluesier affair that, nevertheless, includes another excellent million-selling soul single, Too Weak To Fight.

Slip Away had originally been planned as the B-side to Funky Fever, but its popularity caused the sides to be switched and with Carter’s anguished vocal and the adult lyrical content, it’s the epitome of the southern soul love-rat ballad, a strand of soul music that would prove continually popular in years to follow.

Though Tell Daddy is sadly not on his debut, its less successful follow-ups Thread The Needle and She Ain’t Gonna Do Right are included, making this a virtual ‘best of’. Other highlights include a fantastic cover of the Clay Hammond-penned Little Johnny Taylor hit Part Time Love, party groove Wind It Up and heartfelt ballad I Can’t See Myself.

The Dynamic Clarence Carter opens with Carter’s powerful version of Etta James’ Fame Studios-recorded I’d Rather Go Blind, which builds to an emotional crescendo supported by horns, strings and backing vocalists. The excellent self-penned funky blues track The Road Of Love features superb guitar from Duane Allman, including a searing solo, and Allman also shines on the great bluesy rock’n’soul cut Weekend Love. The Don Covay-authored Think About It is a fantastic soul stomper and Carter successfully transforms Jeannie C Riley’s country hit Harper Valley PTA into sizzling R&B.

The five previously unreleased bonus tracks on this CD date from 1966-67 and maintain the high standard of the two albums, though they’re rawer in sound. The breezy R&B number I’m Happy-Go-Lucky, heart-wrenching ballad There Won’t Be Another Sunset and up-tempo soul mover Take Me, Use Me, on which Carter is accompanied by an unidentified female singer, are particularly fine.