Here I am, back from my vacation in the Smoky Mountains. We stayed in the shadows of Dollywood, in the Land of latter-day Elvis impersonators, so country music was King. Of course, that's exactly no different from So. Illinois (except for the Dollywood part), so I'm used to that obstacle. You just have to dig a bit harder and I managed to come away with a few gems, some of which I thought I'd share with you now.
Don Covay & the Goodtimers - Sookie Sookie I finally got to hear Don Covay's original version of this song only a few weeks ago over on Larry's Funky 16 Corners blog. For a full rundown, be sure to check out his post over there. This is one that I would have purchased anyway because it was especially cheap and I was already aware of Covay's recording despite not having heard it. While there's nothing wrong with Steppenwolf's remake of "Sookie Sookie", I think Covay's original just slays it. Here, we get gritty, Sam & Dave-like vocal interplay, with a Jr. Walker style beat. There's some funky guitar and a touch of organ. Plus, the song is inviting enough to get more than a few people up and dancing. All in all, a great record.
Sensational Nightingales - Can I Count On You I don't have many spirituals in my collection but sure wouldn't mind finding more like this one. "Can I Count On You" is an up-tempo shouter, with a lead vocal by the Rev. Julius Cheeks. The instrumentation is sparse, with the backing choir handling most of the work, including some great bass parts. All in all, this isn't too different from some of the wilder r&b of the day and it's pretty easy to draw a straight line from this to what would become soul music. It looks like the Peacock label had an entire series devoted to just this sort of thing that ran for years. Good for them.
Stevie Wonder - Nothing's Too Good For My Baby I've wanted a copy of this record since I first heard it on an old aircheck that I have. It was a top 20 hit in the spring of '66 but one that oldies radio has conveniently forgotten. I guess that even Motown falls prey to the Ultra-Tight Playlist Syndrome (UPS, for short). Maybe you and I wouldn't be so worn out on Mr. Gordy's label if programmers played something like this once in awhile instead of the same dozen Supremes records ad naseum. "Nothing's Too Good For My Baby" was custom built for filling the dance floor. It's upbeat (it seems even faster on my turntable than on that aircheck) and has the typical strong Stevie vocal, along with some great hooks. Indeed, it's Motown at its finest and among my favorite discoveries of the entire year.
The Nomads - On The Atchinson, Topeka and the Santa Fe Rock/I'm Popeye The Sailor Man Didn't know what to expect with this one but I just hadda give an outfit called The Nomads a chance. Good decision because this turned out to be a two-sided winner. From 1961, "Popeye" is a sax driven instumental version of the cartoon classic, with some rockin' guitar and a bit of piano. The flip is even better, also with a sax lead, a driving beat and cool guitar break. If you enjoy early, rockin' instros, I'd recommend seeking this out. I doubt it'll set you back more than a buck or two.