OTIS REDDING Otis Blue Otis Redding Sings Soul (Atco)

"Soul is a word that has many meanings. In the pop-R&B world of today it usually means an intensely dramatic performance by a singer, projected with such feeling that it reaches out and visibly moves the listener. It means that the singer is saying something, sometimes even more than the lyrics themselves might normally convey". So reads Bob Rolontz's quaint sleevenotes for "Otis Blue", but by this or any other criteria you can’t argue that Otis Redding had soul. The moans, gasps and little interjections between words, the way he toys with phrasing, the way he sings like a man who has lived every word of these eleven songs - and maybe he has - it's all here. Time has not been kind to his slightly hokey take on The Stones' "Satisfaction", but everything else on "Otis Blue" remains untouched by the decades, and it's the quality of those songs - which include standards such as "Wonderful World", "Shake" and "My Girl" as well as the self-penned "Respect" and "I've Been Loving You Too Long" - that ensure that "Otis Blue" stands head and shoulders above his other studio albums.

OTIS REDDING Dictionary Of Soul (Sundazed) 

Pretty much any Otis Redding album that isn’t “Otis Blue” is condemned to spend its days in the latter’s shadow. “Dictionary Of Soul”, for example, Otis’ fifth and final studio set, would be a career highlight for many soul singers, but if it lacks the cohesion and consistency of the aforementioned it shows that Otis’ talent was in no way diminishing or diluted.

There are readings here that could be regarded as definitive. Otis captures the sorrowful moan of the cuckolded on “Tennessee Waltz” in such a way that nobody could seriously attempt to follow it; even Leonard Cohen’s cover pales into insignificance. “Try A Little Tenderness” is only challenged by other Otis renditions, for example his performance of the song at Monterey; exquisitely modulated and arranged to wring every last drop of emotion from the lyric, as he himself sings “it’s not just sentimental”. It might not be a proto-feminist anthem, exactly, but its big heart’s in the right place. Sam and Dave’s “Love Have Mercy” is presented as a kind of secular gospel anthem, and the likes of “My Lover’s Prayer” and “She Put The Hurt On Me” display Otis’ burgeoning, if sometimes neglected, songwriting abilities. (He did write “Respect” and “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay”, after all.) “Sweet Lorene” is a little too reminiscent of “In The Midnight Hour”, and, for all its pugnaciousness,  his gutsy cover of “Day Tripper” perhaps owes a little too much to his gutsy cover of “Satisfaction”. Nevertheless, there’s more than enough here to justify investment in “Dictionary Of Soul” if you feel the need to own a second Otis Redding album. 

Sundazed have done their typical good-but-not-great job of reissuing “Dictionary Of Soul” on vinyl, which sounds generally fine but a little distorted on Otis’ vocals in places. An honest attempt, I think, would be the best way to sum it up.

OTIS REDDING The Dock Of The Bay (Sundazed)

Released just two months after his death, this first posthumous Otis Redding album seems transparently conceived as a long-playing delivery vehicle for the song that would soon become his signature tune. Otis’ stoic, proto-slacker performance of “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay” is a world away from the thrilling histrionics of, say, “Try A Little Tenderness”, “Satisfaction” or “Respect”. Its seabird sound effects and whistling solo are anything but gimmickry, pushing the sonic envelope in its own small but significant way just as The Beatles were doing at the time.

Maybe sentiment clouded contemporary judgement, but there’s nothing to touch the title track in the scrappy selection of single sides and previously unreleased material collected here. The general sloppiness of the enterprise is emphasised by the way the photograph of Otis on the back cover is 90 degrees out of whack. Not that Otis isn’t as impassioned as you’d hope here, of course, but the songwriting, some of which is his own, is sometimes less than compelling. “Let Me Come On Home”, with its somewhat lurching accompaniment and incessant tambourine, is surely not a song presented at the peak of its potential, and the guitar intro to “Don’t Mess With Cupid” seems to be in search of a song far funkier and more interesting than the one it’s saddled with here. “The Glory Of Love” wallows deeply and satisfyingly in soul, though, and “Nobody Knows You (When You’re Down And Out)” shows up the Derek And The Dominos version for the pampered white boy whimpering it so clearly is. On the Carla Thomas duet “Tramp”, previously issued on the pair’s “King & Queen” album, Otis is mixed so low it sounds like he’s hollering his performance in from an alley behind the studio, but “Ole Man Trouble” appears to be a different version from the one on “Otis Blue”, being shorter and more stereophonic.

Like many Sundazed reissues, “The Dock Of The Bay” is by no stretch of the imagination an audiophile triumph, but it has a kind of gritty integrity to it that keeps the listener on its side during the scuzzier, more distorted moments.

OTIS REDDING In Person At The Whisky A Go Go (Sundazed)

If the phrase “Otis Redding live album” doesn’t make you go all shivery in anticipation I’d question whether you can claim to have soul at all. “In Person At The Whisky A Go Go”, recorded during an April 1966 show at the LA venue but released posthumously, certainly lives up to expectations. Otis’ studio albums were hardly elaborate facades of artifice, inspiration blunted by perfection, but in gritty, sweaty, hard-working person, given room to roam and swell, his music’s something else.  

He winds opener “I Can’t Turn You Loose” up into a call and response frenzy, speeding up and slowing down the tempo without the result sounding gimmicky. His nine-piece backing band turn on a dime from “Mr. Pitiful” to “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” without missing a beat. Composed of guitar, bass, drums and brass, brass and more brass, they’re professional but unpolished. A cover of “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag” might seem a brave, bordering on foolhardy, choice, but when did Otis stop short of stomping his authority into a song? He proceeds to do it here, mesmerizingly bringing it down in a natural fade.  Similarly, he owns “Satisfaction”, making the song entirely subservient to his purposes. 

Of all the Sundazed Otis reissues I’ve heard, this is the best sonically, if only because the grimy authenticity of a live recording can camouflage a multitude of infidelities. Rough and distorted as it may be in places, the sense of occasion is undiminished.