Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Said I had a vision - Songs & labels of David Lee

(Paradise of Bachelors) Although technically this is a label compilation rather than a single-artist album, as framed by the archivist/record geeks who put this together "Said I had a vision" is the story of David Lee, the artist. The North Carolinian ran labels that released a handful of records in the 60s, 70s and 80s, by a diverse roster of artists, but most of the songs were penned by the genre-bending visionary, and that he could shift gears between soul and gospel, righteous and ridiculous, funky and solemn, makes this LP a fascinating document. The money shot of this comp is supposed to be the stellar (and highly collectible) Ann Sexton 1-2 punch of a single "You're Letting Me Down" b/w "You've Been Gone to Long" (the latter one of the many songs where that rogue "Jody," who Johnnie Taylor seemed to know a little too much about, got your girl). Certainly the remarkable voice of Sexton (a fine soul vocalist who had enough regional hits to she would have been vaguely familiar to avid crate diggers even if those kooky British Northern Soulsters didn't elevate her to superstar status) is noteworthy, and it's really intriguing to hear how Lee's composition could be lifted by a gifted interpreter. But for my money the best tunes on here are the gospel numbers by the Mellerairs, "Vision" and "Aint it a Shame." The latter  hasn't left my head for a week. The recording date of that simple, near perfect hymn is unclear, though it seems to be from the 80s. To say its songwriting and recording are timeless is not just a turn of phrase here -- you could successfully pass this off as a 60s, 70s, 80s, or contemporary recording. Other mutts in Lee's litter of musical miscegenation include Bill Allen's "The Party," a slightly warped slice of country soul rock 'n' roll with a littel psychedelic acid slipped into the moonshine, the Constelations' R&B workout "If Everybody" and their novelty dance tune "The Frog," and Brown Sugar, Inc.'s numbers, which range from bare bones sweet soul to a sublimely familiar party jam. The album ends with Lee himself delivering a soulful, country, bluesy, mildly poppy, gospel-ish ballad in a hauntingly unusual voice that teases listeners -- had he recorded all his compositions himself perhaps Lee would now be considered an odd vocal genius, a cult hero, an outsider artist (though his expert, beautifully rushed phrasing of "days...weeksandmonthsandyearsgoneby-y-y-y..." marks him as anything but naive), who knows? But thanks to this worthy release (accompanied by an LP sized booklet that squeezes as many vintage photos as it can between generous chunks of text telling Lee's story in simple yet poetic language) he'll be considere something. And that's good enough, because he certainly was something.

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