Ben E. King

Spanish Harlem/Don’t Play That Song (Atco 1961/1962)

http://www.divshare.com/download/5396815-043

Ben E. King’s rendition of “Spanish Harlem” has always sparked a fire in the romantic side of this jaded fuddy-duddy due to its uncanny Vulcan mindmeld of 50s pop orchestration, 60s soul and simple, but poetic tales that never fail to inspire memories of lost loves. It is a perfect song. Maybe this has something to do with Phil Spector’s involvement in transforming simplicity into complexity, but I always believed that this was King’s only foray into Spanish/Latino influences and Les Baxter inspired exotica. Thankfully, I was painfully wrong and picked up this two-fer of his early work that contains moments that delve into the cha-cha while delivering flawless fakeries that suggest a night in Spain without an ounce of truth. This is not an insult because King delivers some really moving performances of love struck tales over some really dramatic instrumentation that attempts to deliver infinite variations on the mood of “Spanish Harlem.”

The songs occasionally pay a little too much lip service to senoritas and siestas, but this collection makes my heart ache for the days of songwriting teams devoted to the craft of pop.  Lieber & Stoller, Goffin & King among others contribute to the creation of a gloriously square interpretation of Spanish soul that renders me disgusted by today’s version of the hired hand.

The other side of the two-fer, Don’t Play the Song, mostly abandons the Latino trimmings and aims straight for Sam Cooke territory. However, it lacks the sweaty grit of Cooke’s live recordings and aims for the silky-smooth moments of his most popular tunes. It is more “You Send Me” than “Don’t Fight It, Feel It” as he enters crooner territory with all the velvet, suede and whatever smooth substances I can muster in these fleeting moments.  It belongs alongside the many moments recorded by the Stax, Atco and Motown labels that break my heart with a forceful cry, tale of woe or smooth enticement towards the wrong decison. If you only know Ben E. King from “Spanish Harlem” or “Lean on Me” then listen to this and discover why he deserves to be placed alongside James Carr, Solomon Burke, O.V. Wright and other geniuses of his time.

Darrell Banks-Is Here!

August 19, 2008

Darrell Banks

Is here! (Atco 1967)

http://www.divshare.com/download/5204365-d26

This is an album of pleading. Darrell Banks may venture into upbeat territory and belt a few over a bed of Stax horns and rhythm guitar, but his specialty is emoting to his heart’s content. He belongs in the esteemed company of contemporaries like James Carr, Sam Cooke, Solomon Burke and Otis Redding, but his life was cut short when he was shot by an off-duty Detroit police officer who was cuckolding Banks. He only released two albums and seven singles, but his limited output is so heartsick and yearning for love that it makes his untimely death even more tragic.

Darrell Banks Is Here! may be his debut album, but his weathered and weary voice sounds as if he has recorded dozens more and been wronged more times than he can bear. The highlight and most painful track is “I’m Gonna Hang My Head and Cry” which captures the feeling one has when they fuck up a relationship and finally realize that you only get to screw up once and it will never be the same again. Innocence has been lost and he knows he can never regain it.

“Here Come the Tears” is another plea for a return to the status quo. I view it as a sequel to the aforementioned song as Banks becomes obsessed with the memories of this woman he lost long ago. His love is still strong, but there is no way to bridge the gap to when this love was mutual. He reads old letters and bawls like a baby and prays for a way to fix the cracks and make it right. However, there is a resignation in his voice that signals a realization that he is forever doomed to only have mere letters to remind him of better days. He pleads in vain, but cannot help doing so because he cannot reconcile the fact that he ruined a good thing.

There was an abundance of classic r&b albums released during this time, but none were as desperate and full of remorse as Darrell Banks Is Here.