James and Bobby Purify

Shake a Tail Feather! (Sundazed 2002)


On one hand, cousins James and Bobby Purify were quite indebted to the feel good, soulful pop of Sam and Dave, but their performances were more complex and conflicted to the lovely, but one-dimensional music of their more famous influence. Yes, the Purify’s mined the Stax sound while recording at Muscle Shoals and many of their best tunes are toe-tappers that rival any other southern soul act of the 60s, but their melancholy moments are what set them apart from their peers.

Their most popular tune is by far their most moving. “I’m Your Puppet” is a Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham number that epitomizes the joys of total surrender to love. Obviously, there is fairly obvious metaphor at work here as they compare themselves to simple puppets at the behest of a mystery lover, but there is something sort of romantic and sad about this tune. Their depiction of infatuation can be interpreted as a puppy dog ode to the lengths a man will go to be loved, but the lyrics also celebrate the fact that this love can “make you do right or make you do wrong” as well. I always felt their was an undercurrent of masochism that would endear this to any r&b fans in the throes of a BDSM fetish. As usual, it is probably a better example of my dumb ass looking too deeply into the lyrics, but I like to view it as a parable about the double-edged nature of passion.

I’m also a big fan of “You Left the Water Running” which is another Penn/Oldham number that buries a wallow in misery in catchy instrumentation. Basically, it is about a woman who cheats on her man and turns on a spigot that unleashes a neverending torrent of tears. The tears flow until waves of anger overtake him and he issues a warning that she will regret her infidelity and there will be hell to pay when the bill for these wasted tears arrive. I’m always such a sucker for morbid, self-destructive messages wrapped in frilly pop confections, so this one is simply perfect. Overall, this collection of singles and b-sides should appeal to Stax junkies and patrons of the church of James Carr and Solomon Burke. It is such a joyous collection, but one that invites you to dig a bit deeper and see the tears that lurk beneath our grins.

On a completely unrelated note, I love that James eventually replaced his cousin with another Bobby and went on his merry way. I knew there was something cutthroat lying underneath it all.