Clarence Carter – Patches – Atlantic SD8267 (1970)/ Pure Pleasure (2015) – stereo vinyl reissue, 36:16 ****:
(Clarence Carter – guitar, vocals; Ronnie Eades – baritone saxophone; Aaron Varnell – tenor saxophone; Harvey Thompson – tenor saxophone; Jack Peck – trumpet; Harrison Calloway, Jr. – trumpet, horn arrangements; Albert Lowe Jr. – guitar; Travis Wammack; Clayton Ivey – keyboards; Bob Wray – bass; Jerry Masters – bass; Cornell McFadden – drums; Fred Prouty – drums; Charles Chalmers – backing vocals; Donna Rhodes – backing vocals; Sandy Rhodes – backing vocals; Jimmy Haskell – string arrangements)
Pure rhythm and blues began an inexorable crossover in the 1960s. Motown Records became a national phenomenon influencing youth culture. Later in the decade a Southern variation of r & b established its own legacy. Stax Records (Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Booker T and the MGs) and Hi Records (Al Green) contributed to the emerging soul landscape. Another key label in this movement was Atlantic Records. With stars like Otis Redding, Sam & Dave and Eddie Floyd, polished studio albums began to garner attention. An obscure Alabama guitarist recorded a version of “Patches” for Atlantic in 1971. The song won a Grammy and Carter became a household name. His career was short-lived but the impact of that song and its same-titled album was palpable. Pure Pleasure Records has released an 180-gram audiophile vinyl re-mastering that will remind listeners of his contribution to soul music.
Patches is clearly a breakthrough album for Carter. With the meticulous Atlantic Records production and engineering, the songs are vibrant. Opening side one is an electrified country blues song, “Willie And Laura Mae Jones”. Accompanied by horns and strings, there is a distinctive “Memphis” sound. With a gospel-inflected piano (Clayton Ivey), Carter’s fluid baritone is framed perfectly. Slowing the tempo down, “Say Man” is a colloquial plea to a friend to manage his provocatively beautiful wife. This arrangement features chord changes in the intro, electric piano and horn counterpoint.
Carter is an impressive soul purveyor and “I’m Just A Prisoner (Of Your Good Love)” is a groove-infused celebration. But there is also a significant gospel element to this music. The cover of the “new” Beatles hit “Let It Be” is an elaborate sermon that draws on the over-the-top Phil Spector production, but adds some nimble guitar hooks and a winsome harmonica. It is easy to comprehend why many consider this to be the signature Paul McCartney composition. Reverting to rhythmic soul, “I Can’t Leave Your Love Alone” is crisp and precise with modulations, swaying tempo and vocal choruses that are brilliant. Finishing in upbeat manner, “Your Love Lifted Me” has infectious guitar hooks and Jackie Wilson enthusiasm.
Side two demonstrates the commercial accessibility of the album. “Till I Can’t Take It Anymore” is very polished with a pop sensibility and trademark talking second verse. The centerpiece Grammy-winning title is a tale of rural Alabama hard-scrabble (“…workin’ the fields”) life that became an unlikely crossover success. “Patches” is full of emotion and is delivered with a gutsy vocal performance. Carter is smoother on “It’s All In Your Mind” and acquits himself as a bonafide soul singer. The finesse of the concise arrangements can be heard on “Changes” with impeccable horn chats, lively percussion and church organ. Going back to his blues roots, “C.C. Blues” is lowdown essential blues structure featuring prominent vocals and solid instrumentation. The finale (“Getting The Bills (But No Merchandise)” is an up-tempo, humorous take on flawed love.The funky guitar chords and call and response vocals make this a gem.
Pure Pleasure Records has done a superior job in re-mastering this album to 180-gram vinyl. The stereo balance is excellent and the studio precision boosts the aural integrity. The instrumentation surrounds the central focus, Clarence Carter’s voice. Horns and strings complement the vocals and never overshadow them. The stylistic recording ambiance of Muscle Shoals is captured with glowing, vibrant tonality. Vinyl fans will get a nostalgic buzz from the iconic green, white and red Atlantic label.
Side One: Willie And Laura Mae Jones; Say Man; I’m Just A Prisoner (Of Your Good Lovin’); Let It Be; I Can’t Leave Your Love Alone; Your Love Lifted Me
Side Two: Till I Can’t Take It Anymore; Patches; It’s All In Your Mind; Changes; C.C. Blues; Getting The Bills (But No Merchandise)