Re-mastered vinyl shines a light on a lesser-known soul talent!

Sam Dees – The Show Must Go On – Atlantic SD 18134 (1975)/Pure Pleasure Records PPAN 0698 (2018) 180-gram stereo vinyl, 38:04 ****1/2:

(Sam Dees – vocals; Glen Woods – guitar; David Camon – bass; Sherman “Fats” Carson – drums)

There may not be a more genuine musical genre than Soul music. Uniquely American, it evolved from gospel, r & b, blues and traditional folk genres. There were many influences like Clyde McPhatter, Hank Ballard and Etta James. The first icons of Soul (among many) included Ray Charles, Little Richard, Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, Al Green, Jackie Wilson, The Staple Singers and James Brown. The most prominent record label was Motown (Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye and The Temptations)  with its inordinate crossover success. Stax celebrated the Memphis sound and boasted artists like Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding. A third label (not as successful) was Atlantic Records. But that label became renowned for launching the careers of Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin. These two singers transcended the mold and left a defining mark on the music industry.

One of the lesser-known talents who got his start at Atlantic was Sam Dees. Earlier in his career, Dees released singles on the Lolo and Chess labels. As a songwriter, he would create hits for Aretha (“Love All The Hurt Away”), Whitney Houston (“Just The Lonely Talking Again”/“Lover For Life”), Gladys Night (“ Save The Overtime For Me”), and Millie Jackson (“Mess On Your Hands”). In 1975, Dees made his recording debut with Atlantic. The Show Must Go On showcases ten original compositions with a variety of co-arrangers. The album has been reissued on Pure Pleasure Records. Dees’ silky vocals anchor a consistently accessible collection of Soul.  Side One opens with with some guitar hooks and a slinky urban narrative on “Child Of The Streets”. Like Curtis Mayfield, there are vocal refrains (“…Whatcha gonna do…?”) and gritty social indignation (“…Your father is a pusher man…”). Dee’s voice has a dulcet register and falsetto. There is instrumental expansion (flute, strings, electric piano), and studio effects on the vocals. The title cut has a slower groove with a talking first verse, like Philly soul music. The flute adds a nice touch.

“Come Back Strong” is up tempo with a funky guitar. Dee’s vocal phrasing is nuanced and the affirmative narrative context is amped up by the gospel backup singers. Digging deeper, “Just Out Of My Reach” is a gut-wrenching lament to love. Dees cuts loose with emotional resonance.  But it’s the hard-driving Memphis sound of “Claim Jumpin’” that is explosive. Dees revs up with Wilson Pickett/Rev. Al Green fervor and determination to sell this one. Side Two starts off with more grim observations on inner-city life in “Trouble Child” With a steady pulse, electric piano and falsetto backup. Dees exhorts “…Hard life in the ghetto is an everyday affair…”. Switching to a dance vibe, “What’s It Gonna Be” adopts a socio-political (not unlike Marvin Gaye) context, again utilizing effective talking/singing. Flute accents are effective here. And what would a good soul outing be without romantic angst. “Worn Out Broken Heart” delivers a recognizable slow-dance structure. And that familiarity is comforting to the listener. The final two cuts, “Good Guys” and “So Tied Up” are full of hooks (especially on the former) and soulful authenticity. When Dees lets loose with “…Baby, baby, baby…you’re just too good to be true…” on “So Tied Up”, the message is clear!

Pure Pleasure’s re-mastered vinyl of The Show Must Go On is a real treat! The sound quality is excellent and the stereo mix is even and balanced. The primary focus and centering is on the fluid vocals of Dees. Both the mellifluous textures and occasional gravelly tonality are intact. The rhythm section levels are understated and the flute, keyboards and strings are low-keyed and complementary.

TrackList:
Side One:
Child Of The Streets
The Show Must Go On
Come Back Strong
Just Out Of My Reach
Claim Jumpin’

Side Two:
Troubled Child
What’s It Gonna Be
Worn Out Broken Heart
Good Guys
So Tied Up

—Robbie Gerson