Thursday, May 22, 2008

Raising Her Voice a Little Higher: The Pain of Linda Jones

CDs with warning labels are nothing new, as one can find the "Explicit Lyrics" sticker on albums by artists as different as gangsta rapper Snoop Dogg and the early blues diva Bessie Smith.

But a good decade or so ago I pulled a CD from a "marked down to next to nothing" bin that had a warning label of kind that I had never before encountered:

The music contained herein exudes an intensity rarely evident in popular stylings, and even infrequent within the "deep soul" idiom, and if you are not that familiar with Linda's output, I would genuinely recommend that you sample this CD in smaller doses.

I had never heard of Ms Jones at that point, but how could I not put down my 2 bucks and change for a CD that came with that kind of caveat?

Linda was signed to Loma records in the 1960s, but never achieved the kind of success that her stable mates Lorraine Ellison or Ike and Tina Turner were blessed with. The excellent double CD "The Best Of Loma Records: The Rise And Fall Of A 1960's Soul Label" contains no less than five songs by Linda, including her almost-hit "Hypnotized". She later signed to Sylvia Robinson's Turbo Records in the early 70s, and unfortunately most of the recordings from that era sound somewhat distorted whenever the technical equipment of the era was outdone by Linda's unique vocal range (which was basically all the time).

The first thing that will hit you - hard - about Linda Jones is that she never held back. Her rare joyous songs are ecstatic jubilations, while the majority of her tunes convey a sadness and drama that make you fear Linda has already put the razor blade next to her bath tub. Linda was a bit like Patti Labelle in so far that she did not seem to know any moderation, though her voice is very different from Ms Patti's.

If you compare Linda's recording of "I can't Make it Alone" with Dusty Springfield's version, you can't help but notice how much more Linda "got" the lyric. As incomparable and talented as Dusty was, as brilliantly produced as the "Dusty in Memphis" album is, I doubt you'll ever be able to enjoy Dusty's understated reading of the song again once you have sampled Linda's agonized, driven masterpiece interpretation of the King/Goffin composition. When she yells "Help me!" you just want to reach through your speakers and hold on to her for her own, dear life.

Linda suffered from health problems, including diabetes, and died at the very young age of 28. The pain in her voice was clearly driven by pain in her life, and maybe she explains her singing style best herself in her spoken, rambling ad libs in the middle of her knock-you-to-your socks cover of Jerry Butler's early hit, For Your Precious Love. If this version of the song sounds remotely familiar to you, that is probably due to the cloned version that Truth Hurts recorded for the soundtrack of the Will Smith movie Ali a few years ago. Personally, I would have preferred if they'd remastered Linda's recording to use it on the soundtrack to introduce more people to this forgotten diva. Anyway, here is what Linda said in that song, and if you click on the clip below, lord have mercy, you can hear her explain herself better than I ever could.

You know something ladies? And especially you ladies, I'd like to speak to you.
Cause you know something, ladies? If you got a man, I don't care what kind of man you got he'll want you to get down on your knees sometimes and kind of crawl a little.
But you know what? I got a man that's somewhere out there that I don't mind crawling to.
Sometimes I wake up in the midnight hour with tears rolling down my face.
And when I look around for my man, I can't find him.
Hell, I fall a little lower, look a little higher
Kind of pray to the Lord.
Because I always believed the Lord can help me if nobody else could
Well sometimes I think he don't even hear me!
So I have to fall a little lower on my knees, look a little higher,
Kind of raise my voice a little higher
And this is what I sing when I call to my man
And I especially want you ladies to listen to me
Because maybe you can try this
It might help you once in a while
This is what you sing...

Saturday, May 17, 2008

It's International Day Against Homophobia

Today, May 17 is the International Day Against Homophobia.

If you don't know what Homophobia means: it's not fear of humans, as the linguists among you might wrongly deduce. The word is a tad confusing because the behavior it describes, at least on the surface, is not fear, but hatred. Hatred of homosexuals, bisexuals, transgendereds.

Sometimes I feel like calling it a phobia is almost trying to excuse inexcusable behavior. Did the people who murdered Matthew Shepard really do so out of fear of something that they did not understand, or were their hearts just cold and spiteful organs pumping bile instead of blood?

I won't try and claim that I can figure out the root of a kind of hatred that unfortunately is found in so many cultures around the world. But I believe in my soul that education is a key, and that governments have a responsibility to signal that gays and lesbians are of equal value to society as everybody else. In that sense, I applaud the California Supreme Court for not only allowing many Cali lovers to finally tie the knot, but to hopefully also help us drive back homophobia in the long run.

Here is another very nice remix of Carl Bean's "Born this Way." Why does it seem that the music industry has been taking steps back since the 70s, if THE African-American label of the day, Motown, could release a rousing gay disco-gospel anthem back then, but nothing like that seems to be out there today?
If I were you, I'd sit down and consider what you're doin'!