Arthur Alexander: A Shot Of Rhythm And Soul (Ace)

THIS IS a welcome and important collection bringing together for the first time on one LP all the famous and not so famous songs recorded by Arthur Alexander in the early ’60s.

Alexander is one of the characters who has got passed over in the revision of pop history through his Alabama – piney-woods-black-boy-plays-country style was an absorption of many influences and still sounds sharp and daisy fresh some 20 years later.

Chuck Berry sparked off something of a vision when he wrote “They’re really rockin’ in Boston, Philadelphia PA, deep heart of Texas and down in Frisco Bay”. The more you uncover about Southern Soul, the more the image of clusters of hot house local recording scenes pulsating with energy and charged with emotion comes to life.

The music wasn’t made to break mass markets or cater for fashion trends and sounded more natural, more specialised than most of what is churned out on the modern day conveyer belt. It could sell enough to ‘break’ on the local market and was produced as an integral part of the community – adding spice to their leisure, making their work more bearable, illustrating the loves and heartbreaks in a way that was both moving and accessible. It was in the best sense closer to the heart and soul, created out of real needs and desires.

All these qualities are present and correct in Arthur Alexander’s work – from the sadness and regret of ‘Go Home Girl’ to the joyous ‘Pretty Girls Everywhere’, which could have been tailor-made for early Marvin Gaye. There’s the standout performance judiciously picked up by The Beatles and The Stones – ‘Anna’ and ‘You Better Move On’ respectively.

His other records may not have had the commercial success but still ploughed a deep rich furrow through soul, blues, pop and country. All hallmarked by an understated and expressive voice, some great, simple instantly memorable but never forgotten tunes – and though half of them may have been recorded in a warehouse lined with egg crates they’re still performed and executed with genuine love and care.

This LP includes rarities like ‘Sally Sue Brown’ and ‘The Girl That Radiates The Charm’ (his first two recordings), ‘Dream Girl’ which crosses over into the pop ballad area, the bitter protest and wailing harp blues of ‘Black Night’ (young George Ivan Morrison was no stranger to this one, I reckon) but ‘You Better Move On’ is the one – a Latin brushed melody over which he delivers a truly passionate outpouring of emotion.

Arthur Alexander faded away, suffered lengthy bouts of illness, reportedly had an argument with a lot of acid and spent some time in the clink on a manslaughter charge. But he left behind a legacy of music, great, great music. For a long time it’s been unavailable and neglected but now the folks at Chiswick/Ace in a continuing series of stylish and tasteful reissues have brought it right back where it belongs.

Sometimes, don’t you feel lucky?

© Gavin MartinNew Musical Express, 29 January 1983

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