Can I tell you how great it is to listen to a Stax record right after a Motown record? It’s pretty damn great. And I must admit that there is a nonzero chance that listening to The Temptations prior to listening to Otis made me like this record even more than I would have normally.
Full disclosure: Otis Redding is my favourite male soul singer and probably my favourite soul singer. But it’s not just his voice, it’s also his aesthetic, which has as much to do with Booker T and the MGs and him, to the best of my knowledge.
Yeah, I’m not sure the material is all here on this album: I don’t know the originals of the covers but I’ve definitely read criticisms that Otis’ versions are not distinct enough. If I was more familiar with the covers maybe I’d be more critical. And certainly not all of the originals are up to the standard of some of his contemporaries, as songs. He wasn’t the songwriter that Sam Cooke was or that Smokey Robinson is, or whomever you want to pick.
But most of my criticisms fade away when I hear him and the band. This is how I want ’60s soul to sound: a great voice with some gravel and character (and maybe even fragility) with a lean backing and with a judicious use of horns – horns which sound much more like they belong on a blues record than a pop record. It’s the sound of Otis’ voice and the band that wins me over, even when I don’t love the song. This is one of those records that I would play for someone who was wondering why some people think Southern Soul is preferable to the northern stuff, you can just feel the soul in this record, which is usually polished out in those northern recordings.
PS: Neat piece of pseudo trivia: this may or may not have been Isaac Hayes’ first recorded performance (on piano) though there is debate about it.