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CD Review



Carla Thomas - The Queen Alone
         As part of Concord's ambitious reissue program coinciding with Stax Records' 50th Anniversary celebration this year, this gem of an album from legendary soul singer Carla Thomas once again sees the light of day. Though not known to many of the current generation, Thomas was a fantastic singer and if the label is only reissues of Thomas' albums during this 50th Anniversary celebration/campaign, I am glad they picked this one because this album shows Thomas at the apex of her formidable talents.
         Thomas, one of Stax' most underrated and unheralded soul stars, was often the label's ace in the hole. In tandem with her legendary father, DJ/artist/songwriter/A&R man/ Rufus Thomas, Carla Thomas scored one of the first hits for the venerable soul label with the song "'Cause I Love You" in 1960 when the label was still called Satellite Records. Shortly thereafter, she began scoring hit after hit as a solo act, starting with the song "Gee Whiz" and racking up many R&B and pop hits right up to the early '70's. She also recorded one hell of a duet album with the late soul singer Otis Redding in the mid '60's that deserves to be in everyone's music collection whether you like soul music or not. The album is called King and Queen and it is a monster, almost a template for the way duets should be sung, and could arguably be the best album Redding ever recorded. You simply have to own it, it is that good.
         But back to this album, which is glorious in it's own way.
         During an overseas tour in 1966 shortly before recording this album, Thomas was crowned "Queen" by soldiers in Vietnam who chose Thomas as their recording artist of the year. The executives at Stax then decided to use the title recently bestowed on her as a hook to hang her next album since it also reflected back to her album with Redding. Having a "concept" in place upon Thomas' return, the label commissioned the songwriting team of Isaac Hayes and David Porter (yep, Hayes had a lucrative songwriting career writing hits for soul duo Sam and Dave and other Stax artists long before he made his fame as an artist in his own right and decades before this generation knew him mostly as the voice of Chef on the TV show South Park - talk about your renaissance men) to write a passel of songs for her to record. They came through in spades! Though the album produced only minor hits, it is more the fault of the public who missed the album in the midst of other groundbreaking musical releases like Pet Sounds and Revolver among others than it is of Thomas and the other artists' who contributed to this album as you will hear. It is simply one of the most impeccably sung, written and performed albums of the '60's and one of the best in the Stax catalog bar none. If anything this good could actually be reproduced by musicians today Amy Winehouse wouldn't have to drink and Joss Stone wouldn't have to have ringers help her sing her songs. Featuring five outtakes as good as anything released on the album, this CD is a cornucopia of great soul equalling anything released on Motown by the Supremes, Vandellas or any of those groups. If her version of the Chuck Jackson (by way of Burt Bacharach) hit "Any Day Now" or her version of Dusty Springfield's "All I See Is You" don't break your heart, then try one of the other fourteen songs, 'cause they'll probably do it. Want to see a grown man weep? Play this album for me late at night.                              
         Deep soul fans will simply adore this record as will fans of '60's female soul stars like Dionne Warwick, Aretha Franklin and Diana Ross. Though she has never really gotten her just due, Thomas' best work is equal to that of any of the stars previously mentioned and now she is finally being given the recognition she has deserved all along. Just take the time and listen to these songs and try to come with a reason she is not every bit as famous as the other female soul singers in the pantheon of the greats. For my money, Thomas has always ranked very high on my short list of favorite female artists. Check out this album and see why, because all the reasons are in these songs. She is simply marvelous. - Scott Homewood



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