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CD Review

 

Jerry Butler - The Iceman Cometh/Ice On Ice
Collector's Choice Records
        When seeking out great music for listening (and writing about), like any critic worth his salt (or worth assaulting) I try my hardest to find cooler than cool artists and albums upon which to feast my ears and pontificate about on this website. What then better to review, to hip you crazy cats to, to do the music do, then the new reissue from the music crew at Collector's Choice on The Iceman himself, Jerry Butler? Coolsville, baby!
        Butler began his singing career by honing his style as a member of his church's choir in Chicago. It was a fortuitous choice for Butler as a young Curtis Mayfield was also in the choir. And if you don't know who Mayfield is, shame on you. Quit reading this review right now and check out Mayfield's work as he is a soul legend of rarely equaled proportions. Anyway, to get back to this review, Mayfield and Butler became close friends and musical collaborators shortly after meeting and, as you will see, their decision to form a partnership would influence the course of R&B from that point forward.
        The two like-minded vocalists joined up with an R&B group looking for singers called The Roosters. After hearing Butler's smooth, commanding style, the group immediately changed its' name to focus on their new member and began calling themselves Jerry Butler and the Impressions. A scant year later found the group on the top of the charts thanks to a monster hit ballad written by Butler called "For Your Precious Love" that remains one of the most popular songs ever recorded in the '50's. Butler's tenure with the band was short lived, however, as immediately after the song left the charts Butler decided to quit the band and start a solo career. By 1960, after a few relatively unsuccessful singles, Butler jumped to Vee-Jay Records and scored his first solo hit with the classic ballad "He Will Break Your Heart" and his career was off and running. It was steady sailing for Butler for several years as he hit the charts on a regular basis with his singular brand of smooth soul. By 1967, however, Butler started to feel his act was becoming stagnant. He soon signed with Mercury Records and began working with the fledgling yet immensely talented R&B production duo Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff who would later become the architects of the Philly soul sound. These two albums (re-released on one CD by Collector's Choice) are the high points of this partnership.
        The first of these, The Ice Man Cometh, was a conscious attempt by the triumverate to broaden Butler's style. Previously known for being more of an R&B crooner, the song (and huge hit) "Hey, Western Union Man" revealed Butler could also excel at singing uptempo material. A fantastic album containing several hits, this became the template for the rest of Butler's career. It is one of the soul albums a real soul fan just has to own. Butler's voice is so controlled, yet so powerful and emotional, it is simply thrilling to hear. One of the best soul albums ever.
        The second album, Ice On Ice, proved to be almost as good and was the last time Butler, Gamble and Huff worked on an album together. Butler had recently re-signed with Mercury Records shortly before Gamble and Huff decided to quit producing other artists and devote time to getting their own record label up and running. Although the results would prove the decision was a great one for them, time would show the results to be less advantageous for Butler who found himself without writing partners and a production team. Butler would eventually form a sort of "workshop" for newbie songwriters, keeping the best songs for himself and farming the rest to other artists but it wasn't the same. Butler did keep having hits until the early '80's but nothing of the magnitude of his hits during his time working with Gamble and Huff. Eventually, he would put music on a permanent back burner as he became involved in politics in his hometown of Chicago. He still tours occasionally, but hasn't released an album of new material in quite some time. As I write this he is due to perform a concert in Charlotte, NC later this week. I will be there, that's a guarantee.
        This album will appeal to soul fans who appreciate the slicker Motown and especially Philly styles of soul music. This is stuff that's not at all gutbucket and greasy but definitely more on the Sam Cooke side of R&B though any true soul fans will love this CD. If you have yet to hear some Jerry Butler, to have his smooth voice pierce your heart and soul, you owe it to yourself to hear this CD. It is the bomb. - Scott Homewood

www.jerrybutler.com

 

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