Monday, December 24, 2007

The soul of Guy Sebastian

There are some things you just don't mess with. Memphis soul music from the 60's and 70's is one of them. There was a certain set of conditions, personalities, and influences that came together to make something perfect that can never be replicated. Sure, you can try to cover a classic song from the period and pay homage to artists who shaped the development of music in the United States. But to put together a complete album? You better have eaten all of your Wheaties.

A young Australian singer, Guy Sebastian, has taken on that Herculean task with his fourth album, The Memphis Album. I know what you're thinking: A whole album of covers? Can't he write some material of his own? How can you improve upon or even equal music of such historic weight? Well, to start, to help him with the task are several men who were instrumental in originating the sound when it first got cut on vinyl, including Donald "Duck" Dunn and Steve Cropper (who I recently mentioned here), two original members of Booker T. and the MG's (and of the Blues Brothers' band). Steve was not only a member of the monumentally important house band of Stax Records, but was also clutch in producing much of the music that other groups put out under the Stax name. Consequently, he also was responsible for producing Guy's album. That says a lot about Guy's artistic prowess when the original musicians come along for the ride.

All of the songs on the album are ones that you're familiar with if you've listened to any soul music from the period. They've got the signature Stax organ sound behind them, the tight horn section making themselves heard, with a new voice in front, one that's noticeably different from the originals. Although his vocals are of a different tone, it's clear that Guy has taken much of his style from the period's artists, and he does a very fine job of filling some very large shoes. I'm not going to lie to you, there are a couple of interpretations that don't quite stack up to their predecessors, but as a whole, the album really is a wonderful tribute to some classic music.

It very much reminds me of Marc Broussard's album from earlier this year, S.O.S.: Save Our Soul, albeit with much more well known songs and a somewhat updated feel to it (whereas Broussard feels closer to the original). Right now it's only available as an import from Australia, but hopefully it will get a release here in the States. While you're waiting for it, enjoy the following:

Guy Sebastian - Knock On Wood (Eddie Floyd cover)
: The Memphis Album

Eddie Floyd - Knock On Wood : The Complete Stax/Volt Singles: 1959-1968 (Disc 6)

Buddy Guy - Knock On Wood (Eddie Floyd cover)
: Vanguard Visionaries

Guy Sebastian - Respect Yourself (The Staple Singers cover) : The Memphis Album

The Staple Singers - Respect Yourself
: The Best Of The Staple Singers

Marc Broussard - Respect Yourself (The Staple Singers cover) : S.O.S.: Save Our Soul

Visit his website, his label Sony/BMG Australia, and become his friend on MySpace.


The Blues Brothers - Rubber Biscuit : Briefcase Full of Blues


Anonymous said...

Hi Sean. Glad you're enjoying Guy's Memphis Album. It's tops, isn't it? Thanks also for the Staple Sisters upload - Bettina, Perth, Western Australia.

Anonymous said...

mmm Must get a Google Account. Call me Prins, atm. In a rush - but thanks for the links too. You know they are all live 1st takes? Except for "Hold On, I'm Coming" (2 takes) and that was only because Guy found he had to pace himself, he really went for it! They are 'live in the studio' jammin' takes, Steve Cropper said they had so much fun recording, brought him to mind recording with Otis. (some great interviews on youtube with Steve re these) - and thnx for comin' over.
Like ure blog btw, just bookmarked

Bethany said...

After listening many times, I think all the tracks stack up against the originals. It just took a while to let Guy take over sounds that had been embedded in my brain for decades. He just does it his way. And his way is just fine.

Anonymous said...

Prins again I've listened to the other tracks, hey they're great! But I love Guy's freshness, perhaps its our big, wide open spaces :) How good are they ALL!! though. Fabulous music. Thnx

Sean said...

Bethany and Prins,

You're probably both right about having to let my ears get used to a new take on classic songs. Thanks for stopping in.

Anonymous said...

Hey there! What a thrill to see a review of THE MEMPHIS ALBUM all the way from the USA.. great work, thanks for the links, love listening to the originals, but Guy live is something so very special...

Faye said...

Cant get enough of the Memphis Album - intelligently written review Sean. Thank you - it was a pleasure to read.

I hope you do get to see Guy Sebastian and MGs performing in the USA one day soon.

Adelaide said...

Thank you Sean for taking the time to listen to and review The Memphis Album. It was a great thrill to find your blog in the early hours of this morning . Guy's Aussie fans have always thought Guy was a very special talent, and deserved a chance to be heard outside Australia. Reviews like yours can only help to make this happen. Guy has had some amazing validation for this album, way too much to mention here. But thought I would put the words of 2 of the people deeply envolved in this record here. Curry Weber, an Ardent Studios sound engineer:

"i've been on a record since thursday that has opened my eyes on record making. 16 track analog, steve cropper on guitar, lester snell on piano and wurly, duck dunn and dave smith on bass, rick steff on b3, steve potts on drums...and guy sebastian on vocals. it is an unbelievable combination of talent and skill. guy is a killer vocalist and he is right at home with these guys and these tunes."

And the man himself Steve Cropper:

"after I got in the studio with him and actually got to see him perform and be around him ..and I’d been listening to him, I knew he was a good singer - what I didn’t know was the fact that he was able to adapt to the soul treatment. I couldn’t believe this guy’s voice. I mean I literally .. it’s hard to say “this guy” because we say it all the time .. it was really interesting to hear his voice was a pleasant surprise."..... "He’s mindboggling, and he does it with so much feeling and real honest energy you know ..and to me that’s always been what sells records.He has it .. he has what we call in the business “chops”."

Hope this comment isn't too long. I am just blown away by the comments from these men. This album deserves a much bigger audience than Australia can offer.

BlueBayBlues said...

Excellent review Sean! - thank you :)

Guy Sebastian sure has a gift of the SOUL!!

This album has been received so so well that it is being released globally in early 2009.

Thank you again for such a wonderful review just proving your instincts right when you reviewed THE MEMPHIS ALBUM favourably :)