Don’t Give Up On Love
Fat Possum Records
How timely to receive this at almost exactly the same time as the fabulous new Robert Cray album. Both records use the same rhythm section – those magical players from Hi Records; responsible for the magic across records by Al Green and Ann Peebles and many others.
Don Bryant was, before this, best known as a songwriter. He worked with Peebles, married her too. The couple co-created I Can’t Stand The Rain and other hits. Ahead of that Bryant composed songs for The 5 Royales – he recorded some sides as a singer too. He was good. Fine. A little Al Green-aping, a little Otis Redding-influenced. Very solid. But here, at 75, he has recorded one of the greatest comeback records I’ve ever heard. It’s akin to Solomon Burke’s sublime Don’t Give Up On Me. Not the similar title, both albums released on the fine Fat Possum label too.
But Bryant sounds so inspired, so fresh, so full of great soul and bursting with enthusiasm and ideas as he lays down new originals and reinvents old staples. On How Do I Get There? he even sounds a lot like what Cray is going for on his Hi Rhythm album, or Cray sounds like Bryant, or, well…anyway…
Don’t Give Up kicks off with a very fine interpretation of O.V. Wright’s A Nickel And A Nail and there’s this wonderful slightly-swampy, churchy, warm organ and keys sound right across the record. That’s the Rev. Charles Hodges (organ) and Archie Turner (piano). Leroy Hodges’ bass is – as on the Cray album – a joy, so buoyant as it drives the Stax-y Can’t Hide This Hurt and lush beneath Bryant on the great ballad, First You Cry.
There’s not a foot wrong here. We hear in Joe Restivo’s guitar echoes of Cornell Dupree and Steve Cropper, the horns (Marc Franklin and Art Edmaiston) hit down perfectly – but the great support work of the band – subtle, beautiful – is just part of it, never the star. Rightfully Bryant is afforded his hour – and he struts, but never frets, nailing down this gospel-infused soul and funk. There’s heart and grit and a lifetime of musical wisdom.
If you were lured in to the new “retro” funk/soul movement by the likes of Charles Bradley (a horrible shouting hack, for what it’s worth) you need to hear this. You need to hear this anyway. It gets as close as we can, these days, to the original sound of Willie Weeks in the booth and Joe Tex or Wilson Pickett on the stand.
It’s near miraculous. A joy. An utter joy.