You Make Me Feel
Don Bryant made a few singles under his own name, cut a few albums for other people– but his lasting contribution to music is as a songwriter. If nothing more he heard his wife utter the words, “I can’t stand the rain!” and lifted them up and away from slight disgruntlement to the keyboard to create a stirring soul classic that’s been covered by dozens of people and probably paid the rent for a time. His wife was – and still is – Ann Peebles and that’s been Bryant’s other great contribution to music really: taking a background role, being a promoter, songwriter and backing singer for his wife. Helping to promote her music and to usher in her unique soul sound. Recognising and bowing down to her immense talent.
He was a staff writer for Hi Records in the era of Otis Clay and Al Green, and since the 1980s it’s been a life of singing in and of the church only. That was until 2017’s miraculous return to secular music. That record, Don’t Give Up On Love, arrived with little fanfare but anyone that found it recognised a lost soul classic.
A couple of years on and here’s the proof that was no fluke at all. The 78-year-old Bryant sounds fresh and fighting fit and even gets to wrestle back songs he gave over to basically everyone so long ago. His own version of the spectacular 99 Pounds here sounds like those great records Willie Mitchell was making with and for Al Green.
And that’s the tone of this album – again as with Don’t Give Up – it’s Bryant essentially making a contemporary version of the classic Memphis soul records from the late 60s and early 1970s.
Producer Scott Bomar makes Is It Over feel as instantly rich and rewarding as the feel and sound of Curtis Mayfield’s We People Who Are Darker Than Blue or James Brown’s The Boss – indeed if this song was recorded in the right era it would be a natural fit for the story and soundtrack of Dead Presidents.
Bryant’s voice is rich and the writing is of course wise – sincere – it all drips with soul. But you could enjoy this album for the music alone. Bomar’s winning touch behind the desk makes him a Willie Mitchell for right now and the band features members of Gregg Allman’s great group, The Bo-Keys, Broken Bones, HamilTones, Sensational Barnes Brothers and that legendary Hi Rhythm section – Archie “Hubbie” Turner, Charles Hodges and Howard Grimes.
A Woman’s Touch is just an absolute treasure. It’s like that golden run of Al Green records all over again. It’s everything that got you hooked on this sort of sound to begin with – and of course it’s a reminder that Bryant was deep in there, his fingerprints all over your great record collection.
Finally, it seemed brilliantly coincidental that Bryant returned to the secular world of music right as Robert Cray released a record featuring the Hi Rhythm players and celebrating that sound.
There’s something Cray took from Bryant, vocally. There’s a comparison to be made.
And I note that Cray is back at his stunning best again with a new album timed alongside this once again. It’s no real coincidence but it’s a nice symmetry and synergy at the least.
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