ARTHUR ALEXANDER: SELF-TITLED
Too little soul music of this era crosses my desk these days so this reissue of a key late work in the slender catalog of this first-wave originator is a special delight. Born in Sheffield, Alabama, Alexander wasn’t in the record business very long before his “You Better Move On” hit on the R&B charts in 1961 and wound up covered by a long list of industry heavies. More R&B hits followed, along with more megabuck covers of his songs. Despite the distinction of having compositions recorded by the Beatles, the Stones and Bob Dylan, Alexander never got the kind of accolades he deserved and his career had stalled out well before this 1972 showcase from Warner Bros. Alexander had been missing from active recording for for a few crucial years but seizes the moment with surprising agility from the opening track “I’m Coming Home,” offhandedly throwing down a small masterpiece of Southern chickenshack funk. The rest of the LP is a stylistic tour de force, with the singer taking on country (“It Hurts to Want It So Bad,” “Down the Back Roads”), cheating songs (“Go Home Girl”), prison songs (the magnificent “Rainbow Road”), calypso pastiche (“Call Me in Tahiti”), and gospel (“Thank God He Came”) but the casual listener will likely be struck hardest by his pass at Dennis Linde’s “Burning Love,” later Elvis Presley’s last major hit. Bonus tracks include singles and B’s just as gorgeous but equally failed as commerce. As singer, Alexander was no honey-tongued Al Green, giggling Joe Tex, or ultrasmooth Marvin Gaye, but you can feel a big man’s restraint and dignity flexing beneath the showman’s polish and this spacious unpretentiousness is perhaps the best thing about this set. Alas, the record got no radio traction and Warners, then something of a R&B graveyard anyway, couldn’t sell it. The liners hint at a drug problem but simple lack of appreciation was probably enough to make Alexander quit music later in the decade to drive a bus. He died of a heart attack in 1993 in the middle of another comeback attempt.