Arthur Conley “I’m Living Good” (KENT UK CDKEND 358)
By Sir Shambling
PREMIER TRACKS BY A SOUTHERN SOUL MASTER
Let's Go Steady; Take Me (Just As I Am); Where You Lead Me; There's A Place For Us; I'm Gonna Forget About You; Love Comes And Goes; I'm A Stranger Aka I'm A Lonely Stranger; I'll Let Nothing Separate Us; Put Our Love Together; Keep On Talking; This Love Of Mine; Take A Step; Otis Sleep On; Is That You Love; That's How It Feels; God Bless; All Day Singing; Nobody's Fault But Mine; If He Walked Today; I'm Living Good; Walking On Eggs; It's So Nice (When It's Somebody Else's Wife); I Want Your Love; Stop Knocking.
For reasons I don’t fully understand Arthur Conley has never really had the profile or status in the southern soul pantheon that his talents as a vocalist have warranted. Maybe it’s because he’s thought of as being too much in Otis Redding’s shadow. Or because he never developed a really unique style of his own. Or possibly it's due to “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”. In any event it’s time his contribution to music was reappraised and lo and behold here is this excellent CD which will help do just that.
Compiler and annotator Tony Rounce has avoided the clichés of “Funky Street”, “Sweet Soul Music” and all the other regulars that we’ve all heard a thousand times before, and has put together a first class collection of more out of the way numbers. And even better, the vast majority of the music here is downbeat, the style that Arthur sounded at his most potent to my ears. Kudos to him for that. But sadly he hasn’t followed this through by putting the tracks into date order, and has even separated out two sides of the same 45. But although the CD as a consequence comes over as rather disjointed and with continued jumps in character the music here is pretty much essential if you don’t have the original discs.
There are real gems scattered throughout this set. Take Arthur’s superb version of “Take Me Just As I Am” cut at Fame of course, and produced by Otis himself. Or the sensational “There’s A Place For Us” cut at Stax and released on Otis’ own Jotis label – maybe his finest moment. The way Arthur uses a delay tempo to his singing on this track makes it nothing short of a masterwork. After Otis passed on, Arthur made one of the most heartfelt tributes to the Great Man in “Otis Sleep On” included here quite rightly for its emotional power. It was cut in Chips Moman’s studio, as were a good few of the tracks here, such as the excellent “This Love Of Mine”, long a personal favourite.
After Arthur’s great days at Atco were over he joined Phil Walden’s Capricorn label, for whom he recorded mainly for Swamp Dogg. I think it’s fair to say the quality of these tracks was varied but the Dogg’s “It’s So Nice (When It’s Somebdy Else’s Wife)” is certainly one of the better ones. As is “Walking On Eggs”. These days the Capricorn 45s aren’t that easy to come by – but they are a lot easier to find than some of the obscurities that feature on this CD, such as a South African 45 only Capricorn release “Stop Knocking” for example or “I Want Your Love” from the same company which only surfaced on a Japanese album in the 80s. But the rarest sides here come from the time before Arthur signed with Redding, from a session he had in Baltimore in 1964. “Where You Lead Me” and “I’m A Stranger” were credited to “Harold Holt and His Band” when they were issued on Ru-Jac. This is the first time these tracks have ever been reissued and they appear on this CD courtesy of my friend Yass Yamaguchi. The tracks were later redone by Otis and as part of the deal it is possible that other copies of the Ru-Jac 45 were destroyed. It would certainly explain the extreme rarity of the disc.
Chart success eluded Arthur after he left Atlantic, and he moved to Europe in 1975, a troubled and confused individual looking to find some peace of mind. He pretty much refused to talk about his early days and didn’t record any new material during his life in Belgium and Holland, except for an interesting version of Sonny & Cher’s “I Got You Babe” and some fleeting live appearances under the name Lee Roberts in Amsterdam. These terrific recordings are now available in CD form and are “must have” for any soul fan.
Arthur Conley passed away in 2008 aged just 57. He left a lifetime’s super music behind him, most of which is on this CD. He wouldn’t have acknowledged this in later life – but perhaps this is a case where the listener knows better than the performer. Buy this CD and find out why this is true.