There is a musical renaissance afoot. We have lived through the digital dark ages of MP3s and streaming only to see a rebirth of audiophile culture. Influential labels issue vinyl. Smart studios are harkening back to analog tape. We have entered a period of musical rediscovery. It's good to see Vitruvian Man revolving at 33 rpm.
All of this brings us to the trend of rediscovering old analog studio tapes. Two records of local note follow the pattern of reissuing old albums that were lost or never made it in their day: Sandra Rhodes' Where's Your Love Been on Omnivore and Pick A Dream by Papa Don McMinn from Sartoris Literary Group.
Sandra Rhodes grew up in a musical family and began performing at age 8 on her parents television show in Memphis. She and her sister got a folky record deal in the mid 1960s and were signed by Chet Atkins to a deal as a country act (Lonesome Rhodes) with RCA in 1967. But the straight-up country thing didn't hold the attention of young women who had grown up in Memphis music.
Rhodes met saxophonist, songwriter, and producer Charlie Chalmers at Philips Recording in the late 1960s. Chalmers was an arranger and saxophonist who had played on "Respect" and "Chain of Fools" by Aretha Franklin and on The Exciting Wilson Pickett.
Chalmers and Rhodes formed a background vocal team and began writing songs for people like Isaac Hayes, Conway Twitty, the Oak Ridge Boys, and Clarence Carter. You may stop and read that sentence again. The liner notes begin with a quote from producer Willie Mitchell about the relation of country and soul. Rhodes and Chalmers would go on to sing back up on all of the seminal Al Green productions at Hi under Mitchell. Where's Your Love Been was recorded at Phillips Recording in 1972 and is an interesting blend of country and soul.
Where's Your Love Been also has all the virtues of record-making as it was done in the golden era of the early 1970s: The song comes first; real instruments are played by real people in real time; and the sounds are analog: lush and full-bodied, tactile in the way that computers cannot produce. This record is easy to listen to and like, but one that should be studied too. If you grew up in the 1970s, there is a sense of familiarity with the sound. But the songs are mostly Rhodes' own compositions. You haven't heard them, but you feel like you know them. This is a great record.
Pick a Dream is another album that was never released. Sartoris Literary Group has a new release of this musical experiment with deep Memphis roots.
Don McMinn is, of course, the anchor of Beale Street 2.0. His Rum Boogie set welcomed thousands who came from around the world to find blues music in Memphis. But McMinn had long nursed another dream: to make a country record.
In 1989, McMinn assembled an able team of musicians under Memphis producer Don Nix, who was a member of Stax's kernel group, the Mar-Keys and worked with local legends Furry Lewis and Albert King in addition to international superstars like George Harrison and Eric Clapton. Nix brought in a world-class rhythm section with bassist Tommy McClure and drummer Greg Morrow.
Pick a Dream is a product of its time. The sound of records changed drastically from when Rhodes released Where's Your Love Been in 1972. Where Rhodes' mix of country and soul sounds like a Memphis record, McMinn's experiment is really a Nashville-sounding situation. The hallmark 1980s sound conventions are there: massive-sounding snares with gothic reverb tails. the early digital keyboards. I swear I hear Ovation guitars. This is the sound palette of Southern Star by Randy Owen's Alabama.
Former Gentry front man and Memphis' leading highstepper, Larry Raspberry, wrote the title track. Other songwriting credits come from former Box Top Gary Talley and from Bob McDill, who penned tunes for George Straight and Alabama.
It's interesting to note how each record sounds dated in its particular way. That will mean different things to different people. If you danced to Kenny and Dolly's "Islands in the Stream" at your big sister's wedding, then the sounds of Pick a Dream are going to reawaken those times. Something about those keyboard sounds just cues soft-focus video and extended techniques with hair products in the minds of those who were there.
McMinn's record is something of a local curiosity, which is admittedly our favorite kind of thing. Rhodes' record is one that really belongs in current collections.
I hope labels keep finding old tapes to release and that kids making records today listen to them and learn what works.