- 19 Jun 20
Soul aficionados will be long familiar with the name Don Bryant. Although he started off as a recording artist, and released a series of singles – check out ‘The Call Of Distress’ from 1967 - and an album on Willie Mitchell's Hi Records label in the late sixties, he would achieve his greatest fame as a songwriter. They didn’t hit it off at first, but it is his work with Ann Peebles that we remember best. Despite the rocky start, Peebles and Bryant were married in 1974, and they’re still together. The story goes that they were heading out to a show with a few friends in 1973 when it started to rain, heavily. “I can’t stand the rain,” remarked Peebles, which caught Bryant’s ear and off he went to the piano. With his future wife’s help, he finished the tune that evening, the show they were supposed to go to forgotten. The song – which John Lennon referred to as “the best song ever” - was a huge hit, and has gone on to be covered by everyone from Lowell George to Seal. Tina Turner included a version on 1984’s Private Dancer, which, at the last count, has racked up over 20 million sales. That surely kept the wolves quiet for a while.
Peebles’ great run of early seventies albums are pebbled with co-writes from her husband, like the brilliant ‘Trouble, Heartaches & Sadness’ from 1972’s Straight From The Heart, and Don seemed more than satisfied to buoy up his wife’s success, opening for her on the road and singing backing vocals. His own final release on Hi Records was in 1981 and since then he has stuck to gospel, and kept his performances to hollering for the lord in church.
Bryant was finally persuaded back to secular music in 2016 and Don’t Give Up On Love was released in 2017. You knew you were getting the good stuff from the very first note that came out of Bryant’s golden throat on the opening cover of ‘A Nickel And A Nail’. Originally an R&B hit for O.V. Wright, Bryant achieved the near-impossible and matched Wright’s belt. The album was dedicated to his wife, who retired from performing following some health issues. Bryant’s new record, You Make Me Feel, could be aimed at her too.
‘Your Love Is To Blame’ starts with the declaration “You make me feel like a man want to feel, when he’s getting all the love he can bear “over a dirty soul groove. The backing singers coo at the main man as he testifies about his woman’s love, the horns sound out their agreement, the rhythm section keeps our feet moving, and, for a few minutes at least, all is right with the world. One of the finest songs Bryant co-wrote for his missus back in the day was ’99 Pounds’ and he takes it back here. Everyone from Humble Pie to The Black Crowes – all right, that’s hardly a huge distance – have had a go at this one, but Bryant’s version takes joy in altering the lyrics ever so slightly, so as to heap praise on his wife yet again. The guitar break would probably be the sound you'd hear if you typed ‘funky’ into Google.
It’s not all sweetness and light: ‘Is It Over’ has some real heartbreak in its pleading, and when he asks his baby to “please come back home” in ‘I Die A Little Each Day’ – originally by Otis Clay back in the early Seventies – you believe him. Bryant first recorded ‘Don’t Turn Your Back On Me’ in 1965, but he delivers the definitive version here, down on his knees to a woman who’s heading out the door now that things have taken a turn for the worst. The arrangement in initially sparse until the glorious entrance of the horn section about half way through and, Bryant’s final note of longing would make anyone take their hand off the door handle.
Bryant returns to another song he recorded in the sixties with the slow build of ‘I’ll Go Crazy’ – “if you love me any better, I’ll go crazy, because you’re love is already good”. Never mind the admirable devotion to his wife, what about that voice? The man is approaching 80 but he can still hop up an octave and wring ever drop of emotion out of the word “sqEEZE!” Just to change tack, the closing ‘Walk All Over God’s Heaven’ is a late nod to the gospel music that Bryant has submerged himself in for the last few decades. Perhaps he realised that after repeatedly singing his wife’s praises, he’d better give the Lord something lest he think Don had forgotten about him altogether.
Just like the previous record, the sound and production here are immaculate, subtly updating the sound Mitchell perfected back in early Seventies Memphis, but it is the voice that carries the big hod. This is grown-up soul music that should shame any of the current crop of over-emoting show boaters. The real thing.