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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Arthur Alexander, "The Ultimate Arthur Alexander"

Arthur Alexander
"The Ultimate Arthur Alexander"
Razor & Tie (1993)
1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die

Tom Moon focuses on two aspects to Arthur Alexander’s career: his supposed blurring of genres (which I think is overplayed) and the mystery of how he did not become an icon in pop music (which I agree with entirely).

In regards to finding an ultra-specific genre with which to label Alexander, I think Moon and other critics are exaggerating the influence of country music upon Alexander’s work. There is no doubt that there is a country tint to several of the tracks included on this compilation. Hits like “You Better Move On” and “Call Me Lonely” and a few others on the album use features like acoustic guitars and jangling piano lines to lend a western feel. But like I said, it’s only on a few tracks. To overall label Alexander something as precise as “country soul” is misleading.

The soul part of Alexander’s game is entirely accurate however. Alexander may not sound exactly like Solomon Burke, but I got the same sensations from listening to both. Alexander’s sad tracks are moving and sympathetic, the best of which is “Anna (Go to Him),” a song of resigned permission to a lover considering another man. But Alexander’s upbeat tracks are undoubtedly soul/R&B, including the hoppy “Pretty Girls Everywhere.” Perhaps the most-telling track is the eventual single “Shot of R&B,” which describes how the genre is sure to liven up any night.

Genre aside, it’s astonishing that this guy is not etched into the stone of pop history alongside the other R&B greats. It’s one thing for a guy to write great songs, and then nobody hears them. It’s another thing for Alexander, whose tracks were covered by the biggest bands of the ‘60s. The Beatles covered “Anna (Go to Him)” and the Rolling Stones tried its hands with “You Better Move On.” How can an artist that was an inspiration to the era’s two biggest bands not catch on with the planet’s other (at the time) 5 billion people? Look at modern pop artists like Bruno Mars, who first gained attention by writing hits for B.o.B. and Cee Lo Green, and is now equally famous for his own performances.

If you want to call Alexander’s music “soul country,” fine. If you want to call it death metal, so be it (although that’d be weird). Call it what you will, just don’t ignore it. Alexander may have missed out on being a superstar but it’s never too late to simply appreciate his work.

INTERESTING FACT: Alexander might not have even been recognized by Moon and other modern critics if he hadn't been "rediscovered" in the early '90s. He was driving a bus in Cleveland when, somehow or other, a record label found him and recorded a comeback album. He would die later in the year before touring in support of the record.

Anna (Go to Him) by Arthur Alexander on Grooveshark

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