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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Dusty Springfield, "Dusty in Memphis"

Dusty Springfield
"Dusty in Memphis"
Atlantic (1969)

1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die + 1000 Recordings You Should Hear Before You Die

It’s obvious that with a name like Dusty Springfield, you must be a musician performing bluegrass, blues or some other variant of distinctly American music, because with a name like Dusty Springfield, you must be distinctly American. Springfield, the best white vocalist to operate in soul (another American genre), was actually a Brit. Her real name: Mary Isobel Catherine Bernadette O’Brien. But with her soul music chops, it’s easy not to question her Springfield moniker.

Springfield was not nearly as gifted as her idol, Aretha Franklin, when it came to vocal ability. What sets her apart from many Caucasian wannabes is that she realized it. Too often there are talented performers like Christina Aguilera who try way too hard to emulate boomers like Franklin, and come off sounding ridiculous (anyone who’s heard Aguilera sing the national anthem knows what I’m talking about). Springfield, who has a pretty voice, if not a loud one, gets it and keeps it subtle (a term not often related to soul). Songs like “Just A Little Lovin’” demonstrate how well Springfield understands the finer points of the genre.

Most of the tracks on “Dusty in Memphis” are still recognizably soul thanks to the background vocals of the Memphis-based Sweet Inspirations and an infusion of horns. “Don’t Forget About Me,” “No Easy Way Down” and most notably the hit “Son of A Preacher Man” highlight the aforementioned elements.

What is more surprising is how in sync with the tracks Springfield sounds; she wasn’t recording with the horns or strings being played at any point during the making of the album. Springfield reportedly had problems with the songwriting and producers, leading her to go to New York and record vocals from there. That’s right: Dusty wasn’t really in Memphis for much of “Dusty in Memphis.” The additional instrumentation was added later.

Springfield initially hated the album, as many a perfectionist is want to do. Critics loved the album, listing in on many a top albums list, including the two books this blog is based on. Alas, consumers didn’t buy in; the album peaked at no. 99 on the Billboard album charts, and it would unfortunately prove to be Springfield’s swan song.

INTERESTING FACT: During the recording process, Springfield recommended that Atlantic check out the band of a bassist who backed her on tour in England. The bassist: John Paul Jones. The band: Led Zeppelin.

"Son of A Preacher Man"

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