Originally posted November 19, 2009:
Casting about for a topic for this post, I thought about famous birthdays. Gordon Lightfoot’s birthday was Tuesday, and I have plenty of Lightfoot tunes in the stacks and in the folders. But another day would be better for that, as there is a tale connected that I’m not yet prepared to tell.
I thought about writing about the books on my reading table, as I do occasionally. But I started a book yesterday that’s fascinating, and I want to finish it before I write about it. So that will have to wait.
We’ve had an odd November: sunny and warmer than one would expect. But I wrote about my fascination with autumn not that many days ago, and a post about the weather itself should wait until we have some truly remarkable meteorological happening.
I glanced at the front page of the Minneapolis paper: Budget cuts, a fatal bus crash, health care advisories and so on. Nothing there I care to write about.
It’s just one of those days. So here’s an appropriate selection of titles.
A Six-Pack of Nothing
“There's Nothing Between Us Now” by Grady Tate from After the Long Drive Home 
“Ain’t Nothing Gonna Change Me” by Betty LaVette from Child of the Seventies 
“Nothing But A Heartache” by the Flirtations, Deram 85038 
“Nothing Against You” by the Robert Cray Band from Sweet Potato Pie 
“Nothing But Time” by Jackson Browne from Running On Empty 
“Nothing Will Take Your Place” by Boz Scaggs from Boz Scaggs & Band 
One of the things I love about the world of music blogs is finding great tunes by folks who I’ve never heard about before. It turns out that Grady Tate, according to All-Music Guide, is a well-regarded session drummer who’s done some good vocal work as well. I’d never heard of the man until I somehow found myself exploring the very nice blog, My Jazz World. The brief description of Tate’s album After the Long Drive Home and the accompanying scan of the album cover drew me in, and I’ve spent quite a few quiet moments since then digging into Tate’s reflective and sometimes stoic album.
I’ve tagged Betty LaVette’s gritty piece of southern soul, “Ain’t Nothing Gonna Change Me,” as coming from 1973, as that’s when it was recorded. But the story is more complex than that. LaVette recorded the album, Child of the Seventies, for Atco in Muscle Shoals. But AMG notes that after a single from the sessions, “Your Turn to Cry” didn’t do well, the label shelved the entire project. It took until 2006 and a release on the Rhino Handmade label for the album itself to hit the shelves. The CD comes with bonus tracks that include LaVette’s cover of Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold,” which was also released as a single. (My thanks to Caesar Tjalbo.)
A listener without the record label to examine would be excused from thinking that the Flirtation’s driving “Nothing But A Heartache” came from Detroit. The bass line, the drums and the punchy horns all proclaim “Motown,” but this nifty piece of R&B came out of England on the Deram label. The Flirtations, however, had their roots elsewhere: Sisters Shirley and Earnestine Pearce came from South Carolina and Viola Billups hailed from Alabama, so the record’s soul sound is legit, and it sounded pretty good coming out of a little radio speaker, too. The record spent two weeks in the Top 40 during the late spring of 1969, peaking at No. 34.
For Sweet Potato Pie, Robert Cray and his band made their way to Memphis and pulled together an album of blues-based soul. The combination of the Memphis Horns, Cray’s always-sharp guitar work and a good set of songs made the album, to my ears, one of Cray’s best. “Nothing Against You” is a good example of the album’s attractions.
“Nothing But Time” comes from Running On Empty, one of the more interesting live albums of the 1970s: All of the songs were new material, with some of them being recorded backstage, in hotel rooms or on the tour bus instead of in concert. As it happened, the album’s hits – “Running On Empty” and “Stay” – were concert recordings. But I’ve thought for a while that the recordings from the more intimate spaces – “Nothing But Time” was recorded on the tour bus as it rolled through New Jersey (you can hear the hum of the engine in the background) – might have aged a little better. That thought could stem from weariness after hearing the two hits over and over on the radio over the years; I do still like some of the other concert recordings from the album.
To my ears, Boz Scaggs’ slow-building and echoey “Nothing Will Take Your Place,” carries hints of the sound that would propel him to the top of the charts in 1976 with Silk Degrees. I guess it just took the mass audience – including me – a while to catch up with him.