Dan Penn’s The Inside Track On Bobby Purify is released on February 16th. When the option to review the album came up the Editor said, in terms, that he wasn’t sure how this album fitted with the core work of folking.com and I offered to find out. He was, as ever, correct. If you were to put a genre on this album, it would probably be Soul, rather than folk, Americana, blues, acoustic etc which are at the heart of folking.com. And yet …..
At the heart of most of the album reviews on our pages is a love of the music, the lyrics, the creation of the albums. And if folk music is the music of the people (whatever that means – “Discuss” as my teachers used to say) then this not only has every right to be on these pages but is a fascinating insight into the creative process. You usually get these kinds of things in the “Everything the artist has ever recorded CD Box Sets” that cost £Umpteen, but not as a straightforward release. The album is charming (I’ll come back to this).
There are ten songs … times two. The first ten songs are the originals recorded by the writers: Dan Penn on vocals and guitar, Carson Whitsett on keyboards and Hoy ‘Bucky’ Lindsey on bass and backing vocals. The second ten songs are the same songs, in the same order, but sung by Bobby Purify – and with additional instruments: lead, acoustic and rhythm guitar, bass guitar, drums, trumpet, trombone, saxes, viola and violin – plus full professional backing vocalist groups. The songs were originally among the thirteen on the Purify ‘comeback album’ Better To Have It.
Let’s pick two tracks. I’ll look at one of them with initial focus on Dan Penn’s original and compare it with the Bobby Purify version and vice versa for the other.
The Dan Penn original for ‘Testimony Of A Fool’ is pretty compelling, with its gravelled vocal and simple piano. There’s not much else, it’s a gentle piece, emotionally sung and worth the listen; it feels more than an initial demo, but not a finished track. Then you listen to the Bobby Purify version. The arrangement is still uncomplicated – mainly keyboards, but with additional swirling organ to add some extra colour, plus backing vocals and the band kicking in to add some depth. It all melds together to create that classic soul arrangement where the song starts quiet and rises as it moves towards the close. Above all, though, you can hear the sheer class of Ben Moore’s vocal (Ben Moore – aka ‘Bobby Purify’). Lines like a “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I made you cry, sorry I made you cry … I’ll take an oath and give the testimony of a fool … I’m a fool for loving you”. You don’t get lines repeated in that way in folk music – and you don’t get the heart-rending emotion of a classic soul singer. I’d think I was blessed if I could sing like Dan Penn, angels would think they were blessed if they sang like Bobby Purify.
To reverse the process. The albums open with ‘Forever Changed’. The Bobby Purify version is a similarly glorious soul vocal, musical arrangement, backing vocals repeating the occasional phrase – all the richer because it’s occasional – a thicker, full-bodied orchestral sound that the best soul music can create without an orchestra. With this album/these two albums in front of you, you wonder: How did we get to this? What’s the creative process? So you go back to the Dan Penn original. Again, simple piano, lovely vocal soaring to the skies, rather than the heavens. Above all though a belter of a melody and a lyric to tug the heart to a new place – and the emotion of a soul melody/story. Doing this, you hear how the finished version stands on the shoulders of a very tall demo.
Is this an album that’s core to folking.com? Probably not in genre. But … soul music is/has been at the heart of communities from Detroit to Chicago from Wigan to Morecambe (the last northern soul event I went to about ten years ago) You wouldn’t look at the response to a soul evening in Morecambe and say it captured the lives of Lancastrians any less well than, say, the music of Merry Hell. It just does it differently, perhaps very differently.
Listening to the album has been a delight (“Class is permanent”, as the saying goes). Listening closely to the album to hear how the creative process has changed the initial Dan Penn tracks to the arrangements on Purify’s version has been as fascinating as sitting in a pub working out whether we can put an acoustic lead, a mandolin solo, a flash of harmonica etc … but I’ve done it differently, by replaying the parallel tracks from the recordings rather than trying different instrumentation and working out what sounds good together.
I said above that I’d come back to the album being ‘charming’. The dictionary tells us that the word charming comes from the Latin ‘carmen’: “song, verse, enchantment, religious formula” via the Old French ‘charme’: “magic charm, magic spell incantation; song, lamentation”. The fact that charming also has an older meaning, ‘song’, is even more appropriate. You listen to these two albums of the same ten songs and you feel you’re listening in to a magician’s creative process.
Oh yeah – and the songs are pretty damn good as well, all ten of them. It’s been an enchanting listen.
‘Better To Have It’: