Review: Betty Harris – Intuition
Posted on: Sunday, Mar 16, 2008
BETTY HARRIS “Intuition” (Evidence Records ECD 26135-2)
Despite recording a whole batch of truly timeless soul singles in the early ’60s, this, amazingly, is Betty Harris’s very first album, astonishing for a major talent who will be 70 next year.
Harris disappeared from the scene in 1970 to raise her family, only remerging onto the live stage 35 years later following fan-inspired interest on the internet. But even if she had remained forever the ‘lost soul queen’, her body of early work – including that with New Orleans master Allen Toussaint – would have ensured permanent legendary status. She was particularly revered in the UK, especially by the Northern Soul scene. Some of those early singles, ‘His Kiss,’ ‘Nearer to You’ and most importantly her slowed down version of Solomon Burke’s ‘Cry to Me’ are deep soul classics and surely it must have been tempting to revisit these early career highlights when assembling this long overdue set.
But enter Jon Tiven. The music journo turned in-demand producer is everywhere here – writer (an equal hand in no fewer than 15 of the 16 cuts), producer, engineer – as well as playing guitars, keyboards, saxes, sitar, percussion, harp and vocals. Add wife Sally on bass and a selection of top Nashville drummers and you have a fine backing ‘band,’ mixing soul-blues with a lot of pure rock swagger.
But star of the show is still Harris’s voice, unsurprisingly a little more lived-in now but still powerful and loose. The whole set mixes panache with the right light and shade. Opener ‘Is It Hot in Here?’ is a sexy tour de force while the title track veers down a different path as a laid-back slow burner. ‘A Fool Can Always Break Your Heart’ is among several Stax-ish numbers, this one with lyrics by Procol Harum writer Keith Reid (a long way from ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ here!). Best of these horn-fuelled cuts is the sassy ‘Still Amazed’ with vocals and just the right guitar touch from Americana wizard Buddy Miller.
‘It Is What It Is’ sees Harris in a funky groove while Freddie Scott duets on the wonderful ‘Since Your Brought Your Sweet Love’ (although they managed to pay the utmost respect to each other’s talents while never being in the same room!)
There’s half-a-dozen tracks of soul-blues at its expressive best, ‘Tell It to the Preacher Man’ and ‘A Bible and a Beer’ the highlights before Harris’s own finale ‘Happiness is Mine.’
So Betty Harris is back, joyful and confident, loud and proud.
But what of those early gems? Having been reliably informed that the couple of UK-only compilations that saw the light of day have been shamefully deleted, the search for those old Jubilee and Sansu sides took me to Manchester’s excellent Beatin’ Rhythm store. I’m now a few pounds poorer but the proud owner of some classic vinyl which sits comfortably alongside this gorgeous offering from four decades on.