Monday, June 26, 2023

Willie West: “The Soul Sessions” (2023) CD Review

Willie West has been performing since the late 1950s, recording great soul and blues songs under his own name, and playing with other artists, even fronting The Meters for several years. In 2015, he released an album titled Lafourche Crossing, which featured covers of some of his favorite songs as well as several original songs. That album has now been re-issued as The Soul Sessions, and for the first time is available on vinyl as well as CD.

The album opens with “I Got The Blues,” which Willie West wrote with Leo Nocentelli for Albert King. It’s a great blues number with a full sound, including horns. Has a woman ever mistreated a man more than as described here? “She wrecked my brand new car, people/She even pawned my diamond rings/She poured the salt out of the shaker/She didn’t leave me with a doggone thing.” Listen to the guitar telling the tale, bemoaning his fate. And before the end, Willie West warns us, “The blues can come to you in any shape or form.” That’s followed by a cover of Sam Cooke’s “Somebody Have Mercy,” the first of three Sam Cooke songs he performs on this album.  Here again a woman has done him wrong, and so he just has to leave: “I’m going down to the bus station with my suitcase in my hand.” This track features some really nice stuff on keys, plus some wonderful backing vocal work. A few seconds after the song ends, there is an odd a bit of silliness before the end of the track.

“Said To Myself” is an original number with a wonderful groove. There is a good deal of funk to this track, and a good deal of power and joy behind its performance. “And I finally realized, and I have opened my eyes, oh yeah.” Willie West then goes back to Sam Cooke for the classic “You Send Me.” He gives us a gorgeous rendition, featuring one of the album’s best vocal performances. There is also some good work on keys and saxophone, but it his voice that is the focus here. He delivers a passionate performance that makes this track stand out. I love that he stretches this one out. The track is more than six minutes, the longest of the album, and I would have been happy with a few more minutes of it. It’s that good.

You can never go wrong with Gershwin, and on this album Willie West gives us his own spin on “Summertime,” adding some funky elements, and delivering another strong vocal performance. “One of these mornings, you’re gonna rise up singing, yes you will/Then you’ll spread your wings and off to the sky/But until that morning, baby, you don’t have to worry.” The funkiest moment is that instrumental section in the middle, which features some seriously cool stuff on keys. This is a lively rendition, particularly in that section. That’s followed by “Got To Cut You Loose,” an original song, written by Willie West and Robert L. McLaughlin. Everything is working so well on this delicious blues track. It contains great stuff on keys, guitar, saxophone, and another tremendous vocal performance. Just listen to the way, after the jam in the middle, he delivers these lines: “We started out together, baby/I thought it would last a long, long time/Now it seems I’ve got to cut you loose/And I’m about to lose my mind.”

“Got To Get You Off My Mind” is another original number composed by West and McLaughlin. Ah, I suppose after he cut her loose, he was still thinking about her, so this other step became necessary. This one has a groovy power. He sings about trying to get the woman off his mind, but of course finds himself thinking about her all the time. Heck, he’s singing about her too. And we learn he’s conflicted, saying he loved her from the start, that he’s sorry they had to part, but also asks why she had to break his heart. Ah yes, these things can be confusing, and the only way to work it out is through the blues. Another of the disc’s highlights is his gorgeous rendition of “People Get Ready,” with his daughter YaDonna West joining Willie West on vocals. And the way that sax rises in the second half is excellent. That’s followed by an energetic cover of that blues classic “Dust My Broom,” featuring some rocking stuff on keys.

Willie West gives us a sweet rendition of “Talk To Me, Talk To Me,” a song written by Joe Seneca and originally recorded by Little Willie John in 1958.  His vocal work is moving, excellent. I love the way he delivers these slower soul numbers. “The many ways you speak of love, I’ve heard it before/But it sounds so good every time/Please say the part that I love just once more/Darling, I’m so glad you’re mine.” “Talk To Me, Talk To Me” is followed by the final of the album’s Sam Cooke songs, “That’s Where It’s At,” which features another passionate vocal performance. “Please stay one minute more/That’s where it’s at.” Oh yes, I think he could convince anyone to stay. As he did with “You Send Me,” Willie West stretches this one out a bit, and there is some surprising whistling in the second half. The album concludes with “Blues In The Night,” written by Johnny Mercer. Here it is all about his vocal performance, as he delivers the song a cappella. A very cool ending to the disc.

CD Track List

  1. I Got The Blues
  2. Somebody Have Mercy
  3. Said To Myself
  4. You Send Me
  5. Summertime
  6. Got To Cut You Loose
  7. Got To Get You Off My Mind
  8. People Get Ready
  9. Dust My Broom
  10. Talk To Me, Talk To Me
  11. That’s Where It’s At
  12. Blues In The Night

The Soul Sessions was released on April 21, 2023 on both CD and vinyl.

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