Monday, November 13, 2023

The Mighty Clouds Of Joy: “Kickin’” (1975/2023) CD Review

The Mighty Clouds Of Joy were a gospel group that began in 1959, in those early days having a traditional gospel sound. They added more modern elements to their sound as the 1960s progressed, and by the 1970s were recording songs that were outside of the gospel realm, while still maintaining that gospel sense and joy. Their 1975 LP Kickin’ is now being re-issued with a couple of bonus tracks, as well as new liner notes by Tim Dillinger-Curenton. The album features a mix of covers and original material, and includes disco and soul elements, the tracks featuring that great lead vocal work of Joe Ligon. The group was made up of Joe Ligon, Johnny Martin, Richard Wallace, Ermant Franklin and Elmeo Franklin. The musicians backing them on this release include Earl Young on drums, Robert Popwell on bass, Dennis Harris on guitar, Daryl Inman on guitar, Kenny Mims on guitar, Dave Crawford on keyboards, Will Boulware on keyboards, Larry Washington on congas, Jack Ashford on percussion, and Kenny Fine on synthesizer. Atlanta Symphony String & Horns provides the string work.

The album gets off to a fun and energetic start with “Mighty High,” a sort of disco gospel number written by producer Dave Crawford with Richard Downing. This song was also released as a single, and became a hit for the band. It is a joyful number designed to get folks dancing and smiling. “Listen to my story/Listen to my plea/Let him be your leader/He will end your misery.” There is a delicious power behind the vocals during the chorus, and the track features a fantastic section in the second half where the percussion is prominent. A glorious and uplifting opening to the album. The band then mellows things out a bit for “Leanin’,” which features a soulful and soothing vocal performance, and still includes disco elements. This song was written by Dave Crawford and Carl Mann.

The Mighty Clouds Of Joy deliver a really good rendition of Billy Preston’s “You Are So Beautiful,” perhaps taking some inspiration from the Joe Cocker recording, particularly in the vocal approach. There is a great raw passion to the delivery. But this band expands the song, this version being nearly twice as long as Cocker’s version from I Can Stand A Little Rain. I dig that vocal riffing at the end: “I’ve got to tell the world/You are, you are, so, so, so beautiful/I can’t keep it, I can’t keep it, I just can’t keep it to myself/Oh, I’ve got to run and tell, tell somebody/You are so beautiful.” Are they singing this song to a woman, or to God? It really doesn’t matter. This is a beautiful song, and this rendition features some nice stuff on keys. That’s followed by a medley of The Kiki Dee Band’s “I’ve Got The Music In Me” and Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.” These guys go back and forth between the two songs, as a disco beat keeps things grooving. The two songs work well together in this fashion, and this track is a lot of fun.

The album then goes back to original material with “Millionaire,” this one written by Dave Crawford. It features another strong, passionate vocal performance, along with a good beat. This track also contains prominent string work. “If I had a quarter/For every drop of water/That fell from my eyes/Every time the world made me cry/I’d be a millionaire.” That’s followed by “Touch My Soul,” a song written by Dobie Gray, Troy Seals and Edward Setser. This track is beautiful, moving, and soulful. There is a such a good feel about it. “What a peaceful kind of feeling/Oh, what an easy way to go/You say you’ll stay and you’ll listen/Until all the story has been told.” The energy returns for “Standing On The Real Side,” another fun number with a strong groove. I love that bass line. This track has elements of funk and disco, and is all about the vibe, about the beat. At one point they sing, “We move, we groove.” No question about it. This song was written by Dave Crawford and Carl Mann. The original album concludes with “Everything Is Love,” also written by Dave Crawford and Carl Mann. This track offers more delicious disco vibes and some cool stuff on keys, and with a message that is still needed: “Everything is love, everything is love/It comes from up above/Everything is love.” This song becomes a fun jam.

Bonus Tracks

This special re-issue contains two bonus tracks, the single versions of “You Are So Beautiful” and “Mighty High,” both originally released in 1975. The single version of “You Are So Beautiful” is a minute shorter than the album version. Again, that powerful vocal performance drives the song. And even though this version is shorter, that great vocal riffing is included. Interestingly, the minute that is cut comes early in the song. What is cut is that part where they sing, “Such joy and happiness you bring/Oh, I just want to thank you now/Such joy and happiness you bring/Just like a dream,” before the instrumental section. The long, slow fade-out is included. The single version of “Mighty High” is also approximately a minute shorter than the album version. That cool percussion section is shorter in this version, so I prefer the album version. “Take a load off your mind/Ride the mighty glory/Listen to my story/Ride the mighty high.”

CD Track List

  1. Mighty High
  2. Leanin’
  3. You Are So Beautiful
  4. I’ve Got The Music In Me & Superstition
  5. Millionaire
  6. Touch My Soul
  7. Standing On The Real Side
  8. Everything Is Love
  9. You Are So Beautiful (Single Edit)
  10. Mighty High (Single Edit)

This re-issue of Kickin’ is scheduled to be released on December 8, 2023 through Omnivore Recordings.

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