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Half Heaven, Half Heartache

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Album Review

Big Maybelle was a force in any musical setting, but her truly essential recordings remain the 20-plus sides she recorded for OKeh Records in the mid-'50s. This set collects sides from a decade later when she was signed to Brunswick Records, and is actually made up of two Brunswick LPs, 1962's What More Can a Woman Do? and 1968's The Gospel Soul of Big Maybelle. Maybelle's voice is as strong as ever on these cuts, but it's obvious that Brunswick isn't too sure what to do with it. The 1962 tracks find her swathed in syrupy string arrangements, although that doesn't stop Maybelle from wringing every last drop of soul she can out of songs like "Cry," while the gospel material seems curiously unfocused and overly dramatic, although again Maybelle's voice is a true marvel. This isn't the place to start to discover this powerful singer, however, and listeners should seek out the earlier OKeh sides first.


Born: 01 May 1924 in Jackson, TN

Genre: Blues

Years Active: '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s

Her mountainous stature matching the sheer soulful power of her massive vocal talent, Big Maybelle was one of the premier R&B chanteuses of the 1950s. Her deep, gravelly voice was as singular as her recorded output for Okeh and Savoy, which ranged from down-in-the-alley blues to pop-slanted ballads. In 1967, she even covered ? & the Mysterians' "96 Tears" (it was her final chart appearance). Alleged drug addiction leveled the mighty belter at the premature age of 47, but Maybelle packed a lot of...
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Half Heaven, Half Heartache, Big Maybelle
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