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Live On the Sunset Strip

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Album Review

Otis Redding's now historic four-night stand at Hollywood's Whisky a Go Go in April of 1966 has been selectively documented on two previous releases. The first was 1968's In Person at the Whisky a Go Go, which included ten selections chosen from the run. Good to Me: Recorded Live at the Whisky a Go Go, Vol. 2, released in 1982 and expanded for CD release in 1993, was also assembled from various nights. This release is very different. No mere attempt to milk a few more gems from a legendary set of gigs, Otis Redding & His Orchestra Live on the Sunset Strip contains three full sets on two discs from that stand. It's a warts-and-all, rowdy, magical set of performances that reminds the faithful of Redding's singular gifts as a singer and performer, and will open the ears of the uninitiated. A new revelation here is just how much Redding's own band played a role. He was recorded often with the Bar-Kays or Booker T. & the MG's. This set showcases the talents of the "orchestra" reflected in the CD title. This band, ten pieces strong with a backing chorus, was handpicked by Redding, and the bandmembers understood instinctively what he was about more than any other musicians he played with. One need only go as far as the first disc's third and fourth tracks, where "These Arms of Mine" gives way on a dime to the impromptu, largely lyrically improvised cover of "Satisfaction." One minute is a pure begging, gritty, Southern soul love song; the next it's the church in full revival mode, though the expression is purely carnal. That vibe is continued on "Can't Turn You Loose," quickly counted off and stormed into. Redding's rapport with the audience is easy, yet commanding. He just turns himself loose and they all follow. The lockstep groove quotient on these performances is unending, no matter which set they're playing, and no matter the track. The rhythm section is near flawless, though the band — and Redding — flub a little on occasion, which adds to the riveting excitement that unfolds here. Each disc has moments when you're listening and can become so captivated that you forget where you are, what time, or even what year it is. Check disc two, where "A Hard Day's Night" moves into "These Arms of Mine," or "Destiny" as it shifts gears rapidly into "Security"; there are no jerky transitions, just a seamless shift into power glide. Ashley Khan's liner notes — which quote extensively from Taj Mahal (who was present for the entire run because his band the Rising Sons were the opening act) — are priceless; they are an exciting counterpart to a captivating listening experience that completes a portrait of this run that the previous live Whisky volumes merely traced.


Genre: R&B/Soul

One of the most influential soul singers of the 1960s, Otis Redding exemplified to many listeners the power of Southern "deep soul" -- hoarse, gritty vocals, brassy arrangements, and an emotional way with both party tunes and aching ballads. He was also the most consistent exponent of the Stax sound, cutting his records at the Memphis label/studios that did much to update R&B into modern soul. His death at the age of 26 was tragic not just because he seemed on the verge of breaking through to a wide...
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