BETTY HARRIS: THE LOST QUEEN OF NEW ORLEANS SOUL

 Soul Jazz Records 

For fans of James Brown, Irma Thomas, Tina Turner, and The Meters

When you think of the greatest Soul singers of all time you probably don’t think of the name Betty Harris. Despite being as talented as superstars like Tina Turner and Etta James, Ms. Harris isn’t a household name. During the 1960’s she only released a handful of singles and only a few of those became hits. She then retired in 1970 to focus on her family. While her music has become very popular among Soul record collectors and aficionados over the years, it has never reached a mass audience. Fortunately the good folks at Soul Jazz Records are trying to change that with their recent release, BETTY HARRIS: THE LOST QUEEN OF NEW ORLEANS SOUL!

THE BEGINNING

Born in Orlando FL, in 1941 (or possibly 1939) Ms. Harris started out singing gospel music when she was very young. Part of a very religious family, Harris wasn’t allowed to sing secular music while under her parent’s roof. She left home in her late teens to perform Blues and Soul music in California. After several years on the West Coast she moved to New York City where she hooked up with songwriter/producer Bert Berns. In 1963 she recorded her first hit, “Cry To Me”, a slow rendition of a tune singer Solomon Burke had recorded a year earlier. The song became a big hit for Harris and actually surpassed Burke’s original recording on the national charts! The success of “Cry To Me” inspired a few more releases from the Berns/Harris team including a fiery number called “Mo Jo Hannah”. Unfortunately none of these other recordings because hits and Burns and Harris went their separate ways.

WORKING WITH ALLEN TOUSSAINT

Shortly after her relationship with Burt Berns ended Harris met master Musican/Songwriter Allen Toussaint and began recording for his New Orleans based record label Sansu. Even though only one of the singles she recorded for Sansu charted nationally, the recordings she made while at the label are classic and make up the material on BETTY HARRIS: THE LOST QUEEN OF NEW ORLEANS SOUL. The music on this compilation is all killer-no-filler and ranges from classic R&B to HARD FUNK ! Songs like “There’s A Break In Every Road” and “12 Red Roses” are so funky you can smell ’em and the balled “Lonely Hearts” is greasier then a plate of food from a Louisiana Bayou Fish Fry! While it’s Harris’ larger-then-life vocals that command the most attention on these songs we must also note that the backing band is made up of some of New Orleans’ finest musicians, including the legendary Funk group, The Meters. Like the Funk Brothers at Motown or Booker T. & The MG’s at STAX, The Meters are as important to the recording as the artist they are supporting. Finally, we must acknowledge that none of these recordings would’ve been possible without master musician/producer Allen Toussiant behind the board. Not only do his talents as a producer take these recordings to another level, he also wrote all of these songs!

THE BOTTOM LINE

BETTY HARRIS: THE LOST QUEEN OF NEW ORLEANS SOUL is an excellent compilation of Harris’ Sansu recordings. Even though there are other compilations that go a bit deeper into her career this one hits all the main points and is a must have for FUNK loving fans.

 

THE PRESERVATION HALL BAND: THAT’S IT!

PHJB

In 1961, tuba player Allan Jaffe and his wife Sandra decided to turn a small building in the heart of the New Orleans French Quarter into a performance hall.  The idea behind this project was to help preserve the history and sound of New Orleans Jazz.  Given the name “Preservation Hall”,  this little building quickly became the spot in town where people knew they could always hear exceptional musicians preform classic New Orleans Jazz.  The small size of the venue gave audience members an up-close and personal show allowing them to really connect with the musicians and vice versa.  Shortly after the hall opened some of it’s regular musicians started performing together outside of the club as the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.  Now after 50 of keeping the sound of New Orleans Jazz alive the band’s done something for the very first time in it’s career, they’ve released an album of original music.

Now some purists might think it’s a little strange for a band that’s made a career of playing standards to release an album of original music, but after listening to THAT’S IT! for about 30 seconds you seem to forget these tunes weren’t written in 1920.  The material on this album is strong and in some cases may even be stronger then some of the classics that fill the band’s regular set! (GASP)  The sound on this album is clearly that of a band that’s out for blood.  Songs like the album’s title track and Halfway Right, Halfway Wrong are fierce and in your face while the tune Dear Load (Give Me Strength) will have you up and dancing in your living room.  Rattlin’ Bones is probably the funkiest tune on the record and although the lyrics might be a little silly this song is upbeat and fun which is really what this music’s all about, having fun. With that in mind, it’s funny that the only real somber tune on the album maybe also be one of the album’s strongest.  While listening to the bluesy balled August Nights  it’s easy to imagine yourself alone in a bar on Frenchman’s street at 3am listening to the band play.  This song is so beautiful and fits perfectly among the other more upbeat material.  It’s nice to see that after 50 years the band’s message is still the same,  no matter your who you are, if you’re a positive person and wanna party, then you’re welcome here.

Preservation Hall