Bettye Crutcher “Long As You Love Me – with bonus tracks” (Stax CDSXD 141)
By Pete Nickols
As Long As You Love Me; When We’re Together; Passion; A Little Bit More Won’t Hurt; Sunday Morning’s Gonna Find Us In Love; Sugar Daddy; Call Me When All Else Fails; Up For A Let Down; So Lonely Without You; Sleepy People; So Glad To Have You; Don’t You Think It’s About Time; Make A Joyful Noise; We’ve Got Love On Our Side; Walk On To Your New Love; I Forgive You.
The history of popular music encapsulates many a fine song-writer whose own singing ability was somewhat limited. Nearly all songwriters who create the lyrics to songs will naturally enough sing them through as they develop their piece, pending its coming to fruition. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they can make a good-enough job of it themselves to warrant a commercial recording of their own version, whereas often another more gifted vocalist will come along and make a first-rate job of interpreting the songwriter’s material, such that this version deservedly sees commercial release.
I’m afraid I think that song-writer Bettye Crutcher would have fallen very much into this particular category had she herself recorded more widely – however, as the album of which this CD is a reissue was her only commercial recording along with the one single (eventually) taken from it, perhaps it’s fair to say that Bettye never really saw herself as a potential major performer in her own right. On this vocal evidence I think that’s just as well. Of course, in reality, Betty’s dearth of recorded output probably had more to do with the lack of promotion that her one album received and the impending demise of her parent label, Stax. However, I still remember being very disappointed with this L.P. when I bought it back in 1974 and even the six previously unissued bonus tracks included on this CD (which do include a couple of better outings) nonetheless do little to change my opinion about the dubious vocal quality of a woman who had by this time already penned so many fine soul songs with the likes of Steve Cropper, Allen Jones, Booker T., Marvell Thomas, Mack Rice and especially of course with Homer Banks and Raymond Jackson as one third of “We Three”. Indeed she would even go on to have fleeting collaborations with both Frederick Knight and Sam Dees.
Sadly, and uncharacteristically, Tony Rounce’s sleeve-notes fail to record that several of the tracks on this CD were indeed recorded by others, most notably by Shirley Brown on her 1974 “Woman To Woman” set for another Stax subsidiary label, Truth. This album appeared after Bettye’s set had seen release earlier the same year on Stax’s Enterprise logo and included versions of “As Long As You Love Me”, “So Glad To Have You” and “Passion” (despite Tony R. stating that “’Passion’ is possibly the best song Shirley Brown never recorded at Stax”). Similarly, Tony reckons it’s a shame Mavis Staples missed out on “Call Me When All Else Fails” – maybe so, but at least the Sweet Inspirations had already cut it back in Feb/Mar 1973 for inclusion on their “Estelle Myrna & Sylvia” Stax 3017 set. “Sleepy People” had also been cut well before Bettye’s own version, by Teacher’s Edition on Hi 2224, as early as 1972.
The album opens with a pleasant-enough piece of innocuous pop-soul but there is already some evidence of Bettye’s inability to convincingly deliver, caused by her overly lay-back approach and uncertain ‘wobbles’ here and there, especially on the ad-libbed ‘wows’ and ‘ahs’.
‘Gently funky’ would be my best description of the styles of Tracks 2, 5 and 6 but the girl back-up singers’ vocals seem more potent and impressive than Bettye’s almost timid, lost-in-the-mix attempts at taking lead. One can imagine these as demos for stronger singers, however, with “Sugar Daddy”, for example, probably sounding much more impressive in the hands of someone like, say, Denise LaSalle or Ann Sexton – come to think of it Ann Sexton did cut a track of that title but it was a different song.
“Passion” is so slow-paced and quiet that it almost qualifies for ‘mood music’ even though the lyric did lend itself to a good deep treatment by Shirley Brown. As it is, Bettye’s version comes across as a somnambulistic late-night cocoon.
Tracks 4, 7 and 9 are a tad better. “A Little Bit More Won’t Hurt” again could have become an A1 deep winner in the right hands but even Bettye manages to create some genuine emotion here and there despite her light touch and under-involvement. “Call Me When All Else Fails” is a slow gospelly ballad (the one cut by the Sweets) which again does demonstrate some emotion despite a distinctly ‘quiet-fire’ interpretation. “So Lonely Without You” also has deep potential despite Bettye’s very ‘small voice’ approach – I can imagine Freddie Scott making really something of this one during his Shout days with Bert Berns.
“Up For A Let Down” is a popish piece which is much too coy for my taste, while the storyline lyric of “Sleepy People” (earlier by Teacher’s Edition) is all but lost here in the overly lay-back, ultra-‘quiet’ arrangement.
Of the six bonus tracks, “So Glad To Have You” is a pleasantish mid-paced song but Bettye’s amateurish attempts at melisma on words like “side” and “wide” are almost embarrassing when compared to Shirley Brown’s treatment of the piece. “Don’t You Think It’s About Time” returns us to a very cloying, coy style, and, on the next track, when Bettye exhorts her girl-friend to “Make A Joyful Noise” to let her man know how pleased she is to see him, it would perhaps have helped if the singer herself had sounded a bit more joyful. This song, though, would have made a nice vehicle for Mavis Staples.
Mavis would have also enjoyed the good lilting song “We’ve Got Love On Our Side” which is also one of Bettye’s own better performances here. However, “Walk On To Your New Love” is an organ-backed demo and is the best performance on the whole CD for me. Bettye doesn’t try to ‘over-soul’ her limited vocal capabilities but keeps chiefly to an expressive low-key approach which suits this emotive, deep piece really well, albeit even Bettye manages to let rip a couple of times to reasonably good effect on the climactic sequences. The organ-playing is really outstanding too. The other demo on offer, “I Forgive You”, is a jaunty piece of catchy pop-soul, the sort of thing Carla Thomas would have cut maybe a decade earlier. Not my bag but quite good of its kind.
So, in truth, I can’t recommend this CD to fans of meaningfully interpreted soul music. It has its historical interest to collectors of course and it’s nice to have the previously unheard bonus tracks. It also reminds us that Bettye was indeed a good writer of songs – it’s just a pity that she couldn’t sing them half as well.