Ella Washington “He Called Me Baby” (Soulscape SSCS 7014)
By Kev Briscoe
I Can't Afford To Lose Him; Starving For Love; I Done Made It Up In My Mind; He Called Me Baby; You're Gonna Cry, Cry, Cry; Stop Giving Your Man Away; The Affair; I Want To Walk Through This Life With You; Fragile (Handle With Care); Doing The Best I Can; Sweeter And Sweeter (Ray, Ray, Ray); All The Time; This Bitter Earth; Sit Down And Cry, He'll Be Back; I Don't Care About Your Past; It Must Be Love; Too Weak To Fight; If Time Could Stand Still; Nobody But Me; I'm Losing The Feeling; Mission (That's Impossible); What A Fool I've Been (For Loving You); Deeper; I've Got To Have You (It's All Over); Pride; We Paid The Price; You Got It.
To date Garry Cape's label has given us five cd’s encompassed by the subtitle “The Legendary John Richbourg Sessions”. Pete Nichols has reviewed the latest one by Willie Hobbs in his inimitable style but here I look at an earlier release by the ever reliable Ella Washington.
The Sound Stage 7 catalogue was never oversubscribed with female singers. However, with their two mainstays, Ann Sexton being the other, they recorded two of Southern Souls’ finest. This excellent compilation contains the bulk of her nine 45’s, tracks issued on her one and only album together with several unissued recordings. The highlights, of which there are many, are as follows.
The CD opens in memorable style with one of my personal favourites, Bobby Womack’s “I Can’t Afford To Lose Him”. Bobby’s guitar intro pulls you into this hypnotic mid paced masterpiece with Ella’s superb vocal hinting of what is to come. We don’t have to wait long because track two gives us the deep gem “Starving For Love” with Ella showing her considerable vocal talent off to great effect.
The third is one of several up-tempo tracks showing that Ella was as comfortable with this material as well as the slower ones, exemplified by the next track. “He Called Me Baby”, incredibly, was her only entry into the billboard charts and is now rightly acknowledged as a ‘Country Soul’ masterpiece. The overlooked up-tempo “Stop Giving Your Man Away” once again shows that she was at ease with the faster material but this is quickly followed by “I Want To Walk Through This Life With You” another country tinged deep opus, wonderful!
The motownesqe “Fragile ( Handle With Care)” shows she could still sound sexy and soulful while getting us to tap our feet! The excellent running order immediately takes the tempo down again to the bluesy “Doing The Best I Can”. Recorded at American Studios the ‘Memphis Boys’ sounding superb particularly with those wonderful organ fills. The tempo rises again for “Sweeter And Sweeter (Ray, Ray, Ray)" a track that has an uplifting ‘feel good’ factor about it.
Ella’s solitary Sound Stage 7 album contained several tracks that never appeared as singles; “All the Time” another stunning ballad with one of Ella’s finest understated vocal performances and “Sit Down And Cry” show why the album has been cherished by Southern Soul fans for many years. It also shows that the Nashville boys could give those guys over in Memphis and Muscle Shoals a run for their money as well. While the inclusion on the album of “This Bitter Earth” may seem out of place it is beautifully delivered.
As well as her vocal range Ella’s voice could exude a sultry sexiness, accentuated by her Southern accent and slight sibilance. This is highlighted in particular on the fine ballad “He’ll Be Back” another stock-in-trade performance ably backed by the Nashville boys with some irresistibly guitar work.
“I Don’t Care About Your Past” was coupled with “It Must Be Love” for her penultimate Sound Stage 7 45 and contrasts her styles beautifully. The first finds Ella in “Sista’ Funk” territory is another strutting number which would not have been out of place on one of Millie Jackson’s albums. The other side, a particular favourite of mine, is yet another gorgeous ballad that gets overlooked in favour of her ‘deeper’ sides.
Both sides of her final 45 on the label were recorded at FAME and once more we have a contrast in styles. Clarence Carter’s “Too Weak To Fight” begins with a great spoken intro before the gang kick in with another skilfully delivered toe tapper. This was coupled with “If Time Could Stand Still” and once more Ella delivers another note perfect performance.
The CD closes with nine unissued-at-the-time tracks although a couple saw light of day via P-Vine and Charley albums. None of these disappoint and although they never made ‘official’ release they should not be overlooked. “Nobody But Me” and “We Paid The Price” could have been issued on 45 and stood along her other work without any loss in quality. However, of all the unissued tracks the one that I often return to is “Deeper”; co-written by Ella herself, I can’t help but think there is a great record in there just waiting to be teased out!
Complete with the usual impeccable liner notes from JR himself, that’s Ridley not Richbourg, I cannot recommend this magnificent cd highly enough!