Brook Benton – Home Style/Story Teller
Released 8th April 2016
Two Albums from the early 70s by the Soul legend who had a big hit with “Rainy Night In Georgia”, Ian Canty enjoys some prime sombre Southern Soul
Brook Benton is a name that’s almost forgotten today, which is damn shame hearing this CD. During the 50s, 60s and 70s he was a very successful artist in the US, notching up over 50 hits on the Billboard charts and enjoying chart action in three decades.
By the time he recorded these two LPs he already had long recording career behind him which commenced in 1955 with “The Kentuckian Song” single. Coming from a Gospel/Doo Wop background, he carved out a career that took in Blues, Rock N Roll and Soul and as a gifted songwriter he wrote for none other than Nat King Cole. In 1959 he had number 3 hit in the US with “It’s Just a Matter of Time” and from there on many hits followed, especially in the early part of the 60s. His star waned by the middle of the decade but his recording of Tony Joe White’s “Rainy Night In Georgia” put him right back in the US top five in 1969 and when we catch up with Brook here he was just off the back of that international success and in good shape.
“Home Style” from 1970 is perfect laid-back Soul with a pronounce Gospel influence that Brook had enjoyed from his days of childhood – you can hear it clearly on “Its All In The Game” and in the hymn-like “church organ” on “Are You Sincere” for instance. This is a very mellow work but none the worse for that. “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” has a marked Country tinge, “Born Under A Bad Sign” brings in Funky Blues with a nice brass arrangement and the whole record is beautifully played and sung (Cissy Houston’s backing vocals are like honey) with a perfect Arif Mardin production. Very much a moody slow burner but full bodied, classically chilled Soul Album.
“Story Teller” was the follow up and his jaunty pose on the sleeve with pipe in hand got me on his side already! The title does sum up the Brook Benton approach at the time really, he very much was the kind of singer that could bring lyrics to life – sounded like he meant it, man in Johnny Rotten-speak. This record leads off with the mournful “Moving Day” and does not vary too far from the format its predecessor – mostly slow semi-ballads but with skilful musical flourishes and Brook’s deep baritone. “Shoes”, his last medium sized hit, is a cool, high-class funk concoction about a spurned lover and Benton’s voice is full, sorrowful and huge throughout this record. “Please Send Me Someone To Love” (surely a proto-Morrissey title?) reprises the Gospel elements of the previous LP and “Big Mabel Murphy” reaches even further back merging 40s swing jazz and blues to come on like an update of Cab Calloway. Oddly for such an accomplished songwriter this album was all covers, but bar Pomus and Shuman’s well-worn “Save The Last Dance For Me” it eschews the familiar (to me anyway) ending with a version of Elton John’s “Country Comfort”.
Both records have a good deal to offer but if pushed I would say “Home Style” wins the day, a gorgeously constructed late night record. The CD itself ends with the non-LP, very sad “A Black Child Can’t Smile”. Brook Benton was really a top notch Soul storyteller with a great smoky voice and these albums are the proof of his great talent as a song interpreter, which deserves re-investigation.
All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here