Ramsey Lewis ‘Mother Nature’s Son’ (Cadet/Universal) 5/5

ramsey-lewisIn the pantheon of the great Chess label recordings, this deserves a major place even if it is on the Cadet jazz off-shoot, and is as ‘out’ a recording as Chess could possibly muster. In this respect alone it is both a parallel and companion piece to Muddy Waters late 1960s psychedelic blues classic, ‘Electric Mud’. Pianist Ramsey Lewis recorded prolifically for the Cadet label, but never quite sounded like this elsewhere and part of the reason are the magisterial orchestrations of Charles Stepney who would go on to find fame with Terry Callier in the early 1970s, and then at a later stage with Earth, Wind and Fire. This splendid re-issue reproduces the iconic cover which is practically worthy the price of admission in its own right.
From the outset, this album purports to be a Beatles cover album, but in reality it is so much more, revisiting old chestnuts and imbuing them with a whole new and instantly funkier flavour, and, in addition, exploring songs that even hardened Beatles fans would not consider to be obvious candidates as covering material. Who, for example, would think of an R & B reworking of ‘Everybody’s got something to hide except me’? Be that as it may, the inclusion of an early version of the Moog synthesizer works wonders and transforms the songs. The earthy funk of ‘Back in the USSR’ features some lovely piano licks on top while a groovy interpretation of ‘Black Bird’ ends the album on a thrilling high. Another highlight is the soaring take on ‘Julia’, but in truth the whole album has to be soaked up in its entirety over repeated listening intakes.

ACE records a few years back did a sterling job of bringing together a variety of blues and R & B musicians on their tribute album to the Beatles, part of a series that includes Sam Cooke and Bob Dylan, but Ramsey Lewis, alongside Booker T and the MGs, is a prime contender for the single, most distinctive and personal rendering of the Beatles back catalogue, and this splendid re-issue reproduces the iconic cover. How about a re-issue of ‘Maiden Voyage’ by Lewis as a future re-release? Too many of his Cadet LPs remain unissued in the UK, but hopefully with this superlative re-issue that oversight will soon be remedied.

Tim Stenhouse