Johnnie Taylor ‘Ear-ga-sm’ / ‘Rated Extraordinaire’ SACD (Vocalion) 4/5

Soul-blues is a largely southern American art form and one that singer Johnnie Taylor, born and raised in West Memphis, perfected with his initial work at Stax, culminating in the number one R & B and top five pop chart smash, ‘Who’s making love?’. This excellent paring of albums takes the story on several years to the mid-1970s when Taylor was now singed to Columbia records and is a smoother affair, though the subject matter remains the same, but with a classic mid-tempo Chicago soul feel. The first album hit big with the enjoyable, ‘Disco lady’, which is actually frequently compared with Marvin Gaye’s offering to the disco era,’ Got to give it up’, and is a mid-tempo number complete with Bob James style keyboards. The rest of the album is very much a continuation of what preceded at Stax, with classy soul-blues such as, ‘I’m gonna keep on loving you’. There is even a welcome touch of gospel on the laid back, Running out of lies’.
The follow-up, ‘Rated extraordinaire’, has a more varied line-up with strings arranged by Wade Marcus and produced by Don Davis. Moreover, it was recorded in Detroit and Muscles Shoals, Alabama. A lesser hit came in the form of, ‘Your love is rated X’, while for the strongest song on the album in terms of production and instrumental accompaniment, a clear contender is, ‘You’re the best in the world’, which comes with lovely flute and guitar. Northern soul fans will marvel equally at, It don’t hurt me like it used to’. A quality ballad is delivered in, ‘Pick up the pieces’ (not the Average White Band composition).

While Johnnie Taylor fared less well at the end of the disco era, he returned to top form with independent label Beverley Glenn and arguably his strongest interpretation of all, the magisterial, ‘Just ain’t good enough’, from 1982. Among his label mates at the time, were one Anita Baker and her former group, Chapter Eight.

Tim Stenhouse