The Chambers Brothers,
People Get Ready (Vault, 1965; Collectors' Choice, 2007)
Now (Vault, 1966; Collectors' Choice, 2007)
Shout (Vault, 1968; Collectors' Choice, 2007)
Feelin' the Blues (Vault, 1970; Collectors' Choice, 2007)

Before the Chambers Brothers broke through to mass popularity with their psychedilic-rock classic of the late 1960s, "Time Has Come Today," they made a series of albums for LA-based Vault Records. The first, People Get Ready for the Chambers Brothers, captures them live at LA's legendary folk club, the Ash Grove (with a few supplemental tracks done at Boston's Unicorn).

At this time, the Brothers were primarily doing covers -- the album, like all of the Vault releases, is loaded with their interpretations of rhythm and blues staples, such as Jimmy Reed's "Yes, Yes, Yes," Lowell Fulsom's "Reconsider, Baby" and Barrett Strong's "Money." The Brothers don't simply ape earlier versions, though; already they show a deep streak of originality, as well a deep respect for the material. Their roots as southern gospel singers show throughout, making People Get Ready a very good opening statement in a long career that would take them into virtually every aspect of American roots music.

Now sounds as though it were made up of outtakes from People Get Ready. Again recorded at the Ash Grove and the Unicorn, it also consists of blues and R&B covers. This time, though, the songs aren't as strong. Face it, "Long Tall Sally" just isn't "You Gote Running," and no matter how sympathetic we are, "It's Groovin' Time" just isn't going to linger in your memory. The Chambers Brothers' harmony and their playing are, as they always are, first rate, but the material lets them down.

Shout takes the Brothers into the studio for the first time, but cautiously, as if the record company was a touch reluctant to let go of the live aspect: side one is live, while side two contains studio work. The highlight of the live side is a cooking, thrashing, almost out-of-control, 11-minute medley of "I Got It" and "Shout." It's a track that doesn't let up, building excitement for all of its length. The studio side is made up of mostly original material and shows the group moving in the direction of rock.

By the time Vault released Feeling the Blues, the band had already made it big with "Time Has Come Today" and the Columbia album that contained it. Again, it's a mix of live and studio recordings and, again, like most albums culled from leftover material after the band has split, it's a mixed bag, designed to cash in on their success somewhere else.. Also like most albums culled from leftover materials, it lacks unity. The music is all over the landscape. You've got a Ray Charles cover ("I Got a Woman"), a folk standard ("House of the Rising Sun"), a little gospel ("Just a Closer Walk With Thee") -- even an old jazz tune ("Undecided"). As a record of everywhere the Chambers Brothers had been, it's worthwhile, but it doesn't say a thing about where they were going.

In all, these albums pretty much sum up the Chambers Brothers' apprentice period, pointing to all of the musical bases they would hit in a long career. If you only know them from their psychedelic period in the late '60s, then getting to know the band in all of its complexity will be a treat.

review by
Michael Scott Cain

10 May 2008

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