Lou Pride,
Ain't No More Love in This House
(Severn, 2013)

Ursula Ricks,
My Street
(Severn, 2013)

A mixture of blues, jazz and gospel, soul was a leading variety of black popular music in the mid-1960s through the early part of the next decade. Next to it, the nearest rival, Motown, was -- for all its pop flair -- mere bubble-gum. I was around radios and jukeboxes when soul was always as close as the just-mentioned, but in those days I was discovering hard-core blues (Robert Johnson, Howlin' Wolf) and paid it little attention. Blues appealed to me more because of both its harder edge and, paradoxically, its humor. Whatever else it may be, soul music is rarely funny.

Both soul and blues are in good part about sex, but the former sets the erotic in the context of the romantic, which is definitely not the case with deep blues, where sex is fueled simply by lust. It's significant that Ain't No More Love in This House's purest blues cut, "She Boom Boom Me," the late Lou Pride revives a common blues theme: traveling to a Southern destination in anticipation of particularly satisfying sex; if love is part of the equation, it isn't mentioned. Pride does have fun, however, with various blues euphemisms.

Otherwise, except for the inevitable broken-heart sagas, the songs evoke true love and committed relationships. "We Can Do What We Want," from the jazz-pop side of soul, celebrates married sex. It even mentions jobs and children, which underscores the point that soul performers and the music have matured together. Pride, who died in June 2010 shortly after cutting these 11 tracks with a crackerjack band, first recorded in 1970 during soul's heyday but never achieved much success, though surely owing more to circumstance -- he was living in the Southwest, far from soul central -- than to lack of talent. The current project shows that even in his life's last months his talents as a performer remained large. From the evidence of the four cuts he contributed here, he was also a first-rate songwriter. It's sad to contemplate that this will be his final album.

On the other hand, My Street is Ursula Ricks's first. Based in Baltimore and (judging from photographs) on the younger side of Pride's general age range, Ricks, who is African American, offers up some often tough-minded soul, blues and jazz, backed by some of the same Severn house-band players and vocalists who worked with Pride. Though clearly rooted in 1960s black popular music, Ricks's is an updated version, albeit not radically so.

You don't do this sort of thing and get recorded by a label as discerning as Severn if you don't know what you're doing. Not a problem here; Ricks is in full command, not only as singer but as composer of eight of the 10 cuts. One of the covers is Bobby Rush's excellent "Mary Jane," with a compelling blues narrative on a tried-and-true theme except that here marijuana, not alcohol, plays the villain. Ricks can deliver a soul love song ("Sweet Tenderness," "Just a Little Bit of Love") just fine, but it's the blues numbers that appeal most to me. They're particularly striking when combined with social commentary as in the title piece and elsewhere. My favorite song, though, is the apparently autobiographical opener, "Tobacco Road," not to be confused with the 1960s hit of the same name composed by John D. Loudermilk. Another seemingly personal narrative, "Due," fuses soul and blues into a very dark meditation on the vagaries of life as an artistically gifted but financially unrewarded blues singer.

With My Street a significant talent steps onto the larger stage. One may wonder, given the depth and intensity of her music, why it took so long, but that's beside the point. Just be glad she's here and look forward to more.

music review by
Jerome Clark

14 December 2013

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