Miami Soul Explosion/by Michael Goodwin
DANGER HIGH VOLTAGE by Betty Wright
(Alston-4400: T. K. Productions)
For me, Martha (i.e., Martha-of-Martha & the Vandellas, back when Motown didn ‘t know how to make a bad record) has always been the ultimate high-energy female rock ‘n’ roll singer. Which, in its way, is kind of sad, because that time and that music are dead. and you have to live the hard fact that things just aren’t gonna be that great ever again. Well, get on your dancin’ shoes, ’cause I’ve got some good news. Here comes Betty Wright, who’s just as tough, just as intense, just as brilliant as ‘Martha. She’s 21, she lives in Miami, and she bums. And if your day isn’t made yet, get this: she’s just the tip of the iceberg. There’s an explosive r&b renaissance taking place in Miami . And I don’t mean soul-music-r&b either. (It took me a couple of years to realize that what the music industry was calling “r&b” was something altogether different .) I mean r&b as in Howlin’ Wolf, Fats Domino and, most particularly, Martha & the Vandellas. One listen to Betty Wright’s new Ip is enough to make you realize that · there’s something going on in Miami, ’cause music this great can’t happen in a vacuum. And although, at first thought, Miami may seem like the unlikeliest place for such a renaissance, at second thought it makes plenty of sense. Miami’s cultural mix is one-of-a-kind. There’s a large black community, but it’s never been particularly separatist – in fact, the Miami black music scene is more-nearly integrated than anything since the Stax/Memphis musical community that grew up around Booker T. and the MG’s. There are lots of Cubans in Miami, and lots of Afro-Cuban music. There’s even a fair number of Jamaicans, and thus a little reggae gets kicked into the mix. (There are also, of course, lots of little old Jewish ladies, but that ‘s OK.) And there’s T.K. Records-a Miami-based operation that’s turning out hits like goldenage Motown, and for much the same reasons. T.K. is more of a family than a record company. Its stable of artists, writers and producers work together, turning up on record after record in different combinations. (Sound familiar?) Thus, guitarist Little Beaver (Willie Hale) and keyboard wizard Benny Latimore play back-up for Betty Wright; Betty sings back-up vocals on Beaver’s LP; Beaver plays bass for Latimore’s record, etc., etc. And the sense of friendship (as well as musical give-and-take) that comes out of such an on-going group collaboration makes a special kind of music that matters. Betty Wright is T.K.’s star front-liner. You may remember her big hit of a few years ago, “Clean Up Wornan,”-but Ms. Wright goes back much further than that. She cut her first Ip in 1 %8, for Atco, at the ripe age of 14. She sounded great then; she sounds even greater now. On Danger High Voltage (and the title isn’t kidding), her vocals are just as intense as they were seven years ago, but her mastery of phrasing and drama-the way she tells a story-is far more assured. As are the tracks that drive beneath her: tough, minimal r&b, heavy on the bass and guitar, that owes a little to reggae and a lot to the kind of glorious, gospel-based arrangements that made Motown famous. Danger is a perfect record; for my money there’s not a bad cut on it. The songs (mostly originals) are genre classics, ranging from “Everybody Was Rockin”‘ (“I got an invitation/ It was from an old friend of mine/She was throwing a zodiac party / It said don’t forget to wear your sign .. .”) to Allen Toussaint’s “Shoorah” (“I checked you out from the comer of my eye/ You and the Devil walking side by side”). The performances are stunning, the arrangements cook, the recording is as strong and punchy as 1960-Chess, and the beat is irresistible. I’ve been waiting for this record for ten years. So have you. T. K. PRODUCTIONS • 495 S.E. 10th Court• Hialeah, Florida 33010 • (305) 888-1685