Saturday, July 19, 2014

Muscle Shoals meets Porretta

Europe's greatest soul festival, at the spa town of Porretta Terme in Italy, is always a feast of good music, and this year's, the 27th, is no exception. The theme this time is the music produced at Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and organiser Graziano Uliani, has, as ever, hit the jackpot by getting together a backing band comprising many of the musicians who were vital to the Muscle Shoals sound, including guitarists Jimmy Johnson, Will McFarlane and David Hood, Mickey Buckins on percussion and top notch keyboard players and horn section.
The result was a sweet sounding 11 piece band, plus three female backing singers, who could make even average singers sound good. Fortunately the artists on the first night were anything but average so the music was highly enjoyable. Topping the bill was Denise Lasalle who, at 75, is still glamorous and occasionally a little risqué. She sounds great too, beginning with the aptly titled Still The Queen, and continuing with other southern soul favourites including her 70s hit I Forgot To Remember, Down Home Blues, I Was Stepping Out, Trapped By This Thing Called Love, Drop That Zero, her big UK hit My Toot Toot and finishing magnificently with Man Sized Job. There was a curious moment when MC Rick Hutton came out with a cup of tea which was clearly too hot to drink, but overall this was a high class set and thoroughly enjoyable.
Earlier there was an excellent spot by a young soul man named Theo Huff, who sounded great on two Johnnie Taylor songs, Who's Making Love and Last Two Dollars. He looked and sounded the part in a smart white suit and hat and I look forward to hearing more of him. He was followed by Vaneese Thomas, daughter of the former patriarch of the Porretta Soul Festival Rufus Thomas, who sang three Aretha numbers, Chain Of Fools, A Natural Woman and Respect, plus Ten Times The Man You Are, from her new CD Blues For My Father, Candi Staton's I'd Rather Be An Old Man's Sweetheart and her dad's Walking The Dog. Vaneese is trying to get him inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Let's hope she succeeds with her campaign because, like Big Jay McNeely, who I chatted to recently, he was a great pioneer who has been overlooked for too long.
I was a bit sceptical about the next act, Jimmy Hall, former member of Southern rock band Wet Willie,  but was pleasantly surprised. Whilst not a great soul singer he was fine on a couple of Eddie Hinton songs, including Things Got To Get A Little Bit Salty, a duet with Carla 'Kosmic Mama' Russell (she also did a couple of solo numbers) on The Night Time Is The Right Time, Grits And Groceries and the Wet Willie number Keep On Smiling.
Earlier we suffered over an hour of repetitive funk by an Italian band called Capital Strokes, featuring an energetic singer called Randy Roberts, but overall this was another Porretta success thanks to the Muscle Shoals band and some excellent singers, especially Denise Lasalle. Looking forward to tonight's show. Photos will follow soon.
Nick Cobban.


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