Porretta Soul Festival, part 1
The annual Porretta Soul Festival is here again, and the excitement is growing. Once again, for the 29th year, this normally sleepy Italian hill town, just south of Bologna, is playing host to some of the best surviving soul artists from the 60s and 70s. It must surely be the greatest event of its kind anywhere in the world. In fact, it must be the only such event. A wonderful celebration of soul music that was the inspiration of Graziano Uliani, a Memphis soul fan who organised it as a tribute to Otis Redding. He invited Rufus Thomas to the first festival and since then just about anyone of note in the soul music firmament has performed in Porretta in the intimate Rufus Thomas Park amphitheatre.
Day one was a laid back affair with a small number of local and US bands appearing, the best of them being a tribute to Allen Toussaint by Texas duo Bruce James and Bella Black. Their contrasting voices worked well together on numbers including Night People, It's Raining and Southern Nights. Things hotted up on Friday with Fred Wesley and the New JBs providing some excellent funk. The band was tight and very professional with trombonist Fred well supported by sax man Phillip Whack and trumpeter Gary Winters. Numbers included Fourplay from 1977, Soul Power from his James Brown days, Bop To The Boogie, with audience participation, Breakin' Bread, Funky Good Time (as indeed it was) and We're Gonna Have A House Party. The excellent Anthony Paule Band supported the remaining acts and, after a number each by Sue McCracklin and Lorelee Christensen, both members of backing group Sweet Nectar, it was the time for the return visit of Mississippi soul singer Falisa JaNaye. She was on great form, looking gorgeous as ever, with dynamic versions of A Fool In Love, A Mighty Good Man and Mr Big Stuff, a couple of numbers from her new CD, Midnight and You Won't Get Your Water Til Your Well Runs Dry, and The Night Time Is The Right Time. Very enjoyable, but there was a lot more to come, first with Frank Bey, whose effortless soul voice was superb on Its Good To Have Your Company, Any Way You Look At It, Bobby Bland's Ain't That Loving You, the deeply soulful I Just Can't Go On Living This Way and If I Could Just Reach Out And Help Somebody. He ended with a passionate, if somewhat trite, version of Imagine, but this was soul singing at its very best.
Next on stage was Chicago soul man Stan Mosley, who has a voice somewhere between that of Wilson Pickett and Bobby Womack. Dressed in a red jacket he was excellent on Pickett's 6345789 and Womack's Lookin' For A Love, Harry Hippie and Woman's Gotta Have It, plus a couple of others, Makes You Want To Cry and Woman's Got To Have It. Highly enjoyable. He was joined on stage by Theo Huff, also in red, for a lively version of Sam and Dave's I Thank You, which got the crowd on its feet, somewhat blocking out the view of others. Theo has a strong voice but maybe tried just a little too hard on Who's Making Love, Turn Back The Hands Of a Time, Just Another Road, from his new CD, Soul Swing and an Otis soundalike Try A Little Tenderness.
Final act of the night was 70s disco star George McCrae, also dressed in red, whose high light voice was well suited to numbers including We Got Love, I Can't Leave You Alone, We Got Love, from his new CD, Ooh Baby Baby, Sexy Woman and Taste Of Heaven. He was especially good on Its Alright, but rather dull on You Are So Beautiful To Me. His big hit RockYour Baby rounded off a great evening, and there's more to come tonight.