Friday, September 01, 2017

Don Bryant at Ronnie Scott's

Last night's show by Don Bryant at Ronnie Scott's in Soho was an absolute masterclass in soul music. Backed by the excellent Bo-Keys, led by bassist Scott Bomar, Don showed that he remains a singer of the highest order, with a set that was just magnificent from beginning to end. Now 75, Don was a recording artist for Hi in the 1960's, releasing seven singles and an album of covers called Precious Soul. Surrounded, as he was, by talents such as Al Green, Otis Clay, Syl Johnson and his wife Ann Peebles, Don stopped recording and concentrated on song writing and supporting Ann's career in the seventies and then moved into the gospel field.
But now he's back - and how! He's recorded his first secular album in nearly 50 years, Don't Give Up On Love, on Fat Possum, and it's a classic, with several self penned compositions, both old and new, and a varied mix of material ranging from ballads to funk. Last night he focused largely on this album, but included quite a few other songs with which he has been associated as well. The Bo-Keys, who backed him on the album, provided superb support, with the excellent Archie Turner on keyboards, David Mason on drums, Joe Restivo on guitar, Marc Franklin on trumpet and Kirk Smothers on sax.
Don began with a searing version of A Nickel and a Nail, made famous by fellow Memphian O V
Wright, and followed up with the album's second track, Something About You. Next came the beautiful ballad I'll Go Crazy, a Hi single from 1968, and I Got To Know, which he wrote for the Five Royales when they recorded with Willie Mitchell back in 1960. Don't Give Up On Love, a gorgeous piece of deep soul came next, followed by One Ain't Enough, a funky track from his new album, and the mid tempo What Kind Of Love. He completed the first set with Willie Mitchell's bouncy That Driving Beat, on which Don was the uncredited singer and which gave the Bo-Keys' horn section full rein.
After a short break, Don and the band returned with a scorching version of King Curtis's Memphis Soul Stew, followed by the other side of That Driving Beat, Everything Is Gonna Be Alright, both of them ideal vehicles for the Bo-Keys. The self penned ballad How Do I Get There came next, a great song which had the audience eating out of his hand, followed by It Was Jealousy, which Don wrote for Ann Peebles' 1975 album Tellin' It and which was also recorded by Otis Clay. A funky version of the Big Jay McNeely hit There Is Something On Your Mind followed, also a 1960's 45 by Don on Hi, and then a wonderful song called Don't Turn Your Back On Me, which sounded like a Solomon Burke number but was actually another of Don's 45s on Hi in 1965. Probably Don's best known composition, among many, is I Can't Stand The Rain, a big hit for Ann Peebles, and this came next, going down a storm. Finally, as an encore, Don turned to another beautiful soulful ballad from his new album, First You Cry.
It's incredible to think that Don's talent has been hidden away for nearly five decades. I saw him
appear with Ann Peebles at the Porretta Soul Festival in 2001, the year it was held in Bologna, (see photo) but he took second billing to his equally talented wife on that occasion. This time around his talent is very much in the spotlight and his return to recording and performing is one of the best things to have happened to Memphis soul music in recent years. He looked great, wearing a floral jacket in the first set and a darker version for the second, and his stage presence was excellent.  Among the crowd at Ronnie's last night was Graziano Uliani, who masterminds the brilliant Porretta festival every year, and it's to be hoped that he can persuade Don to appear next year. What a treat that will be.


At 7:23 pm , Anonymous Harry van Vliet said...

Hello Nick ! Thanks for the fast gig report ! Now we got even more reason
to look forward to Don's gig in Amsterdam this coming sunday !
Ta Mate Harry . Fingerpoppin Soul , Amsterdam.

At 7:43 am , Anonymous E. Mark Windle said...

Thanks for the write up Nick! The quality of Don's latest work really is superb, I must say. Fantastic to see him getting the full respect and appreciation he deserves. E. Mark Windle (A Nickel And A Nail, UK)

At 8:01 pm , Anonymous Harry van Vliet said...

Hey Nick , yesterday we witnessed a stunning gig by Don Bryant and the Bo-Keys in
Amsterdam ! Great stage presence, real horns, good !
Proves that it's still possible to get Goosebumps in 2017 !
Take care Harry


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