Deep Dive: Esther Phillips, THE COUNTRY SIDE OF ESTHER
Today we celebrate the birthday of the late R&B singer Esther Phillips, and we do so by taking a look at arguably the least R&B-oriented album in her back catalog, mostly because it so unabashedly advertises the fact that it’s an LP of country music covers!
During the early 1950s, Phillips was incredibly successful on the R&B charts, scoring #1 singles with “Double Crossing Blues,” “Mistrusting Blues,” and “Cupid’s Boogie,” as well as top-10 singles with “Misery,” “Deceivin’ Blues,” “Wedding Boogie,” “Far Away Blues (Xmas Blues),” and “Ring-a-Ding-Doo.” The last track in that list was released in 1952, after which Phillips disappeared from the charts for a full decade, but when she returned in 1962, she did so with another #1 hit, “Release Me.”
THE COUNTRY SIDE OF ESTHER was released in 1966, but it shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise to Phillips’ fans that she had an appreciation for country, having released a cover of “Hello Walls” in ’64. What you may not know, however, is that it was actually due to a country star that she found her way back into music in the ‘60s after battling drug addiction: Kenny Rogers saw Phillips perform in 1962 and signed her to his brother’s record label, Lenox, which led to her recording a cover of a Ray Price song.
Yes, that’s right: it was “Release Me.” She took a country song to #1 on the R&B Singles chart. Esther Phillips was pretty damned awesome, wasn’t she?
So, indeed, was THE COUNTRY SIDE OF ESTHER. In a review on the website Jazz Music Archives, the LP is described as “the female version of Ray Charles’ MODERN SOUNDS IN COUNTRY AND WESTERN and could be considered the greatest female take of a Soul/Country album ever recorded. Esther had her own distinct sound with her voice bringing a distinct magic to this album and she sang from her guts with all the necessary emotion placed beautifully within every song.”
In other words, this is a dive that shouldn’t be nearly as deep as it is, so give it a listen and, should you agree with the take you just read, tell a friend that they ought to give it a spin, too!
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