Artist: Brook Benton
Release date: July 1, 2016
Brook Benton enjoyed much success in the late 1950s and early 1960s as a Mercury Records artist. His soulful crooning, and adaptability to changing styles, led to a string of songs making the pop and R&B charts from 1958 through the end of his Mercury contract in 1965. His subsequent short stint with RCA records netted a few mid-chart placements, but no big hits.
This 2-CD set picks up in late 1967, after Benton signed with Reprise Records. His first single for that label, “Laura” (b/w “You’re the Reason I’m Living”), hit #78 on the Billboard pop chart, but nothing else from his subsequent Reprise output moved the needle. In this era, Benton continued in the soul crooner style he honed at Mercury, and the Reprise singles often featured somewhat syrupy strings and backing vocal choruses.
In 1968, Benton signed to the Cotillion imprint. Under the legendary producer Arif Mardin, Benton’s sound moved toward the funky side of soul. He still sang beautiful ballads, but between Mardin’s tight arrangements and the input of musicians in the Muscle Shoals studio in Alabama, Atlantic’s studio in New York City, and Criteria Studios in Miami (nicknamed “Atlantic South”), the beat and sway of the songs loosened up. Because he was an adaptable singer, Benton was able to stay hip and modern sounding, like the cool adult in the room.
During his years with Cotillion, Benton enjoyed chart success with six out of 13 singles, including #1 R&B hits with “Nothing Can Take the Place of You” in 1969 and “Rainy Night in Georgia” in 1970, which also shot up to #4 on the pop chart.
Benton’s style in the early 1970s was somewhat akin to what Elvis Presley was doing at the time, in fact both men covered some of the same tunes. However, where Elvis went for the soaring show-stopper approach, Benton stayed cooler and more intimate.
For this set, original mono single master tapes were located for 28 of the 31 tracks. Gene Sculatti’s liner notes detail the chronology of the singles and Benton’s pre-history to the time period covered by the set. Remastering engineer Mike Milchner achieved an overall good sound quality, definitely an upgrade to how these songs sounded coming out of AM radio speakers at the time of their original release.
Reviewed by Tom Fine