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One of the greatest pure vocalists that deep Southern soul ever produced, James Carr is often mentioned in the same breath as Otis Redding, Percy Sledge, and Aretha Franklin in terms of the wrenching emotional power in his delivery. Or at least he is by hardcore soul aficionados; despite producing several classic R&B singles and some of the most intense country-soul ever waxed, Carr never achieved the pop crossover success that could have made him a household name, and his material wasn’t always as distinctive as that of Stax artists like Redding or Sam & Dave. Ultimately, though, Carr’s greatest obstacle was himself: he was plagued for much of his life by severe depression that made pursuit of a career — or, for that matter, even single recording sessions — extraordinarily difficult, and derailed his occasional comeback attempts.

If ever there was a soul singer who rivaled Otis Redding’s raw, deep emotional sensuality, it was James Carr, and the proof is in the pudding with You Got My Mind Messed Up. Carr was one of the last country-soul singers to approach any chart given to him as if it was a gift from God. Carr was Redding’s rival in every respect if for no other reason than the release of this, his debut album recorded in 1966. The 12 songs here, many of them covered by other artists, are all soul classics merely by their having been sung and recorded by Carr. Among them is the Drew Baker/Dani McCormick smash “Pouring Water on a Drowning Man,” George Jackson’s “Coming Back to Me Baby,” a handful of tracks by O.B. McLinton, including “Forgetting You” and the title track, and the Chips Moman/Dan Penn hit “Dark End of the Street.” And while it’s true that few have ever done bad versions of the song because of the phenomenal writing, there is only one definitive version, and that one belongs to Carr. In his version he sings from the territory of a heart that is already broken but enslaved both to his regret and his desire. This is a love so pure it can only have been illicit. When he gets to the beginning of the second verse, and intones “I know time is gonna take its toll,” he’s already at the end of his rope; he knows that desire that burns like this can only bring about ruin and disaster, and it is precisely since it cannot be avoided that his repentance is perhaps accepted by the powers that would try him and judge him. He holds the arrangement at bay, and unlike some versions, Carr keeps his composure, making it a true song of regret, remorse, and a love so forbidden yet so faithful that it is worth risking not only disgrace and destruction for, but also hell itself. As the guitar cascades down the fretboard staccato, he can see the dark end of the street and holds it as close to his heart as a sacred and secret memory. By the album’s end with the title track, listeners hear the totality of the force of Memphis soul. With Steve Cropper’s guitar filling the space in the background, Carr offers a chilling portrait of what would happen to him in the future. Again pleading with the beloved in a tone reminiscent of a church-singer hell, he’s in the church of love. He pleads, admonishes, begs, and finally confirms that the end of this love is his insanity, which was a chilling prophecy given what happened to Carr some years later. This is one of theMemphis soul records of the mid-’60s, full of rough-hewn grace, passion, tenderness, and danger. A masterpiece.

-Thom Jurek, AMG

DOWNLOAD:
James Carr-YOU GOT MY MIND MESSED UP (1967)
320kbps

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One Comment

  1. Thanks Ian!


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