Shirley Brown (Born 06/01/1947)
|Although Shirley has produced some wonderful material over the years, you get the feeling that hers is a career that should have reached greater heights. Early on, her talent and vocal prowess had been favourably compared to Aretha and, although perhaps a little audacious, only a cursory listen to some of her material will indicate why some commentators got a little carried away. Certainly, her range, raw power and accuracy don't suffer in the comparison.
Like so many others (how often has a Primer biography included this line!) Shirley cut her teeth in church, earning an early reputation in gospel circles for the power and intensity of her solo performances. She switched to secular music quite early (still in her teens), but none of her early local productions made much noise nationally, although a couple of releases found their way onto the Memphis and other local R&B radio stations.
These local productions did enough to enable Brown's manager (the bluesman Albert King) to secure a deal with Stax Records, although it later transpired that there probably couldn't have been a worse time to join the label. Shirley recorded the last real hit for Stax - 'Woman to Woman' is still probably the recording for which Brown is best remembered and it did actually delay the closing of the label's doors for a little while. It topped the R&B charts for two weeks in 1974; the spoken intro explored the classic love triangle in a humorous and entertaining fashion but there's no denying the passion when Brown kicks into the ballad for real. The "Woman To Woman" album naturally includes the hit single and whilst nothing else matches the hit's intensity (apart from the follow-up 'Ain't No Fun') the album is still worthy of investigation. There's still a lot to admire and much of the material illustrates a vocalist at the height of her powers.
Following the demise of Stax, Shirley moved to the Arista label, releasing the "Shirley Brown" album and 'Blessed Is The Woman' single. Neither set the world alight but the Primer always considered that the album was and still is cruelly undervalued. Brown's tendency to oversell was held in check but her vocal strength was still clearly apparent, the songs were strong and the production was sympathetic. It's worth seeking out if you can still find a copy.
Malaco provided the perfect backdrop, a label where she got the support of many of her fellow survivors from the golden age of soul. She has now fashioned a contemporary soul / blues sound based on great songs, great sounds, supportive musicianship and, most important of all, singing to die for. Any of the Malaco recordings are worth getting hold of ("Joy And Pain" and "The Soul Of A Woman" are just two examples) but the compilation "Diva Of Soul" is probably the one to get. Any fan of southern soul and truly great female vocalists won't be disappointed, even if she does have a tendency to display all her abilities on every song. Truly a diva, but not noted for her restraint!