Saturday, January 25, 2020

Knowing I'm to Blame

Everyone knows the groovy, funky, funny title cut from Johnnie Taylor's Who's Making Love, the singer's second album for Stax, released in 1968. Today I'm struck by what I overhead later on the first side. I love stories told in songs. In "Woman Across The River," written by Bettye Crutcher and Allen Jones, the singer's lamenting what he once had, a selfless woman whom he lied to. Now she's gone, and other men are treating her the way she deserves. He's narrating all this from the lousy banks of the river, his view of her world altered permanently. The pace of the song is slow, measured, unlikely to quicken in any version, so resolute are its discoveries and grim acknowledgments: I fucked up. (I love the organ stab at the line "she was mine," the past tense so vivid and shuddering.)

But maybe there's a chance at redemption. I don't know how much time has passed since the singer reckoned with his shabby behavior: a week, a month, a year. The pace of "I'm Not The Same Person," written by Homer Banks and J. Lately, is only slightly quicker, but it's enough to suggest an awakening of sorts. He's not the same person he used to be, he's different now, as different as sunshine from rain, because even the full winds, they change sometimes. A good argument, linking his new maturity to the timeless elements. It's his nature. Yet he's not all poetry and bravado, he's learned something too: back then, on the other side, he was grown up in age, but he wasn't grown up in mind. Now he's back and asking for forgiveness, his epiphany sharper even than the resplendent suit and cuffs he's wearing at her front door. Something in Taylor's performance in "I'm Not The Same Person" convinces me of his sincerity: his assured vocal, yeah, and the simple, declarative chorus shorn of showy similes or a player's wordplay, but also the confident, easy-going Stax band behind him—a bunch of sympathetic old friends, the Memphis Horns' brassiness bucking up Taylor, given him some swagger—and those female backing singers, who I have fun imagining are the woman's friends whom Taylor's enlisted to help his cause. The story's as old as the river between Taylor and the woman, of course, and who knows how it will end, whether she'll forgive him or say never again. This is the man, after all, who—on the same album—asked another dude to contemplate who's making love to his old lady while she's out making love, so he knows the story well, has probably lived both ends of it.

I picked up this album for a few bucks last week, the cover worn but the vinyl clean. Three hundred pennies for an eternal story sung and played by masters of the old game. You can't top this stuff.

No comments: