The Great American Soulbook - CD Review

Oakland's Tower of Power brings it back & keeps it alive

By Frankie Firme ~ Contributing Editor
Published on LatinoLA: June 10, 2009

The Great American Soulbook - CD Review

Soul...a very distinct definition of the word comes to mind of music lovers in the Land of 1000 Dances, especially in the adult world over 35 years of age who have been around long enough to appreciate the art of music, and its varied tastes and genres.

Soul music...probably the 1st generation child of rock & roll/doo-wop music made popular in the United States in the mid 1960's - early 1970's post "British music invasion" was a refinement of an original American genre that was initially rejected in the 1950's by mainstream commercial America as inappropriate and sexually provocative by people of color and those in cahoots with them, that threatened the youth of America....

...how that statement could be such that it was almost accepted, is so out of touch with today's artistic world, it's multi-colored blend of talent, and its accomplishments that it defies belief that people actually thought this to be true, and that rock & roll was thought just to be a passing fad. Ha!

How wrong they were, and thank goodness our World has grown up since then. The beautiful blend of singing talent, mixed genres, and masterful music arrangements from back in the day, all combined to tell a story of love & life is a cultural treasure not lost on some of our best American music artists today, especially those who haven't lost touch and can still perform in that treasured style.

Like a picture, a good song can launch a thousand conversations, and bring back a thousand memories, and Oakland's TOWER OF POWER's new CD "The Great American Soulbook" does just that, with a few twists "The Tower" is well known for.

One of the more popular & well known American music groups on the West Coast of the United States, Emilio Castillo and the Tower of Power have been around since the early 1970's, recording many albums and helping put California, and the San Francisco-Oakland Bay area in particular, on the world wide music map with their unique and unmistakable interpretation of Soul Music.

In listening to their latest offering, "The Great American Soulbook", I remember times of years past, and the artists, music, and dances of those times that make this music some good listening material right now and today.

A rich and well-rounded collection of 12 original & classic cover songs, their opening track "You met your match" is classic TOP that sets you in the mood for a mellow, distinctly California-flavored cruise across America's Soul music road that will have you bopping your head, tapping your feet & fingertips, and feeling like dancing.

With such famous guest stars as Welsh recording star Tom Jones, this CD of soul oldies starts off reminding you of the early southern Stax-Volt Revue Shows with the legendary Sam & Dave, as Tom joins the Tower in a knee slapping version of "I thank you".

Cruising back to memories of the West Coast, you can almost feel the old excitement of Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Band from back in the day, as Tower gives a sweet rendition of their classic L.A. anthem "Loveland" that makes this one of my favorite cuts.

With guest singer Ms. Joss Stone, Tower takes the Marvin Gaye-Tammi Terrel Motown classic "It takes two" to another level with their unmistakable brass sound that has made the Tower of Power a world wide music contender.

Billy Paul did it originally in 1972, Ron Banks & the Dramatics added a touch of romantic soul a few years later, the Mondragon brothers and Down with Three made it mellow in the early 2000's, and now the Tower takes the classic ballad of forbidden love, " Me & Ms Jones", to a new height of "Yeah!...that's it..", if you know what I mean...

You can't say "Soul Music" without a nod to the original Godfather of Soul, the late, great James Brown, and the TOWER OF POWER, one of California's best known R&B-Soul-Funk-kick-it-in-the-butt dance music groups ever, gives you "Star Time-a Tribute to James Brown". Like TIERRA's "Mr.James Brown" cut from their recent "On the Right Track" CD, the veteran professional music sound of respect for a predecessor-mentor the likes of James Brown is so evident that Brother James must be looking down saying 'Thanks, guys!"...the Tower sounds THAT good on this one !

Coming back to that southern Stax-Volt style soul sound, veteran soul singer Sam Moore of SAM & DAVE fame joins the Tower in a nod to the legendary Otis Redding with a sweet version of "Mr. Pitiful" that has me tapping my foot as I write this.

Chicago's Tavares brothers, better known as TAVARES, will always been known for their 1970's disco anthem " Heaven must be missing an Angel", and the Tower gives up the props to them in this one, but takes it a step down and to the side in a soulful and utterly unique Tower of Power version that makes it new and refreshing as the first time I heard the original.

There are more exciting cuts in this CD, including guest star Mr. Huey Lewis (of HUEY LEWIS & THE NEWS fame) joining the Tower for a version of the Wilson Pickett original soul strutter "634-5789" ...but I'm gonna cut it here...hate to the kind of guy who gives up the plot of a good movie before it ends, know what mean?

Tower of Power's latest, THE GREAT AMERICAN SOULBOOK CD, has just been released and is now available, and will no doubt be a welcome addition to your music collection as it has been to mine...being a long time fan of Emilio & the homies from Oakland didn't hurt a bit either!

My utmost thanks to my compadre up north in Oakland, Brother Al Carlos Hernandez for the heads up on this one.

You were right, Al! The TOWER STILL ROCKS !!!!!

Note: For info on TOWER OF POWER records & CD's: pra@prarecords.com

Buy the CD here

About Frankie Firme ~ Contributing Editor:
Frankie Firme is the "Al Capone of the microphone & the Hitman of West Coast Chicano Soul" heard daily on world wide Internet Radio and is a regular contributor to this fine web magazine
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