Lula Reed


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Sounding at times like a diminutive understudy for Dinah Washington, Lula Reed had a high-pitched, sassy, spunky voice that was perfect for the King record label's R&B market. This first volume of her complete works presented in chronological order opens with two sides recorded in New York during December of 1951. Throughout this compilation the singer is heard with bands led by pianist Sonny Thompson, under whose name the first four tracks were originally issued. Henry Glover's "I'll Drown in My Tears" became ubiquitously popular after Ray Charles came out with the definitive rendition in 1956. Aretha Franklin, Dinah Washington, the Righteous Brothers, Stevie Wonder, Etta James, Richie Havens, and Blood, Sweat & Tears eventually followed suit, but the evolution of this tune began with Lula Reed. At first her voice was rather shrill, and King's recording engineers often used a bit of reverb to add another dimension to her tonalities. She made interesting little barking noises during the instrumental portion of her frankly sensuous "Last Night," and might have pursued such hedonistic topics even further were it not for her church background, an important aspect of her life that would entirely replace the secular when she gave up professional entertainment in the early '60s. The product of a devoutly religious background in rural Ohio, she initially received instruction from gospel vocalist Professor Harold Boggs. It is therefore not surprising that the first record to appear under her name was King 4590, "Heavenly Road" backed with "My Mother's Prayers." Here Lula Reed asserts her fundamental Christian self, with four-part vocal harmony apparently sung by Sonny Thompson and band. The mingling of sacred and secular actually makes for a pleasant listening experience if one follows the chronology in sequence. Thompson's bluesy piano is exquisite on "My Poor Heart" and "Ain't It a Shame," a fine, slow, reflective portrait of the worldly human condition. "Going Back to Mexico" uses a conga rhythm and three meaty saxophones, creating an atmosphere comparable to Little Esther's "Cherry Wine." Beginning in July 1953, the addition of guitarist Clarence Kenner contributed an extra dose of organic solidity to the already substantial ensemble. By the end of 1953, Lula Reed's voice was sounding less shrill and more down to earth. "Bump on a Log" and "Watch Dog," composed, like more than half the material presented here, by Henry Glover, allowed the singer to articulate her independence. On February 8, 1954, she recorded four more sacred songs, revisiting the gospel roots that had originally led her to become a professional musician. In a rather bizarre and mysterious maneuver, the producers of this compilation have appended what they call a "ghost track." This 23rd selection, which is not printed in the discography or on the album's track listings, is a rebuttal by Sonny Thompson bearing the somewhat defensive title "I Ain't No Watchdog." It begins with a spoken introduction by Lula Reed.

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