The two albums combined on this 2010 Raven two-fer come from the early ’70s, when Joe South was a little bit adrift artistically and personally. First comes 1971’s So the Seeds Are Growing, where South -- who had bigger hits as a songwriter than a performer -- decided to devote roughly half of his record to covers, ranging from the recent Brotherhood of Man hit “United We Stand” to Ray Charles’ “Drown in My Own Tears,” from David Gates’ softly sweet “The Other Side of Life” to the blues standard “Motherless Children.” It was a curious choice that tends to underscore So the Seeds Are Growing’s connection to its 1971 release date as much as the proliferation of wah-wah fuzz guitars, thick gauzy strings, and tight funk rhythms -- rhythms that swing harder and heavier than South’s earlier records. Its period charms are considerable, and are one of the primary appeals of So the Seeds Are Growing -- particularly on the over the top “Revolution of Love,” which piles on blues slide guitar, gospel choruses, soul horns, electric sitars, and hippie credos into a four-minute time capsule -- although it does possess a couple of overlooked South compositions in its cinematic title track and the defiant R&B swing of “No Fence Around Me,” all of which are enough to make this an album worth seeking out.
Joe South returned to writing every song on a record for his next album A Look Inside, which also happened to be his last LP for Capitol. South wrote and recorded A Look Inside in the aftermath of the suicide of his younger brother, and there’s a palpable sense of sadness lurking underneath South’s signature roots pop, particularly at the beginning of the album which opens with a set of slow, sorrowful blues. As the record rolls on, things get a little sprightlier -- “Misunderstanding” possesses a swagger, “Misfit” is a defiant statement of purpose, “All Nite Lover, All Day Friend” blares its blues with horns -- but to dig out South’s depression does require some close listening. Otherwise, this record is a fitting companion to its predecessor, charming in its period affectations and South’s rootsy idiosyncracies.
Raven’s two-fer is graced with four bonus tracks: the 1969 non-LP single “Why Does a Man Do What He Has to Do”/“Be a Believer,” which is quite good; the epic non-LP B-side “Riverdog” from 1973; and, most remarkably, the brand-new 2009 song “Oprah Cried.” This tune, his first new song in decades, may not be a classic, but its sardonic edge and lazy country ramble are appealing, raising hopes of a full-fledged comeback somewhere down the road.