Billy Hawks

New Genius of the Blues/More Heavy Soul

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Billy Hawks played the organ and sang the blues -- a combination that in the late '60s, when Hawks recorded and released The New Genius of the Blues and More Heavy Soul! for Prestige, meant that he was most certainly a practitioner of soul-jazz. Working in a similar vein to Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff, and other funky professors of the Hammond organ, Hawks didn't play straight-up jazz on either of his Prestige LPs, here captured on a single-disc 2014 reissue by Ace. For one thing, he sang, a choice that positions his recordings much closer to R&B than jazz. Clearly, Ray Charles made an impression on Hawks -- "I Got a Woman" shows up on New Genius, "Drown in My Own Tears" on More Heavy Soul! -- but with his intimate trio (on New Genius, he's supported by guitarist Joseph Jones and drummer Henry Terrell; on More Heavy Soul! by, Maynard Parker sits in for Jones, and Buddy Terry is added on tenor sax), he was grittier and funkier than Charles was in the '60s, walking the line between mod-jazz and soul. This is especially true on More Heavy Soul!, the better of the two records because it's harder to classify. With plenty of slow-burning tempos and shouted vocals, New Genius is heavy on the blues ("I'll Wait for You Baby" goes so far to find a place for a harmonica), but More Heavy Soul! positively swings. It's nimble and funky, a late-'60s party record through and through, an unheard classic that deserves a cult because it at once captures the spirit of its time but sounds like nothing else from that year. The New Genius of the Blues is fun, but More Heavy Soul! is where Hawks truly suggested he could live up to the promise in the title of his debut.

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