Doug Gray

Soul of the South

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After 30 years of speculation and rumor, Marshall Tucker Band frontman Doug Gray's solo album finally surfaces. Originally cut in 1981 for a solo deal he later rejected, it contains eight finished tracks from sessions starring the original members of MTB: Gray, Toy Caldwell, George McCorkle, Jerry Eubanks, and Paul Riddle (rhythm guitarist Tommy Caldwell had been killed in a car accident the year before), local Spartanburg musicians (including future MTB members Franklin Wilkie and Rusty Milner), and A-list Nashville studio aces Bob Wray, Mike Lawler, and Terry McMillan. In fact, these eight sides represent the only previously unreleased material by MTB. Produced and engineered by no less than all-star Billy Sherrill, these sides were meant to present Gray's voice in an utterly different setting than the MTB's. They succeed. The material is pop-soul from the era, including a reading of the 1969 Spiral Staircase hit "More Today Than Yesterday." Sherrill's idea of producing this kind of music was different from most producers of the period; he was used to working with chart-topping country artists like George Jones and Merle Haggard at the time. Gray's more than up to the task vocally, and the versatility of the MTB cats is astonishing. They rose to the material that was a universe away from the songs Toy Caldwell wrote for the band. Very slick and smooth, the set's best tracks include opener "Let Me Be the Fool," a midtempo pop-soul bubbler with old-school Stax-styled horns; Bobby Whitlock's "Guilty," with its spidery guitar and funky bassline, and the laid-back "Mr. Sandman." Ultimately, this will be a last piece of the puzzle for MTB completists, but anybody who appreciates the radio-friendly pop-soul grooves of the early '80s will find something here to enjoy. Soul of the South was a successful experiment; one can only speculate what might have transpired had Gray signed a solo deal and released it.

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