Willie Tee

Teasin' You

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The list of great soul singers who never received the kind of fame and fortune commensurate with their extraordinary talent could fill a phone book, but even so, the obscurity heaped upon Willie Tee is a crime -- a graceful and fluid vocalist equally adept with poignant ballads and saucy deep soul, he assimilated the jazz traditions of his native New Orleans to forge a sophisticated sound completely distinct from his contemporaries. The title cut was Tee's biggest single if not necessarily his best, inaugurating the shuffling, Caribbean-inflected approach followed by much of his early material -- its B-side, "Walking Up a One-Way Street," is his masterpiece as much for its buoyant horn arrangement and stutter-step rhythm as for Tee's swooping, searing vocals. But just because he quickly fell off the charts doesn't mean the quality of his records fell off, too -- shifting easily from sweet ballads ("Dedicated to You") to Motown-esque pop ("Please Don't Go") to blistering funk ("Swivel Your Hips"), Tee mastered every idiom he tackled but just never clicked with listeners. Teasin' You seems mastered directly from vinyl, and in some cases it sounds as if the grooves were worn right off the original singles -- audiophiles should proceed with caution, but Night Train nevertheless deserves kudos simply for making these records available again.

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