Steamy Southern Soul on 'Motel Lovers'

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The CD Motel Lovers is a collection of Southern soul music from the Chitlin circuit. It's a compilation of American music put together by a German record company. The music is honest... and full of sex.


Soul music is in the midst of another revival. But no need to tell people in the Deep South, soul is still a vital part of live and recorded music there. And a new compilation called "Motel Lovers" proves it, according to our critic Robert Christgau.

ROBERT CHRISTGAU: 2007 has seen incredible comeback albums by such legends as Mavis Staples, Aaron Neville, Chaka Khan, name your fave. Young singers like Amy Winehouse, Christina Aguilera and Joss Stone declared their fealty.

I've enjoyed a lot of these revivalism, absolutely. But it invariably feels a little like a museum project, more about aesthetic sensibility than living, emotional needs. That's not a problem with the contemporary chitlin-circuit compilation "Motel Lovers."

(Soundbite of song "Smaller the Club")

Mr. MEL WATERS (Singer): (Singing) Five dollars you've got to pay.

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Just a jukebox and no deejay.

Mr. WATERS: (Singing) Just a jukebox and no deejay.

CHRISTGAU: Take it on faith that joints like the one Mel Waters celebrates in his 2003 hit "Smaller the Club" continue to thrive in the Deep South. Such joints aren't the theme of "Motel Lovers," but they are a precondition of many of its songs, half of which concerns sex of the adult, adulteress, thank-God-it's-Friday variety.

Several are as raunchy, but not as crass, as the foulest dirty south hip-hop. Old-timer Bobby Rush growling about big catfish holes and long catfish poles, or New Jill, Big Cynthia with her instructional "Don't Rock the Boat, Just The Little Man In It."

Others, like the late Johnnie Taylor's son Floyd, modernize familiar situations.

(Soundbite of song, "Hit It Right")

Mr. FLOYD TAYLOR (Singer): (Singing) Man, fellows, we in trouble. When I come home from work the other day, I couldn't get my woman to bring me no bath water. I couldn't get her to bring me my house shoes. She said that if you want to have it your way, you better go to Burger King.

CHRISTGAU: Cheating songs that aren't quite sex songs are common in "Motel Lovers." And like Taylor's, they often have a proto-feminist twist. The most touching comes from 66-year-old Barbara Carr, who quit showbiz and worked a factory job for 20 years before coming back in the '90s with an acrobatic showstopper called "Footprints on the Ceiling." This 2006 recording, "Down Low Brother," is more reflective.

(Soundbite of song "Down Low Brother")

Ms. BARBARA CARR (Singer): (Singing) I didn't want to tell nobody 'cause I was embarrassed and ashamed when I caught my man one night in bed with another man. I thought it was unusual for him not being gay. I thought a straight up man didn't go that way.

CHRISTGAU: It reflects unflatteringly on the myopia of the American music business that it took the ace compilers at the German Trikont label to put this American music story together.

Many of the tracks in "Motel Lovers" are cheaply made. The relative proportion of horns and synths will appall purists. None of the singers are revelatory stylists either, but they do partake of a coherent, convincing culture. It seems fitting that the king of the scene should be a distinctly undistinguished soul man named Marvin Sease. His title track is soul music with nothing to prove, same place, different time.

(Soungbite of song, "Motel Lovers")

Mr. MARVIN SEASE (Singer): (Singing) Oh, yeah.

BLOCK: The compilation is called "Motel Lovers." Robert Christgau is a contributing editor with Rolling Stone magazine.

(Soungbite of song, "Motel Lovers")

Mr. SEASE: (Singing) I know you're married and so am I, honey. And we're cheating...

BLOCK: You are listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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