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Soul Queen Margie Joseph's Atlantic Years Reissued on Collectors' Choice


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Albums produced by Arif Mardin, Lamont Dozier and Johnny Bristol receive belated appreciation as soul classics

LOS ANGELES, Calif. -- Margie Joseph may not have soared to the commercial heights of her Atlantic label-mate Aretha Franklin. But in the '70s, she released six albums that bore numerous R&B hits. She also attracted some hit producers -- Arif Mardin, Lamont Dozier and Johnny Bristol among them -- as well as some of the hottest writers and session musicians around. Mississippi-born Joseph was influenced by Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Patsy Cline, along with the gospel music she heard in church.

In the mid-'60s, Joseph met New Orleans DJ Larry McKinley, who took her to OKeh Records. She began her recording career there with two singles in 1967-68 written by Willie Tee, George Davis and Lee Diamond. She then went to Stax's Volt label where she recorded two LPs in 1970-71. In 1971, it was off to Atlantic, a label she would call home for the duration of six albums. “One thing Atlantic did is they invested in me," she says. “I don't have any bad things to say about Atlantic. Atlantic treated me royally." Those six albums will be reissued on March 11, 2008 by Collectors' Choice Music, with comprehensive liner notes by Chicago musicologist Bill Dahl that include quotes from Joseph, McKinley, and Lamont Dozier.

* Margie Joseph. Her 1973 Atlantic debut, the first of three albums produced by Arif Mardin, boasted an eclectic song selection: Joseph's version of Al Green's “Let's Stay Together" (an R&B hit right on the heels of the original), Dolly Parton's “Touch Your Woman," Etta James' “I'd Rather Go Blind," Bobby Patterson's “How Do You Spell Love" and “Let's Go Somewhere," penned by Kenny O'Dell (who had a hit in 1967 with “Beautiful People"). The band featured Cornell Dupree, Hugh McCracken, Ray Charles' reedman David “Fathead" Newman, Ralph MacDonald and backup singers Cissy Houston, Myrna Smith and Sylvia Shemwell of the Sweet Inspirations.

* Sweet Surrender. This 1974 set was Joseph's most commercially successful album for Atlantic, and the only one of her albums to cross over to the pop chart. Arif Mardin was again at the helm, with many of the same session aces from her previous album. Atlantic soul singer Judy Clay (known for her duets with William Bell and Billy Vera) joined the list of backup singers. Twenty-three years old at the time, Joseph tackled Jerry Butler's “(Strange) I Still Love You," Billy Joel's “He's Got a Way," Stevie Wonder's “To Know You Is To Love You," and surprisingly soulful readings of Bread's “Baby I'm-A Want You" and Paul McCartney's “My Love," which was a #10 R&B hit for Joseph.

* Margie. It didn't attain the chart ranking of its predecessor but the Arif Mardin-produced Margie may be Joseph's most artistically successful record. Joining many of her session stalwarts were Steve Gadd, Motown musician Bob Babbitt and guitarist Hamish Stuart from the Average White Band, who played on Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart's “Words (Are Impossible)." Other songs here include two by Carole King ("Believe in Humanity" and “After All This Time") as well as Bill Withers' “The Same Love That Made Me Laugh," Alabama soul singer Sam Dees' “Just As Soon As the Feeling's Over," and Robert John's “I Can't Move No Mountains," which Joseph says “took me to another level vocally."

* Hear the Words, Fight the Feeling. After a banner three-album run with Arif Mardin, Joseph connected with another world-class producer, ex-Motown wizard Lamont Dozier of the famous Holland-Dozier-Holland team. According to Joseph in Bill Dahl's notes, “He made me sing. He was a taskmaster." The album, which has a rawer and darker sound than its predecessors, also marked Joseph's move to Atlantic's Cotillion subsidiary (also the home of the Woodstock soundtrack). Backing musicians remained first-rate, this time including Ray Parker Jr. and Lee Ritenour. Songs included “Didn't I Tell You" and “Why'd You Lie," both examining the bleaker side of romance, plus several other Dozier songs: the title track “Hear the Words, Feel the Feeling" (which made it to #8 on the R&B charts), “Don't Turn the Lights Off" (#46 on the charts), “Prophecy," “Feeling My Way" and “I Get Carried Away."

* Feeling My Way. Joseph worked with another great former Motown figure on her 1978 return to Atlantic proper -- Johnny Bristol -- who was himself an Atlantic artist and L.A. session musician. The album contains 10 Bristol originals including the hit “Love Talking 'Bout Baby," plus “I Feel His Love Getting Stronger," “You Turned Me on to Love" and “Discover Me (and You Will Discover Love)." The session players hailed from worlds as diverse as Motown, jazz and L.A's Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band, including guitarists Al McKay and Lee Ritenour, bassist James Jamerson Jr. (the son of the Motown legend), drummer James Gadson, and saxist Ernie Watts. Joseph, however, took a break from music in 1980, so this was the end of an incredible Atlantic run.

* Ready for the Night. After six years away from Atlantic, with one indie hit in the interim (1982's “Knockout" for the H.C.R.C. label), she returned to Atlantic's resurrected Cotillion label in 1984 with this album guided by Narada Michael Walden (ex-Mahavishnu Orchestra and former Atlantic solo artist). Walden in turn tapped a trio of hot young producers to do the hands-on work including Preston Glass and Randy Jackson (yes, the Randy Jackson of “American Idol" fame and now a Concord artist). The album, for which Walden, Glass and Jackson wrote nearly every song, positioned Joseph as a dance diva. The title track was a hit in the spring of 1984.

A postscript: After a 1988 album on British soul journalist John Abbey's Ichiban label, Joseph retired from recording and began work with nonprofit organizations. Sadly, her home in Gautier, Miss. was one of the many casualties of Hurricane Katrina. Now relocated to Atlanta, she has returned to recording, this time as a gospel artist. Content to remain low key otherwise, she told Dahl that “the whole entire (music) business looks like it's losing its foothold to me, so I won't allow my heart to go into it again." Dahl concludes: “A voice as remarkable as hers is too precious a gift to lay dormant for long."

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