There’s no getting around Christopher Denny’s voice. At once impossibly fragile and immovably sturdy, it’s a haunting, alien thing. But once you acclimate to its strange beauty – and make no mistake, it’s gorgeous – there are Denny’s words:

“There’s no love like the love I have for you/there’s no kinda love/it’s a love darling and we beat ourselves black-and-blue/to feel our kind of love.” “It’s easy to get feeling so small/when you’re so tall/yeah, you’re God’s height/you’re a tall mama, baby, and I can’t reach you at all.” “Love is a code word/and I found love.”

If the Roses Don’t Kill Us is Denny’s second album, and it’s littered with devastating and clever couplets, born from years of hard living, struggles with drugs and sickness. The album took Denny six years to craft – he dropped off the grid following his debut Age Old Hunger and took some time to get right — and while it doesn’t sound overpolished or fussed over, it does sound aged. It sounds hard-earned. Denny’s lyrics are pulled from his darkness, but they’re adorned by countrypolitan arrangements, fashioned in to swooning Southern soul with brass, swelling church organ, and pedal steel. Often, the album sounds like a party, with sashaying drums and bar band guitars. Sometimes, it sounds like a funeral.

But it all comes back to Denny’s voice, his singular touch. Androgynous but never distant, like Denny is sitting across the table from you, and he has something he’d like to say. If the Roses Don’t Kill Us is out August 5 via Partisan Records. words / j woodbury

Christopher Denny :: Our Kind Of Love


In terms of epicenters of great soul music, Los Angeles rarely enters the discussion. And while the city in the smog and sun didn’t produce the volume of influential work that Detroit-Chicago-Memphis churned out, there were plenty of amazing soul records cut in southern California.

Brenda Holloway :: Echo

I can think of no better place to start than the debut single from Brenda Holloway. Released in 1962, this is one of those records that I classify as transitionary between doo-wop and the birth of soul. Brenda was all of 16 here, and is joined by her sister Patrice on the ‘echo’ harmonies; Patrice was all of 13! The sisters show off a maturity beyond their years in their performances, and I find this to be one of the most hauntingly beautiful records ever cut to wax. At :32 seconds in, Brenda phrases the line in a way that foreshadowed the type of dramatic vocalization that became a staple with the likes of Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey. Just two years later, Brenda Holloway was the first west coast singer signed to Motown Records, where she released a brilliant run of music for the label.

The Isonics :: Sugar

Not much is known about this blazing one-off record from 1967; the incredibly catchy count off and Latin groove is the type of record that, when I’ve DJ’ed it in the US, Europe and Australia, immediately connects with the crowd and is the definition of a floor filler. I played it in Seattle at the Emerald City Soul Weekender last October and by the time the intro count off repeats itself, the packed crowd of dancers began shouting along en masse; purely indicative of the quality of this record. With bigger distribution it could have been a hit.

The Performers :: I Can’t Stop You

While the name The Performers has been used by several different outfits, I believe that this LA group released only two records for the consistently excellent Mirwood label. This record is pure heat, with dramatic breakdowns and ultra powerful group vocals. Probably released in 1968.


The Raelets :: One Room Paradise

Whether the group saw their name spelled as either The Raelettes or, here, as The Raelets (on the label), one is guaranteed that the vocal performances (from a long list of exceptional singers who were in and out of Ray Charles backing group) are gonna be hot stuff. Here, the legendary Merry Clayton positively WAILS on an all too short track from 1966. The other ladies on the track are believed to be Clydie King, Gwen Berry and Alex Brown.

Previously: Chicago Soul, Part One / Chicago Blues Finds Its Soul / The Soul Of NOLA, Part 1

(Derek See is a Bay area based musician who plays guitar with The Bang Girl Group Revue, Joel Gion & Primary Colours, and occasionally makes records on his own with The Gentle Cycle.)


If you’re driving around and “Jesus” comes on the radio, pull to the side of the road, park the car, and sit with the song until the last note. That’s what I did the first and only time I heard Curtis Mayfield sing it over the air. Sunday morning cruising down Camp Street in New Orleans, LA. God Bless WWOZ. “Don’t think that I’m any saint,” he warns, “‘cause I can’t do nothin’ for you.” Nonsense. This turn at the pulpit is mighty enough to bring any non-believer to his or her knees. Sermonizing atop a swaying groove, demure organ, and languid guitar moves, Mayfield extols the virtues of Jesus Christ.  Spoken word eventually shifts to trembling falsetto, his solemn plea lifted higher by a sturdy backing chorus. A tasteful guitar solo opens the door to the final verse. The passion intensifies ever so slightly and Mayfield and the congregation slowly file through the front of the church alongside an inspired gust of strings, ready to face the bleak world of 1975.  words / j steele

Curtis Mayfield :: Jesus


Diversions, a recurring feature on Aquarium Drunkard, catches up with our favorite artists as they wax on subjects other than recording and performing.

Boys and girls, the circus is coming to town…or in this case, Guided By Voices and Bobby Bare Jr. are gigging Friday night at the Fonda in Hollywood. The club is, indeed, open. Bare not only has has a new LP out (Undefeated), but is the subject of filmmaker William Miller’s new documentary, Don’t Follow Me (I’m Lost). As such we took this opportunity to catch up with Bobby as he waxes on the transformative music of his youth, growing up in Nashville, TN.

Bobby Bare Jr., in his own words, below…

In late 1982 my parents bought the first VCR machine available to the public. It was HUGE. It weighed about 100 lbs and covered the entire top of our television. It looked like a smashed microwave with a trap door that rose out of the middle of the top where the VCR tapes would go. Lucky for me my Dad bought a bunch of pirated tapes and one of those was a music movie called URGH: A Music War.  It’s a showcase of all the new underground bands from the late 70s/early 80s. The film “stars” The Police but includes many of the other most popular “NEW WAVE” bands including Devo, The Go-Gos, Oingo Boingo, X, XTC, Echo and the Bunnymen, Gang of Four, OMD, Toyah Willcox, The Cramps, Surf Punks, Jools Holland, Joan Jett, Pere Ubu, Gary Numan, and more. IT TOTALLY FREAKED ME OUT.


In the universe of monster soul renditions of The Mamas & the Papas’ “California Dreaming”, there exists a sort of holy trinity. Yes, there are others, but these form a circle. You have the rough hewn Lee Moses cover, via the (absolutely) inestimable Time And Place, the flute-smooth bombast that is the Baby Huey And The Babysitters’ version, and this one – courtesy of Bobby Womack.

Bobby Womack :: California Dreamin’


Yup, that’s Hal Ashby - filmmaker/renegade/iconoclast. And this is Father John Misty covering Cat Stevens’ “Trouble” – a track originally birthed via the soundtrack to Ashby’s film Harold & Maude in 1971. This, the Misty treatment, comes courtesy via director Amy Scott’s forthcoming ONCE I WAS: The Hal Ashby Story – the first ever documentary on the filmmaker officially sanctioned by Ashby’s estate.

Father John Misty :: Trouble (Cat Stevens)

More info can be found via the film’s indiegogo page, here.


Our weekly two hour show on SIRIUS/XMU, channel 35, can be heard twice every Friday – Noon EST with an encore broadcast at Midnight EST. Second hour of today’s show can be found HERE

SIRIUS 344: Jean Michel Bernard – Générique Stephane ++ Glen Campbell – Guess I’m Dumb ++ The Soul Inc. – Love Me When I’m Down ++ Ike & Tina Turner – Bold Soul Sister ++ Apple & The Three Oranges – Curse Upon The World ++ Nina Simone – Save Me ++ The Buddies – The Beatle ++ The Gories – Casting My Spell ++ T.L. Barrett And Youth For Christ Choir – Like A Ship ++ Mor Thiam – Ayo Ayo Nene ++ Talking Heads – Houses In Motion ++ Nico – Sixty Forty (Icon version) ++ Nancy Sinatra – Bang, Bang (feat. Billy Strange) ++ Gary Scruggs – Gentle When You Say The Word ++ Bob Dylan – Mozambique ++ Keith & Tex – Tonight ++ Tony Owens – I Got Soul ++ James Polk & The Brothers – Just Plain Funk ++ Bill Withers – Better Off Dead ++ The Dirtbombs – Livin For The City ++ Josefus – Crazy Man ++ Roy and the Dew Drops – The One Who’s Hurting (Is You) ++ Mike Fiems – Desert Sands ++ Goose Creek Symphony – Confusion ++ Link Wray -Tucson, Arizona ++ Danny and the Velaires – Shaggy Dog ++ Warren S. Richardson Jr. – Shady Lady ++ Frank & Woody Show – Big Trouble ++ Hamana – I Remember Your Smile ++ Hans Olson – Western Winds ++ Mile Ends – Farris Wheel ++ Sanford Clark – It’s Nothing To Me ++ Motion – Pardon My Reflection ++ Lon Rogers and the Soul Blenders – Too Good to Be True ++ The Rock*A*Teens – The Latin Social

*You can listen, for free, online with the SIRIUS three day trial — just submit an email address and they will send you a password.

range and basin

Range and Basin: another set of songs from the Grand Canyon State, or spiritually rooted there, a follow up to our Old Gold: Sonoran Country, Garage Blues, Pop, Soul and Avant-Garde from Arizona 1951-1971 mix from last year. Sunbaked soul, psych, country, garage, and folk, some culled from the archives of historian John “Johnny D” Dixon.

Range And Basin: Sonoran Roots, R&B, and Hard Rock 1966-1978 (49 min.)

tracklisting after the jump….


Turn those lights way down. I Got Soul, by New Orleans’ Tony Owens. A gritty, no frills, southern soul monster from the late 60s and early 70s, this collection (released by Grapevine Records) has had me reaching for little else than old soul and r&b sides of late. Check the title track below, and if you dig it, beg, borrow or steal the whole thing. RIYL: James Carr, Lee Moses, Stax/Volt, Muscle Shoals.

Tony Owens :: I Got Soul