Two of the unsung heroes of Southern soul music (for more information about them, I can't recommend Peter Guralnick's excellent book Sweet Soul Music highly enough), Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham are responsible for writing some classic soul songs, including top 40 hits such as James and Bobby Purify's "I'm Your Puppet," The Sweet Inspirations "Sweet Inspiration" (also a hit for Barbara Streisand), The Box Tops' "Cry Like A Baby" (the duos biggest hit peaking at #2), Percy Sledge's "It Tears Me Up" and "Out Of Left Field," Aretha Franklin's "Do Right Woman, Do Right Man," and James Carr's "The Dark End Of The Street." Actually, Penn co-wrote the latter two songs with Chips Moman, another behind the scenes '60s legend, but Penn and Oldham co-wrote 9 of the 14 tracks presented on this stellar live album, which was recorded when the guys were grizzled vets in their late fifties. No matter, these old guys still got what it takes, for Penn and Oldman have always been great musicians as well as songwriters. Whatever fool said that white guys couldn't play the blues or sing soul music (as insulting and incorrect as saying that black guys can't play rock) forgot to tell Penn, who is simply a great soul singer, and his sparse but effective acoustic guitar playing perfectly complements Oldham's warmly inviting keyboard tones (which have graced many a classic soul song, including Percy Sledge's "When A Man Loves A Woman" and Aretha Franklin's "I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)"). Oldham also lends nice harmonies and sings lead once (on the wonderfully titled "Lonely Women Make Good Lovers"), and organ/guitar/vocals are basically all that's needed, as extra instruments would merely get in the way of these poignant, intimate performances. Simply put, these are heartfelt, beautifully rendered renditions of expertly crafted songs, most of which are ballads; this gets a bit one-note after awhile, but quite a nice note it is. There are a couple of livelier performances ("I Met Her In Church" comes immediately to mind) and moments of levity ("Memphis Women and Chicken"), but by and large this album is comprised of slow ballads that are quieter and more low-key than the more famous versions of these songs. Naming highlights would seem a fruitless endeavor given that this is such a consistent set, but their intense, passionate take on "It Tears Me Up" and an impossibly moving and fitting finale, "Ol' Folks," on which the guys sing their hearts out, certainly stand out. The crowd interaction is minimal, but there are some choice bits, most notably when Penn declares "everybody keeps asking me what's my favorite version of 'Dark End Of The Street,' as if there was any other than James Carr's," thereby letting it be known which version of his much-covered song he prefers best. There's not much more to say other than that this is a supremely classy country soul showcase for two superior songwriters and musicians, and the fact that neither one of these guys have been elected to the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in any category is a major oversight. Update: Spooner was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in the Sideman category in 2009, but Danís still waiting.
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