Dusty In Memphis (Atlantic ’69, Rhino ‘92) Rating: A
Already a well regarded pop singer, British blonde Dusty Springfield landed in Memphis in 1969, and the stage was set for her finest hour. Dusty In Memphis is a beautiful marriage of immaculate production work, classy string-heavy arrangements, a great band of session players, and truly wonderful vocals (by Dusty and the Sweet Inspirations, whose backing vocals bring a gospel touch to the proceedings). Considering the circumstances and production personnel (the legendary team of Jerry Wexler, Tom Dowd, and Arif Mardin), one might’ve expected this to be a gritty soul album in the grand old Atlantic/Stax tradition. Instead we get treated to an exceptional album of symphonic pop songs, and though the album didn’t sell in impressive numbers upon its release it has since been belatedly recognized as a classic of blue-eyed soul. What makes these intimate pop songs so soulful is Dusty’s ultra sexy voice; her husky, hushed tones have a naturally sad pitch that conveys a sensual sense of longing. Interpreting songs from some of the best and most sophisticated songwriters of the day, including four compositions from Gerry Goffin and Carole King, this album has a warm, lushly layered sound that’s singular in its stately elegance. I could go on and name some standout songs (“Son Of A Preacher Man” is the album’s best known song and its lone hit), but the whole album is one big highlight that should be listened to in its entirety. Out of print for some time but reissued by Rhino Records in 1992, Dusty In Memphis shows off a great singer in the right place at the right time at the peak of her powers.