THE EVER WONDERFUL TED TAYLOR: THE OKEH YEARS 1962-1966 - Ted Taylor (Shout/RPM)
In its most famous version, “Ramblin’ Rose” is a battle cry. The first shot heard round the world -- or at least outside of Michigan -- of the MC5, as Brother J.C. Crawford’s “I want everybody to kick up some noise! I wanna hear some revolution out there brothers!” intro makes way for a power surge of Motor City karmic energy with Wayne Kramer’s raspy strain vocals and the soul-clenching force of the band itself.
But it didn’t take the MC5 to show what a great song it was; four years earlier, in 1964, an unjustly forgotten soul singer named Ted Taylor unleashed his unjustly forgotten version to some R&B chart fanfare, but not nearly what it deserved. Though not as high energy as the MC5 remake, Taylor’s rendition makes up for what it doesn’t have in intensity in soul. Putting his tenor to the top its range (if you’re wondering why Kramer sings it that way), Taylor glides and cuts into the clear-water horns and funky uptown R&B band as the (unknown) guitarist comps and then steps out of the pit for a magnificent solo. Two minutes of early soul perfection, which is undoubtedly why five Detroiters dug it so much.
Incredibly, "The Ever Wonderful" is the first legit reissue of Taylor’s “(Love Is Like a) Ramblin’ Rose,” not to mention most of the sides he cut for CBS subsidiary OKeh Records from 1962 to 1966. While Taylor never quite reached first-tier status among ’60s soul singers, the second tier when one’s competition is people like Marvin Gaye, Wilson Pickett, Jerry Butler, and James Brown isn’t a bad place to be.
And indeed, there are further highlights on this CD, which compiles nearly every single he made for OKeh. “Daddy’s Baby” grooves with a horn-dominated uptown soul arrangement in the vein of “Ramblin’ Rose,” while the funky “Somebody’s Always Trying,” and “Walking Out of Your Life” underscore Taylor’s soul credentials as his commanding delivery sets the mood. “If It Wasn’t for You,” “Can’t Take No More,” and “I Ain’t Like That No More” are solid uptown R&B numbers similar to what B.B. King was doing at the time, with Taylor’s laid back yet impassioned performances. “So Hard” is just plain blues -- and pretty damn solid blues at that. Taylor was also capable of bearing his heart on ballads like “Time Has a Way,” “Pretending Love,” and what may be his signature song, the mellifluous “Be Ever Wonderful.”
With no putdown intended, the remainder is basically journeyman ’60s soul and R&B -- all performed wonderfully (pardon the expression) by Ted and band, just not quite spectacular. But with all that this has going for it, it doesn’t matter in the end. It’s not so much that this reissue is desirable; it had to happen given Taylor’s place in history and the fine sides he did make for OKeh.
So why isn’t Taylor, who recorded for 20 more years, more fondly remembered, particularly when he did score R&B hits? Sadly, probably because of his untimely death at age 50 in an October 1987 car accident. Had he lived, he would almost certainly have had the renaissance that other forgotten ’60s soul singers like Howard Tate, Solomon Burke, Otis Clay, and Mighty Sam McClain have experienced of late. It wasn’t to be, but "The Ever Wonderful" is a great way to honor Ted Taylor’s memory. - Doug Sheppard
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