Friends, hold on to The Complete Stax/Volt Singers Collection. Squeeze it. Never leave it.
After all, the best-known songs on Disc One alone are more than enough to make the case for Otis Redding, and for this three-disc compilation of every single he ever released. But every one of those hits, it seems, had a blistering b-side. And for every one of those smashes, there were others that slipped through the cracks.
So, sure, you might come to Complete Stax/Volt Singers Collection (due July 23, 2013 from Shout Factory!) for “Mr. Pitiful,” “I’ve Been Loving You So Long,” “Ole Man Trouble,” “I’m Depending on You” “Satisfaction” or “Don’t Mess With Cupid,” all of them said and done early on. But you’ll stay for the trembling, impossibly fragile crooning on “These Arms of Mine” (Redding’s 1962 debut single), the scalding sexual tension of “Don’t Leave Me This Way” and the grease-popping blues cry of “Just One More Day.”
Even on these lesser-known sides, it was utterly obvious from the start that Redding was a singer, a soul, like few others.
He launched across music’s stage as if atop a shooting star, and lasted just about as long — but not before creating a series of indelible images, both of heart-rending emotional rawness and foot-stampingly raucous joy. Redding’s range, this set makes clear, was as astounding as his career was brief. In fact, by the time producer and friend Steve Cropper, tears welling in his eyes, was putting the finishing touches on what would become Redding’s biggest hit with 1968’s “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Day” — a highlight, as expected, of Disc 2 here — the belter was already dead after a fiery plane crash.
In many ways, that created more myth than nuanced understanding of Redding’s sweeping talents with a lyric, a wrong that The Complete Stax/Volt Singers Collection goes a long way toward righting. From his cocky call and response with the horns on Disc 2’s “Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)” to his howlingly funny contretemps with Carla Thomas on “Tramp,” from his gospel-inflected passion on “Glory of Love” to the way he wrestles with a recently lost love on “Dreams to Remember,” it’s easy to see that we were just beginning to understand the contours of Redding’s gift. The truth is, he was already helping to create the very language of modern R&B singing.
As with any collection this complete, there are moments that might seem, on first blush, both odd and extraneous. But, with a performer of Redding’s profound intellect, all of it holds some kind of revelation. His heart-sick take on “White Christmas” is balanced, for instance, by an eruptive run through James Brown’s “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag.” Even a song like “Ooh Carla, Ooh Otis,” perhaps the slightest of his many collaborations with Thomas — there are eight in all — has a helplessly charming romanticism.
Well after his passing, stutteringly propulsive triumphs like “Love Man” would still be found among his unreleased recordings, and they power the set’s third disc toward another live version of Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness” — a performance so jaw dropping and wonder filled that it alone might just be worth the price of admission.