Rita Coolidge - vocals; Charlie Freeman - guitar, vocals; Mike Utley - organ, piano; Tommy McCLure - bass; Sammy Creason - drums
Born in Nashville, the daughter of a Baptist minister, Rita Coolidge initially established herself as a backup singer. With a smoky sweet voice, intelligence, and a funky Dusty Springfield (circa "Dusty In Memphis") like soulfulness, Coolidge was recruited into sessions for the likes of Delaney & Bonnie and Leon Russell. Her first significant public exposure occurred in 1970, when she was invited to tour as part of the legendary Mad Dogs And Englishmen entourage, where she became the vocal anchor of Cocker's space choir. Coolidge also enjoyed a showcase spot on these concerts, singing the lovely Leon Russell/Bonnie Bramlett composition, "Superstar." These performances brought her to the attention of the A&M label, which soon signed her to a recording contract. Her debut self-titled album was released in February of 1971 to critical acclaim, but experienced modest commercial success. The follow-up album, "Nice Feeling," issued in November of 1971, was an even stronger effort and featured a more cohesive core band featuring Leon Russell's partner from his Asylum choir recordings, Mark Benno, as well as the extraordinarily talented keyboard player Mike Utley. Fleshing out the band were seasoned musicians, Charlie Freeman, Tommy McClure, and Sammy Creason, all three of which had recorded extensively together and with Utley. This album still stands as the high water mark of her early career and proved that Coolidge was indeed a major talent.
Between these two albums, Rita Coolidge took the core band on the road, honing her live performing skills. Touring Europe in 1971, Coolidge was offered the opening slot on several high profile concerts by The Byrds, exposing her to European audiences who clearly appreciated what she had to offer. This performance, recorded at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam when she opened for The Byrds, captures this magic moment in time. Performing material destined for the Nice Feeling album, as well as some great material she never released officially, this live recording gives one a much clearer picture of where Coolidge was at than either of those albums. This is a remarkable band with an incredible pedigree, which is immediately obvious. They jell wonderfully and provide the perfect grooves to bring out the best in Coolidge. Mixing their bluesy Texas flavor with Coolidge's Southern soul, they create a sound somewhere between Leon Russell and the Shelter People and Delaney & Bonnie's best early work. This isn't surprising, considering all of them had been in The Orbit of those talented musicians for some time, but what is surprising is that Coolidge performs nothing from her only album at the time. Instead, she is clearly moving forward and listening to these powerful performances, one can only wonder why it took another six years for Coolidge to achieve widespread recognition.
Beginning in progress, this recording kicks off with Delbert McClinton's soulful rocker, "It's Love, Baby," originally made famous by the Queen Mother of the blues, Ruth Brown, back in 1955. Next up is "Lay My Burden Down," a song composed by keyboardist, Mike Utley. Here Coolidge's voice is laced with gospel flavor and it is no wonder this song was chosen for inclusion on the Nice Feeling album, as she delivers it with great style and flair. A clear highlight of the set follows, where Coolidge and band pair up Ike Turner's "The Game Of Love" with Dr. John's "When The Battle Is Over." This is an inspired combination that truly cooks from beginning to end. Coolidge had sung backup on Delaney & Bonnie's modest hit of the latter song, but it is a pure delight to hear her tackle this on her own. Her covers of Jimmy Lewis' "If You Were Mine" and Dave Mason's classic "Only You Know And I Know" were also soon to be recorded for her Nice Feeling album, but here they are even more compelling and immediate here, again capturing both Coolidge and this incredible band at their best. The latter song would become a modest hit for Coolidge the following year and become a smash hit for Delaney & Bonnie as well. At the conclusion of "Only You Know And I Know," Coolidge and company segue directly into Eric Clapton's high energy rocker, "Blues Power" to cap off this remarkable set.
Coolidge would eventually attain widespread acclaim in 1977, upon the release of her Anytime-Anywhere album, which spawned three Top 20 hits. However, as this performance clearly displays, all the elements were firmly in place back in 1971. She would never achieve superstardom, but as Joe Cocker, Leon Russell, and many other superstars of the day well knew, this Delta Lady is one of the truly great female vocalists of that era.
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