Wednesday, May 30, 2012

"A Letter to Myself" by The Chi-Lites (1973)

NOTE: The vinyl version doesn't title the album on the cover, but it does say: "Featuring A Letter to Myself."

View the Premise & Ground Rules for Revisiting Vinyl.

Filed between: Cheap Trick and Eric Clapton.

Key Tracks:
A Letter to Myself.  It opens with harmonica, then harmonies, then silky spoken word.  Yeah, I'm there.  Sally.  [Jubilantly] "Sally's heart is dancing to another fella's tune."  (See my comments on Midnight Train to Georgia.)  We Need Order - see below.

Obvious Filler & Swings-and-Misses:
I am very protective of Too Late to Turn Back Now.  The Chi-Lites do a passable version, but it doesn't come close to the cool confidence and female backing vocals of the original Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose (who tie with The Chi-Lites for my favorite R&B act whose popularity was isolated exclusively to the early seventies).  Love Comes in All Sizes just doesn't work the way it should.  My Heart Just Keeps on Breakin' - see below.

My Overall Rating of the Tracks Separately:
Recommended Listening (3/4 stars).  Honestly though, whatever the rating I assign it, I can always have this kind and caliber of music playing and be happy.

The Chi-Lites do being alone as well as anybody.  They make it sound hurtful, heartfelt and hopeful all at the same time.  That's why I love this group.  They trade off lead vocals and swap right back into backing tracks as well as anybody too.  Their lyrics are usually solid and their arrangements are spot-on, even if they tend to be a bit reductive.  And it's all thanks to their fearless leader, Eugene Record.  That guy ought to be talked about the way Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye are talked about.  Well, almost.

Let me give you some examples.  A Letter to Myself and Sally are both lonesome and desperate, but catchy as hell.  And We Need Order sounds like the theme music from the best blaxploitation movie ever.  Even though the message is kind of muddled, the bassline is as surefooted as a mountain goat.  This song would have been awesome as a funky instrumental.

But then you get things like fiddles on My Heart Just Keeps on Breakin'!  It's country all the way, except for that bassline again.  And on this LP, My Heart Just Keeps on Breakin' is grossly out of place, despite being a great song.

So, is it an album?  No.  And on this LP, it doesn't even matter.  It still takes me to a place I love going.

Up next, a record I inherited from my mom.  I'll go ahead and tell you that this one doesn't really do it for me; it's "Rock Me" by David Cassidy.

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