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May/June 2004

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Dan Penn
Do Right Man


Dan Penn

Blues Bytes has sung the praises of Dan Penn for many years. While he’s best known as a songwriter, he is also a wonderful performer with a voice that oozes deep soul.

I’ve told this story before (taken from Peter Guralnick’s Sweet Soul Music), but legendary producer Chips Moman was once asked how he had been able to produce such a fine effort from James Carr (who was an unpredictable, to say the least, performer in the studio). Moman replied, “Easiest thing in the world. Just get Dan Penn to sing it for him. He had to sing it, ‘cause Dan sung it so good.”

Penn’s only been coaxed into the studio a few times, mostly over the past ten years or so, but his best effort would have to be 1994’s Do Right Man (Sire Records), where Penn tackles some of his compositions that were made famous by other artists.

Hearing Penn sing these songs will make you understand why these artists (including James Carr, Percy Sledge, Irma Thomas, Aretha Franklin, and James & Bobby Purify) were eager to sing them. Penn’s heartfelt vocals on “Dark End of the Street” are every bit the equal of James Carr’s original version, and his version of “I’m Your Puppet” is one of my favorites on the disc.

Penn also gives Percy Sledge a run for his money on his version of “It Tears Me Up,” though he’s not able to convey as much of the complete and utter despair that Sledge does.

To me, “It Tears Me Up” is Penn’s best song, hands down. I could listen to a CD with nothing but that song on it.

His understated take on “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” is a totally different animal from Aretha’s sassy version, and is the better for it.

My favorite cut on the CD is, without a doubt, “Zero Willpower,” previously done by Irma Thomas. If this one doesn’t leave you with chill bumps, as the saying goes, you’ve got a hole in your soul.

This session was cut at Muscle Shoals, with some celebrated backing musicians from the area, including David Hood (bass), Jimmy Johnson (guitar), and Roger Hawkins (drums), along with longtime collaborator Spooner Oldham on B3, Reggie Young (guitar) and Bobby Emmons (keyboards). Delbert McClinton even makes an appearance, playing harmonica on the new track, “Memphis Women & Chicken.”

If you’re a fan of southern soul and you don’t have this disc, there’s a big gap in your collection.

--- Graham Clarke

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