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February 2001

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Order Blue Nite Lounge from Dan Penn's web site

Check out some of Dan Penn's earlier material ...

Nobody's Fool

Do Right Man

Moments From This Theatre

Irma Thomas' My Heart's In Memphis

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Dan Penn
Blue Nite Lounge
Dandy Records

Dan Penn - Blue Lite LoungeBlues Bytes has sung the praises of Dan Penn several times over the last couple of years. Penn is best known as the author, or co-author, of some of soul's biggest hits in the 1960s and 70s. Among his best known songs are "Dark End of the Street," "I'm Your Puppet," "Do Right Woman," "It Tears Me Up," and "You Left the Water Running". Though the hits stopped coming, Penn has continued writing songs, keeping various artists for Rounder Records supplied with solid songs for a big portion of the last two decades, culminating with Irma Thomas' outstanding My Heart's In Memphis: The Songs of Dan Penn. Thomas performed Penn compositions, old and new, in what is surely one of her finest works yet, and one of last year's best releases (see Blues Bytes review).

A lesser known fact about Penn is that he is as good a performer as he is a composer. In the 60s, his band, the Pallbearers (whose tour bus was an old hearse), were local legends in northwest Alabama and northeast Mississippi. Producer/songwriter Chips Moman was once asked how he was able to get anything out of the late James Carr (a notoriously reluctant performer whose reading of "Dark End…" is one of the classics of soul music). 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 demo tapes from this era, although heard by few, are the stuff of legend. He also released an album in the early 70s (the recently reissued Nobody's Fool) that is considered a classic. Penn was unheard again as a performer until 1994's Do Right Man, which is still in print and is a classic, and his live release with Spooner Oldham, Moments From This Theatre, from 1999.

Frustrated recently while label-shopping, Penn decided to release his most recent effort, Blue Nite Lounge, on his own label, Dandy Records, available only on his website ( The majority of this CD was recorded in a fishing cabin in St. Francisville, Louisiana, with his friends Bucky Lindsey on bass and Carson Whitsett on keyboards, with some additional instruments added later in Nashville. Among those contributing are Oldham, Al Kooper, Reggie Young, Wayne Jackson and Mike Durham. 

In the entertaining liner notes, which describes the trip to the cabin, Penn says that everybody has always told him he should put out his 60s demos. With this CD, he has come as close to that as he could without actually releasing those classics, except that these songs are all new compositions, written at the cabin or at Penn's Nashville stomping grounds. The only song previously heard is "Not Enough Time to Change" (from the Thomas CD), which Penn takes back for his own. The demo quality gives the songs an unvarnished, vulnerable feel. But the soul is there in Penn's amazing voice. It's hard to pick a favorite cut, but my choices would have to be "Not Enough Time To Change" or the breezy "Superliner" (with its zydeco-based keyboards), or even "You Don't Miss What You Never Had" (which, in a perfect world, should be a hit for somebody). The closing track, "Holding on to God", is interesting as Penn sings accompanied by a 140-year-old pipe organ from a St. Francisville church, also described in the notes. The actual closer is "Rosamond Rain," which is almost 14 minutes of a Louisiana thunderstorm (with a phone call from Jerry Wexler saying how much he liked the album). 

Why are Dan Penn's songs so memorable? Probably because in each song he writes, he puts a little piece of his soul into them. When he sings them, they are made even richer. If you're a fan of country soul, by all means seek out this CD.

--- Graham Clarke

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