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December 2007

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Betty Harris
Evidence Music

Betty Harris

Betty Harris is probably best known for her 1963 rendition of Solomon Burke’s “Cry To Me,” a song she made all her own. She recorded several other memorable songs, including “Mojo Hannah” and “His Kiss” and several songs for Allen Toussaint and Marshall Sehorn’s Sansu label, most notably “Bad Luck,” “Nearer To You,” and “Love Lots of Lovin’,” a duet with Crescent City legend Lee Dorsey. She also did a tour with Otis Redding, cut short due to Redding’s tragic death in late 1967, and made a few more recordings before retiring from the music business in 1970.

In 2001, her daughter found several fan sites on the Internet dedicated to Ms. Harris, which prompted her to join a soul mailing list to announce her whereabouts. One thing led to another and she was soon headlining a benefit at Hartford University, followed by an appearance at New Orleans’ Ponderosa Stomp, a Hurricane Katrina benefit in Melbourne, followed by the Poretta Soul Festival in Bologna, Italy. Now she’s back in the studio; with the able Jon Tiven at the controls, Harris has released Intuition, her debut solo recording for Evidence Music.

Intuition finds Ms. Harris in wonderful form, her vocal style and delivery as distinctive as it was some 40 years ago. The opening cut, the sultry “Is It Hot In Here,” is a wonderful vehicle for her, indicating that while there’s a definite nod to her past glories on the disc, Harris’ focus is strictly on the present. The title cut sounds different from anything else Harris has recorded, but she gives a great performance. The duet with Freddie Scott, “Since You Brought Your Sweet Love,” was actually recorded by each artist over a decade apart, but the production is seamless and sounds like they were actually in the same room.

One of the highlights of the disc is “You Do My Soul Good,” featuring a fine, understated performance by Harris, with an able assist from co-author Jonell Mosser on backing vocals and Tiven on sitar. “Who’s Takin’ Care of Baby?” is a nice slice of modern R&B and further evidence that Harris is more than comfortable tackling modern styles. Jerry Ragovoy contributed a couple of songs to the disc, including the soul gem, “It Is What It Is.”

In addition to producing the disc, Tiven had a hand in most of the compositions and played the majority of guitar, keyboards, and harp. His wife, Sally, served as composer and played bass. Other noteworthy guests include Mosser, Bekka Bramlett, Buddy Miller, Ragavoy, and Memphis Horn stalwart Wayne Jackson.

Intuition is an impressive release. It’s great to have a true soul voice like Betty Harris’ back on the scene. If you’re a fan of deep southern soul, you owe it to yourself to find this disc. Hopefully, we won’t have to wait so long for the next one.

--- Graham Clarke


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