(4 / 5)
Three words could sum this one up: Sheer Soulful Class! Obviously in her genes; the daughter of legendary soul/r&b artist Rufus “Walking The Dog”/”Funky Chicken” Thomas. But a fabulous artist in her own right and a catalyst for the huge success Stax records would have in its association with Atlantic.
“Let Me Good To You” is a bumper 94 tracks across four discs, covering Carla’s output with the labels Atlantic and Stax over the eight year period of 1960 to 1968.
The UK’s SoulMusic Records offers up this first-of-its-kind complete collection of all of the 60-68 Atlantic and Stax recordings by Carla. “Let Me Be Good To You” celebrates ‘The First Lady Of Stax Records’, whose 1961 classic hit “Gee Whiz (Look At His Eyes)” – which she wrote when she was 15-years-old – cropping up here @ track # 3 on disc # 1, led to the Memphis-based label’s distribution with Atlantic Records.
Sequenced by session, the deluxe four-CD set includes tracks from Carla’s four solo albums, plus the famed 1967 “King & Queen” LP of duets with the late Otis Redding.
The ‘A’ and ‘B’ sides of all of Carla’s singles – including (28) non-album tracks – are featured. This includes Carla’s duets with her legendary father, Rufus Thomas, along with five live recordings from Carla’s 1967 performances in London and Paris with the famed Stax/Volt Revue.
Produced by SoulMusic Records founder David Nathan, the set includes an 8,000-word piece by writer Charles Waring, with 2020 quotes from Stax executive Al Bell, songwriter/producer David Porter, Carla’s sister Vaneese (an artist in her own right) and former Stax publicist and songwriter Deanie Parker, plus others.
This release pays homage in fine style, to Carla Thomas as a true pioneer of soul music. Stax Records’ primary female hitmaker for the label’s groundbreaking first eight years of operation.
Disc One: “A Love Of My Own” gives us Carla’s first recordings for Satellite Records, which became Stax Records in 1961. Track one here, “Cause I Love You” (1960), was Carla’s first record, a duet with her father, with brother Marvell on keyboards, released by Satellite.
Carla was still at High School, but that record drew enough local attention to catch the interest of Jerry Wexler of Atlantic Records, who signed a deal to distribute Satellite recordings.
Disc one here includes duets with her father, her debut LP, “Gee Whiz” and various non-album singles such as the superb “I’ll Bring It On Home To You”, Carla’s ‘answer’ song to Sam Cooke’s 1962 hit.
The second disc here, “Every Ounce Of Strength”, includes Carla’s second LP, “Comfort Me” alongside deep soul classics, “How Do You Quit (Someone You Love)”, “Stop! Look What You’re Doing”, and “What Have You Got To Offer Me”. Also found on this one are her major 1966 hits, “Let Me Be Good To You” and “B-A-B-Y”, both co-written and produced by Isaac Hayes & David Porter.
“Something Good (Is Going To Happen To You)”, features the 1966 LP “Carla”, plus the 11 tracks from 1967’s globally-successful “King & Queen” LP, which paired Carla with the unforgettable King of soul, Mr Otis Redding. Otis was the label’s primary hitmaker back then. This disc includes their duet covers of “Tramp” and Eddie Floyd’s “Knock On Wood”.
The final CD here: “I Take It To My Baby”, opens with five cuts from Carla’s live performances as part of the triumphant Stax/Volt Revue tour of Europe, and continues with Carla’s LP “The Queen Alone”. There are also the tracks from her last sessions with Stax, at the end of the label’s distribution pact with Atlantic, including 1967’s “Pick Up The Pieces”, and 1968’s “A Dime A Dozen”.
It is an impossible job to pick out the best tracks, as it is of course a matter of personal preference and there are, after all, 94 tracks to dip into here.
But even more pertinent I think, is my feeling that unlike many retrospective compilations of legendary artists from back in the day, whose work is pretty much all out there and they chuck out a “new” release peppered with fillers and inferior tracks the artist or band would probably prefer stayed unreleased…There are zero duffers here.
For my ears, this is 100% gold dust and definitely stands the test of time. I am pretty sure Carla would be happy to hear every last one of these 94 gold nuggets again, and have no beef with Mr Nathan and his cracking little UK label for giving birth to this wonderful set.
Carla Venita Thomas is now 77, born in 1942 in Memphis. One of three musical siblings. Carla, Ronald Marvell Thomas, known as Marvell who was a keyboardist, producer and arranger, and their sister Vaneese. Carla was influenced by Jackie Wilson and Brenda Lee, among others.
Her final Stax recording was the1971 album, “Love Means...“, and then in 1972 she appeared in the film/documentary “Wattstax” which was released in 1973. Carla then dropped off the scene until the odd set of gigs in the 80s. In 1991 she appeared with her father at the Poretta Soul Festival in Italy.
She was awarded the Pioneer Award in 1993, alongside James Brown and Solomon Burke, by the Rhythm & Blues Foundation. In 2003, she was in the documentary “Only the Strong Survive”, shown at the Cannes Film Festival.
There is a 1994 compilation of her greatest hits, a 2002 live recording of a Memphis performance and the 2007 release “Live at the Bohemian Caverns in Washington, D.C.”, a live recording from 1967. Ace Records put out “Sweet Sweetheart, The American Studio Sessions And More”, in 2013.
Carla was very involved in the “Artists in the Schools” programme that provided Memphis schoolchildren with access to successful artists. These workshops talked to teenagers about music, performing arts and drug abuse.
Hopefully in good health these days, one assumes she wishes to stay under the radar, if she was approached and declined to be interviewed for this project for the “liner notes”, perhaps via her sister Vaneese. That is of course, Carla’s prerogative. But if she were to read this review, I would wish to say a sincere thankyou for your music, Ms Thomas, and the joy your pipes have brought millions globally across seven decades.
P.S. If you ever did fancy a chat on the ‘phone or via email about your career and this wonderous music we call soul and you would probably call r&b, you know where to find us………..
By Sally Fox
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’