James Carr -- I'm a Fool for You / Pouring Water on a Drowning ManJames Carr -- I'm a Fool for You
James Carr -- Pouring Water on a Drowning Man
I bought James Carr's You've Got My Mind Messed Up on strong recommendation, listened to it once, and set it aside. "Someone's cup of tea," I thought. "Not mine."
Recently I found it again and gave it another spin. I was amazed--"I didn't like this?" I thought. "That's like not liking brownies, or oranges, or cold water on a hot day."
Which points to the issue of subjectivity. It's something filmbrain discusses in a thoughtful post about the critical reaction to L'Enfer, a movie he'd quite liked in spite of its critical drubbing, and which Girish discussed in his post about Lost Highway, which he'd watched again several years after the first time, finding a different film entirely from the one he remembered. I point you there because there's little point restating the case when it's been stated so eloquently already.
Carr was a Southern Soul singer on the Goldwax label, until its bankruptcy. Sometime after the release of his first album, You Got My Mind Messed Up, Carr apparently began suffering intense depression (or, as the A Man Needs a Woman liner notes so tactfully put it, "James' mind went out for a packet of fags and didn't come back for a few years.") Apparently he spent some time in a jail in Florida and had no account whatsoever for what he'd been doing from 1971 to 1977. He resurfaced in the late 70s, attempted a tour of Japan, and quit touring again, after which he moved in with his sister, released a new album, was diagnosed with lung cancer, had a lung removed, and was committed to a mental hospital. He died in January 2001.
In all that time he had just a handful of charting singles, but they're powerful work and there's brilliance throughout the first two albums--the intense singing, yes, and the lyrics, but also smaller production touches from the horn embellishments to the way the notes go sour at the end of "The Dark End of the Street."
"I'm a Fool for You" is not typical of Carr's work. It's joyful, sassy, snappy, infectious fun. Most of his work on these first two albums tends towards the tortured ballad.
Now, in listening to it again, the work strikes me as solid, impressive, thoroughly enjoyable (one notable exception: the world most likely did not miss the cover of "Ring of Fire"). I think that at his best, Carr's on par with Otis Redding and the other great soul vocalists. And if it wasn't my cup of tea earlier, it's most likely because I expected mint and was served Earl Grey.
[You Got My Mind Messed Up re-release, with 11 bonus tracks]
[A Man Needs a Woman re-release, with 13 bonus tracks. There's some overlap between these two....]
Here's a fascinating and often horrifying writeup about how not to commit suicide, written sometime in 1981. And then there are the notes. (Found at metafilter.)
Chris Bliss juggles to the ending medley on Abbey Road.
Jason Garfield is unimpressed, and submits it to a parody. By the time he pops a ball back into the mix with his foot and executes a few pirouettes, it's turned into a world-class beatdown--like Jimi Hendrix coming to your guitar class to give your song a run-through and spice it up a bit. Except, you know, Hendrix would be too humble and polite to do it. (youtube version here).