Percy Sledge – The Atlantic Recordings

January 01, 1970

(Rhino Handmade)


To a lot of folks, soul
singer Percy Sledge is a one-hit wonder. But what a hit: “When a Man Loves a
Woman” is as indelible a song as has been created in the twentieth century. No
matter how ubiquitous the anguished ballad has become over the past five
decades since its release, no matter overplayed it is due to oldies radio, covers,
film soundtracks, television, etc., you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who
doesn’t like that song.


But the former nurse had a
career beyond “When a Man Loves a Woman,” even if it was mostly on the R&B
charts. He recorded fairly prolifically for Atlantic, as this four-CD/104-song
collection, covering the years 1966-1974 and produced mainly at Muscle Shoals
Studios in Alabama, affirms. It was a trope of the music industry in the ‘60s
that if an artist had a big hit with a certain kind of tune, then the best bet
for continued success was to keep cranking out songs in the same vein. As such,
the first couple of disks lean heavily on ballads, many of them covers of
standards like “Drown in My Own Tears,” “It Tears Me Up,” “I’ve Been Loving You
Too Long,” “Pledging My Love” – even “Try a Little Tenderness.” He adds little
to the original versions, but if you love his distinctive passionate-but-tasteful
singing style, you won’t be sorry to hear these. Plus there are enough
originals and uptempo songs (big ups to “I Love Everything About You” on both
counts) to keep it from being too much of a slog.


The set delves into less
formulaic material on the third and fourth disks, which not only feature more
original songs (or tunes less familiar to ‘60s R&B fans) but also find
Sledge and his producers pushing further into what would eventually be known as
country soul. Working in a more understated production style (except for the
sometimes-overbearing background vocals, a holdover from an earlier era),
Sledge sounds more relaxed, relying less on sheer passion and more on finesse. These
disks are full of gems probably little known to audiences not conversant with
the ‘60s and ‘70s R&B charts – “Standing On the Mountain,” “You Can Always
Get It When You Got It,” “Love is a Job,” “Woman of the Night,” “Any Day Now” (an
ethereal take that cuts the better-known Ronnie Milsap version to pieces),
“True Love Travels On a Gravel Road” (later memorably recorded by Nick Lowe). Sledge
also digs in the then-contemporary C&W songbook for stately takes of Kris
Kristofferson’s “Help Me Make It Through the Night” and Charlie Rich’s “Life’s
Little Ups and Downs,” adding Arthur Alexander’s “Rainbow Road” to further
blaze country soul trails. For good measure, the singer also gives the Bee
Gees’ “I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You” a melancholy spin.


The set ends with a handful
of solid concert cuts recorded in South Africa in 1970, a pair of
Christmas songs and an alternate version of “When a Man Loves a Woman.” But
it’s the preceding studio work, particularly the tracks on disks 3 and 4, that
truly paint a picture of an artist too talented to be relegated to a piece of
top 40 trivia.


a Man Loves a Woman,” “Standing On the Mountain,” “Any Day Now,” “I Love
Everything About You” MICHAEL TOLAND

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