Tower of Power – Great American Soulbook

January 01, 1970

(TOP Records)


Rod Stewart, for one, mined gold out of classic American
songs, until he milked the concept for one album too many. Other obsolete
and/or unknown artists and bands have walked a similar well-tread path to where
including a cover tune (or three or four) on an album has become obligatory
even for the freshest-faced of new artists. It’s for this reason, and maybe a few
others, that SF Bay area musical legends Tower Of Power have been reluctant to
venture too far into the soul/R&B surf, opting instead to walk the safer
shores of their own original, horn-driven material.


With Great American
, however, TOP has decided to dive headfirst into the water and
provide fans with their own interpretations of vintage soul from the 1960s and
’70s. A lot of the songs here will be familiar to anybody who listened to the
radio during those days when Motown and Philly soul would be played alongside
pop and rock on the AM airwaves, and Tower Of Power brings the same raucous
performances to these songs that has thrilled audiences across the globe for
over 40 years…and they’ve even brought a few guest performers along for the


Somewhat surprisingly, the guest “stars” acquit
themselves respectively on Great American
, especially considering that only one of ’em – Sam Moore of the
great duo Sam & Dave – is a bonafide soulman. Knighted Welsh pop music
legend Tom Jones rips through a rockin’ cover of the Isaac Hayes-penned Sam
& Dave hit “I Thank You” with joyous aplomb, while Moore takes on Otis
Redding’s classic “Mr. Pitiful,” imbuing the song with a different
vocal tenor but no less emotional pathos. With the horns blasting behind him, Moore’s vocals spiral
downwards into heartbreak and tears.


Although I’m not the biggest fan of Joss Stone, England’s
latest whitebread pop-R&B sensation, her appearance here on two songs could
bring in some youngsters, so I’ll cut her some slack. Of her performances, Stone’s
duet with TOP frontman Larry Braggs on the Marvin Gaye/Kim Weston classic
“It Takes Two” is the (much) better of the two, their voices melding
together well above the Vegas-styled soul soundtrack. The biggest shocker here
is Huey Lewis’ deft take on Wilson Picket’s “634-5789.” Lewis brings
just the right amount of street-corner swagger to the track, swapping lyrics
with Braggs while some tasty Hammond B-3 and funkified horns blast in the


Although the aforementioned guest appearances are fine, and
will certainly help attract attention to the Great American Soulbook in a crowded marketplace, the stone cold
truth is that these guys don’t really need any help…they do just fine on their
own, thank you. “You Met Your Match,” for instance, is a rump-shaking
slice of big band funk with swinging horns and uber-cool, super-soul vocals and
harmonies. TOP’s cover of Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm
Band’s “Loveland” is a delightful throwback to ’70s soul with soaring
vox and a bedroom soundtrack while Aretha’s “Since You’ve Been Gone (Baby,
Baby, Sweet Baby)” is a lively R&B romp with lush instrumentation and
sultry harmonies behind the jubilant lead vocals.


Sure, there are a few clunkers on Great American Soulbook, but the less said about this minority, the
better. When the album clicks on all cylinders, as it does on the standout
tracks, it’s a delight; when it falls short of expectations, it’s usually when Tower Of Power seems hesitant to pull the trigger
and let ‘er fly. I, for one, wouldn’t mind seeing them pursue this concept for
another album, but only if they can bring the anarchistic, foot-shuffling funk
‘n’ soul of their live shows to the recording studio…that’s something that
would bring in the marks, for sure….


Standout Tracks: “You Met Your Match,” “Mr. Pitiful,” “634-5789”






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