In pondering what it was I wanted to do as an actual 'Re-view', it was becoming easier and easier to fall into the trap of reviewing a number of great albums that had already gotten the credit they deserved. Without dispute, there are plenty of records that should be looked at again. And then there are some albums that most people really need to look at for the first time. Betty Harris is one such artist. No one ever seemed to truly appreciate her when she was in her prime, making some of the greatest New Orleans soul there ever was, and it’s only now that she’s long out of the business of making music that we begin to realize the sheer magnitude of the body of work she’s left us with.

Betty Harris was born in Florida in the early 1940's, and began her musical youth as a bit of a protege (mostly a maid, mind) for "blues matriarch" Big Maybelle. In the early 60's she had a couple of hits that charted into the R&B billboard top forty, with her first release for Jubilee 'Cry to Me'(Solomon Burke’s hit) becoming the biggest success of her career (U.S R&B top 10). After a couple of years with Jubilee, and not much more chart action, she switched to Sansu Records, and under the tutelage of Alain Toussaint, began a partnership that would have him writing the bulk of the material in her too-short career, and in which a sea of 45's were born. After four years with Sansu, she moved to her final label SSS Int’l (signing with them after 'Cry to Me' charted again in 1969), but it wasn’t long after signing with SSS that Betty Harris dropped out of the music business altogether. Anything I’ve read on where Betty might actually be now have her either driving a truck for a living or working as a tractor-trailer operator. Seven years in the music business produced one early 45 for Douglas records, 8 sides for Jubilee (one track co-written by Andre Williams), 18 for Sansu, and only 2 sides on SSS.

For the complete collection of Betty’s work, the CD to get is 'Soul Perfection Plus' by Westside records. The great thing about the technology that is the compact disc means you now have access to tracks that you simply never would have been able to get your hands on (short of being a die-hard vintage 45 collector, of course)–but I’ll take the lazy-person’s access to this stuff any day, especially if it promotes some well deserved props for Betty Harris.

So, for the sake of this re- view, I’ve chosen to look at the early 80's Charly R&B re-issue of the Sansu 45s called 'In the Saddle'. I really feel that it’s always worthwhile to find something like this on vinyl when you can...there’s a warmth in the recording that is nearer to the original 45's than the tweaked clarity that cd’s have to offer. Some of my favourite Betty Harris tracks are found here: 'Mean Man' with it’s jangly guitars, fat bass line and up tempo tambourine, on to some real funk numbers, ballads, and of course the hit 'Cry to Me'. This is truly a great collection of New Orleans Funk and Soul. A lot of these releases were never even heard outside of New Orleans. Charly R&B was a great label in production from about the mid-70's on to the early 80's. They were the leaders of the re-issue market, and virtually anything on Charly is worth the listen (a lot of their recordings are very "collector" geared, and often hard to find). On 'In the Saddle' you will also find 'Take Care of Your Love', a great duet with Lee Dorsey, one of at least a couple of duets that she had recorded with him). There’s definitely more bang for your buck on 'Soul Perfection Plus..'.it’s more complete, and technically better quality, but personally I have a soft spot for the Charly reissues, and I always love the vintage look and appeal of their record packaging. This cover is no exception.

With tracks like 'Ride your Pony'(also a hit for Lee Dorsey) you think to yourself that this could possibly be a Black Belt Jones soundtrack, with its funky Shaft-esque bass lines. Betty Harris is oft dubbed the true soul Queen of New Orleans for a reason...her smoky velvet voice projects deep soul like no other brooding growly range. R & B means something different now than it did then. In a world where computer beats and bikini-booty constitutes today’s R&B, it’s nice to reflect on what that really used to mean. Betty’s R&B was more about the groove and the melody than selling sex (which is not to say that she wasn’t a sexpot of course). She was extremely under-rated in her day, and I think that if there had never been an Aretha Franklin, there would have always been Betty Harris.








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