Otis Redding – Tell the Truth Atco SD 33-333 (1970)
Another posthumous Redding album. But a fairly good one. It may not have a trio of songs as good as “I’m a Changed Man,” “Look at the Girl” and “Direct Me,” but on the whole it is better than the immediately prior vault-clearing album Love Man. The title track is still up there with Redding’s best. Some songs use an effective tactic of having the low-end bass and organ play slowly, while the vocals and guitar play at a faster tempo, giving the impression of being ahead of everything around them.
Otis was a truly unique pop singer. He largely avoided both vibrato and melisma. His style was southern soul. He took rural elements and made them palatable to urban audiences without undermining the gritty energy that gave his voice such power. If there is a comparison — pardon how far afield this seems — it might be the actor/dancer Gene Kelly. Both men had a kind of husky, athletic physical presence that they used in surprisingly nimble ways. They also both knew showman’s tricks, and were ready and able to dazzle audiences with routines that were entertaining without being condescending. What both did was also the kind of stuff that, theoretically, anybody could have done. Singing and dancing just take practice, right? Of course, they were each uncommonly talented. But it wasn’t just a raw talent. They both kind of found their niche. Which is to say that equal talents that were “out of time” and not in the right place at the right time (or of the “right” race, gender, etc.) would not be known to history like these men.