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by Chuck Eddy

November 6, 2013

Country Covers R&B

by Chuck Eddy  |  November 6, 2013

Once upon a time, nearly a century ago, when they had different names, country and R&B were more or less the same music. And at least until disco came along, they as often as not dealt with the same topics: betrayal, hard times, midnight trains and the old home in Georgia, for instance. So it's no shock that artists from both genres have remade each other's songs over the years. And the vocal styles of many country singers -- Ronnie Milsap, Charlie Rich, Narvel Felts, T. Graham Brown, Razzy Bailey, Barbara Mandrell, Billy Joe Royal -- are so steeped in black influence that, if not for the color of their skin, we might not even classify them as country at all.

Those singers are all on this playlist, covering numbers by Ashford and Simpson, Sam and Dave, Jackie Wilson, The Staple Singers (T. Graham Brown's KKK-taunting "take the sheet off your face boy it's a brand new day" seems especially pointed in a white Southern context), Otis Redding, Eddie Floyd, Wilson Pickett, Shirley Brown and Ben E. King. And that's only a sample. The mix starts with Conway Twitty's version of The Pointer Sisters' "Slow Hand," a No. 1 country single in 1982, and ends with Clint Black and The Pointers linking hands for a revival of Aretha Franklin's "Chain of Fools" -- one of three tracks here taken from MCA Records' 1994 concept compilation Rhythm Country and Blues. The other songs from that album are George Jones doing Clarence Carter's "Patches" with B.B. King, and Vince Gill doing Marvin Gaye's "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing," with Gladys Knight handling the Tammi Terrell parts.

Other highlights: the overlapping alt country combos Hacienda Brothers and Stone River Boys interpreting the Intruders and Tyrone Davis; Barbara Mandrell's sister Louise cooing through Peaches & Herb's "Reunited"; Toby Keith powering out some Barry White seduction on a Wayman Tisdale album. By the end, Mark Wills (doing Brian McKnight), Reba McEntire (doing Beyonce) and string-band revivalists Carolina Chocolate Drops (doing Blu Cantrell) are even acknowledging R&B that's less than three decades old. Country may catch up with soul yet!

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