Music News

Betty Wright

Why there hasn't been an A&E Biography dedicated to Miami soul goddess Betty Wright is unfathomable. She's been writing, singing, and recording fine R&B since the mid-1960s; collaborated with Stevie Wonder ("What Are You Gonna Do With It"); had her own talk show; sang backup for Erykah Badu, Jennifer Lopez, David Byrne, and Johnny Mathis (!); and produced disco divas Millie Jackson and Gwen McCrae as well as the 2003 debut of her U.K. protégé Joss Stone.

My First Time Around is a straight reissue of her 1968 album debut (she'd released a few singles previously), and unlike most soul and R&B albums from that era, it's consistently killer with no tedious filler. First Time is a well-nigh perfect balance of slightly raw, gospel-infused Southern rhythm and blues and smoothly produced uptown soul. The crackling, funky 'n' assertive "Girls Can't Do What the Boys Do" was the hit single, but it's far from the best here — just listen to Wright testifying à la Aretha (but without imitation) on the aching ballad "I Can't Stop My Heart." On the strutting, fervent "Sweet Lovin' Daddy," Wright exudes such salacious sensuousness that even Angelina Jolie and the late, great Dusty Springfield would be impressed. (It's hard to imagine she was only 15 years old when this was recorded.) Shed a quiet, broken-hearted tear with "Watch Out Love," and wonder at how the summery, winsomely melancholy, girl-group-flavored gem "Just You" (written by Sonny Bono!) did not become a massive hit. Hyperbole Alert: My First Time Around is surely one of the best reissues of '05, essential listening for fans of old-school sounds.

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Mark Keresman