Artist: Ike & Tina Turner
Album: The Complete Pompeii Recordings
Label: Goldenlane Records
Release Date: 09/23/2016
A round of applause for Athan Maroulis. In the meticulously researched liner notes that accompany The Complete Pompeii Recordings 1968-69, the actor/vocalist/record producer/writer does his level best to make sense of what was a big, complicated mess, sorting through a period when Ike & Tina Turner were working themselves into a frazzle, cutting records for any number of labels – some long forgotten – while raising a family and maintaining a rigorous touring schedule. It’s required reading for anybody willing to wade through this three-CD archival release of disparate, under-the-radar material that ended up on releases for Pompeii, which Ike may have actually owned – at least in part.
The consummate hustler, with a savvy business sense and boundless creativity, Ike Turner drove the legendary R&B/soul act hard through stretches of explosive turbulence, as they recorded for at least ten different labels between 1960 and 1970, producing almost 70 singles and somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 albums. And yet, while practically setting up residence on the charts in those years, Ike & Tina Turner found themselves unable to move up to the penthouse suite. A truly transcendent breakthrough hit eluded them until later, although they were certainly prolific during this time.
Which means good homes were needed for these songs. Pompeii opened wide its doors for them. Rather lavish, considering just how unremarkable its contents are, this collection houses So Fine, Cussin’, Cryin’ & Carryin’ On and A Black Man’s Soul – encasing three discs in mini sleeves resembling the original jackets. And the booklet inside is a fascinating read, fleshed out with a smattering of vintage photos.
Historically speaking, it’s not essential, stuff, although much of it is interesting and even hints at greatness, especially with Tina’s feverish and wildly expressive vocals sending volts of electricity through it all. Off of 1968’s superb So Fine, a blend of originals and covers, their raucous version of “Shake a Tail Feather” – just as hot and wild as any other – practically jumps out of its own skin. Just as tight, infectious and bouncy, “We Need an Understanding” and “Ain’t Nobody’s Business” are pumping, energetic romps, while “It Sho Ain’t Me” stews in bluesy depression and defiance and “A Fool in Love” sweeps you away in a rolling flood of piano and sunny soulfulness. And for a novelty track, with head-scratching, Chipmunk-like choruses no less, “Betcha’ Can’t Kiss Me (Just One Time)” is rather charming.
More drab and unfocused – perhaps an indication of the well running a bit dry – Cussin’, Cryin’ & Carryin’ On is a maddening hodgepodge. Somewhat cloudy, the shambolic, and tepid, churn of “Beauty is Just Skin Deep” moves gracefully, while “Poor Little Fool” and “So Blue Over You” feel desultory and uninspired in contrast to the lively, up-tempo swing of “Nothing You Can Do Boy (To Change My Way)” and the easy girl-group sway of “Make ‘Em Wait.”
There is some overlap between the three discs, as “Thinking Black” – its colorfully funky throb and urban, futuristic vibe matching that of “Ghetto Funk,” making them ideal for a throwback soundtrack of some type – appears on both Cussin’, Cryin’ & Carryin’ On and A Black Man’s Soul. Though easy to dismiss, as a gathering of all-instrumental pieces, A Black Man’s Soul – attributed to Ike Turner & the Kings of Rhythm – reveals Ike’s fresh originality with regard to arrangements and studio artistry. He must have been a genius with horn charts. Then again, the utter blandness and retro-R&B dogma of something like “Philly Dog” shows that Ike had trouble separating the wheat from the chaff. There’s a lot of both here.