Album + Compilation
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I like to think I know my 70s soul, but I must say I'd never heard of Little Beaver till Joss Stone's The Soul Sessions hit the shelfs last year. That album was produced by Betty Wright and she roped in many of the leading lights of the Miami soulscene to help her, including organ player Timmy Thomas and pianist Benny Latimore. The guitar work came courtesy of Willie 'Little Beaver' Hale.
Willie's main gig in the 70s was working as a session musician for TK Productions -you'll have heard his playing on such mainstays as Wright's "Clean Up Woman" and George Macrae's "Rock You Baby". During this period he also released solo material on the label. His biggest hit by far was "Party Down Part 1 and 2", which reached #2 in the US R&B charts in 1974.
The musicfeatured here has something of the feel of Sly Stone's and Shuggie Otis' work of the same era. Many of the tracks featuring a primitive drum machine reminiscent of There's A Riot Going On and Inspiration Information. There's a fair share of references to parties (not just "Party Down" but "Get Into The Party Life"and "Party Times"), but you get the feeling that these parties were more wholesome than those hosted by Little Beaver's west coast comtemparies -people might even of brought their kids along! The sound as a whole is more soulful and less pharmaceutical; still funky, but never intense or perverse.
The guitar work is the real star of the piece. It manages to be tidy and relaxed, embellishing the groove with a minimum of fuss while always adding to the vibe of the track. Although most of the music featured concentrates on life's good times, on the albums few slower and sadder tracks - like "Joey" and "I Feel Like Crying -the guitar proves more than able to express sorrow and sadness. And Little Beaver's voice, although not as versatile as his playing, always connects with the themes and emotions of the songs.
All in all,a bit of find.A recommended purchase for any soul connoisseur wanting to broaden their horizons beyond the cities of Detroit, Chicago and Memphis.