People Get Ready: The Curtis Mayfield Songbook.

Label: Kent Soul.

Format: CD.

After the demise of The Impressions in 1970, Curtis Mayfield embarked upon a solo career. It spanned three decades and commercial success and critical acclaim were constant companions for the Chicago-born soul man.

Between his 1970 debut Curtis, and 1996s Â New World Order the former Impression released twenty-seven albums. This included seventeen studio albums, six soundtracks and four live albums. Five of these albums topped the US R&B charts while Curtis, Super Fly and Back To The World were certified gold in America. While these three albums offer a tantalising taste of the considerable talents of Curtis Mayfield the soul singer, he was also a producer and songwriter. 

Despite the success he enjoyed as a singer and also as a producer Curtis Mayfield always saw himself first and foremost as a songwriter. His songs were covered by some of the biggest names in soul, funk and R&B over the past five decades. Thos Many of his songs have been covered by other artists over the past five decades. This includes everyone from Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick,  Barbara Mason and Gladys Knight and The Pips to Isaac Hayes, Walter Jackson, Gene Chandler, Major Lance and Freddie Scott as well as The Jackson 5 and the group that Curtis Mayfield made his name with The Impressions. These artists are among the twenty-four that feature on People Get Ready: The Curtis Mayfield Songbook which was recently released by Kent Soul. It’s the latest instalment in their Songwriter Series and is the perfect introduction to the songwriting talents of Curtis Mayfield.

Opening People Get Ready: The Curtis Mayfield Songbook is a soul classic from The Impressions, Gypsy Woman. It was arranged and conducted by Leroy Glover, and  when it was released as a single on ABC Paramount in 1961 reached number two on the US R&B charts. This tale of unreciprocated love was one of The Impressions’ finest singles and sets the bar high for the rest of the compilation.

Nineteen year old Jan Bradley recorded Behind The Curtains for the Night Owl label in 1962. Later that year,  it was released as a single in 1962 and by February 1963 it had charted. There’s a wistful quality to the vocal on a single that reached the top twenty in the US R&B and top fifty in the US Billboard 100. Sadly , this was the only one of Jan Bradley’s that charted  in the US Billboard 100.  However, this single is a welcome and worthy addition to the compilation.

Major Lance and Curtis Mayfield grew up together in the Cabrini-Green project in Chicago. They first worked together in 1960 when The Impressions backed Major Lance on his single I’ve Got A Girl. However, when the single flopped he didn’t record another single until 1963. That was the year he covered the Curtis Mayfield song Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, Um. It was released on  Okeh in 1963 and reached number five on the US Billboard 100. This was his third consecutive hit penned by Curtis Mayfield and for many people was the finest of the triumvirate.

I’ve Been Trying was released as a single by Jerry Butler on the Chicago-based Vee-Jay label in 1964. This Calvin Carter production features an impassioned and soul-baring vocal from the future Cook County Commissioner.

In 1964, Walter Jackson was signed to Okeh and recorded It’s All Over. It was arranged by Riley Hampton with Carl Davis and Curtis Mayfield taking charge of production. The result was a beautiful ballad with a vocal full of emotion, sadness and hurt at the thought of telling his partner their relationship is over. It’s no surprise that the single reached number seven on the  US Billboard 100 in 1964 as it’s one of the best tracks on the compilation.

Over the years, People Get Ready has been covered  by many artists with varying degrees of success. One of the best is Dionne Warwick’s powerful, gospel-tinged reading of a song originally recorded by The Impressions. It featured on her 1968 album Soulful which was released by Scepter Records. The album was arranged by Mike Leech with Chips Moman coproducing the album with Dionne Warwick. People Get Ready is one of the highlights of Soulful and showcases a truly talented and versatile vocalist.

One of the most underrated female soul singers is Barbara Mason. She produced some of her finest albums during her time at Buddah Records. This includes her 1972 album Give Me Your Love which was arranged by Rich Tufo and  produced by Curtis Mayfield.  It reached number ninety-five on the US Billboard 200 and seventeen on the US R&B charts. 

When the title-track was released as a single it reached number nine in the US R&B charts. It’s one of the album’s highlights, and features a coquettish vocal from the Philly-born singer who breathes life and meaning into the lyrics.

In 1971, Isaac Hayes covered Need To Belong To Someone for his Black Moses album.  He takes the song in a new direction adding an element of drama as he adds layers of strings and soulful backing vocals that provide the perfect accompaniment to his vocal. When the album was released by Stax it reached number ten on the US Billboard 200 and  topped the US R&B charts. By then, Isaac Hayes could do no wrong and was enjoying the most successful period of his career.

For the compiler the hardest decision must have been which Curtis Mayfield song should feature on the compilation? Tony Rounce has opted for a UK single edit of  Keep On Keeping On. It was released in 1972 when Curtis Mayfield was signed to Buddah Records. The single features an heartfelt and hopeful vocal and is a poignant reminder of one of the great soul men. 

Leaving Motown was the best thing to happen to Gladys Knight and The Pips.  The Empress Of Soul was no longer in the shadow of Diana Ross and The Supremes. At Buddah Records Gladys Knight and The Pips’ career blossomed and they enjoyed commercial success and critical acclaim and by 1974 had won two Grammy Awards. That year, they recorded On and On as a single. Hidden away on the B-Side was 

The Makings Of You which was arranged by Rich Tufo and  produced by Curtis Mayfield. It’s a beautiful ballad that showcases the combined and considerable talents of Gladys Knight and The Pips who were enjoying the most successful period of their career.

Another single edit on the compilation is Let’s Do It Again by The Staple Singers. It was arranged by Rich Tufo and  Gil Asked with Curtis Mayfield in charge of production. The single reached number twenty on the US Billboard 200 and  topped the US R&B charts. No wonder as it features The Staple Singers at their very best backed by a stunning arrangement that features dancing strings. This is another highlight of People Get Ready: The Curtis Mayfield Songbook.

The third single edit is Look Into Your Heart by Aretha Franklin. Rich Tufo arranged and orchestrated the single.  Curtis Mayfield also arranged and produced the single.  It was released in 1976, and by then Aretha Franklin was no longer was as popular. However, she unleashed an impassioned soulful vocal  which is accompanied by an outstanding orchestrated arrangement. The result was a hit single that helped to get the Queen Of Soul’s career back on track.

Keni Burke’s Never Stop Loving Me which the singer wrote with Deidra Burke and Curtis Mayfield. It was one of the highlights on the Never Stop Loving album which was released on RCA Victor in 1981. Despite its quality the song was relegated to the B-Side of Tripping Out. Those who flipped over to the B-Side discovered a hidden gem that sparkled brightly.

Closing  People Get Ready: The Curtis Mayfield Songbook is Hard Times by John Legend and The Roots featuring Black Thought. The song which was written in 1968 featured on the R&B stars 2010 collaboration with The Roots, Wake Up. It featured a selection of sixties and seventies soul songs with social themes that had been inspired by the election of President Obama in 2008. When the album was released by Columbia it sold 273,000 but still  reached number eight on the US Billboard 200 and three on the US R&B charts.  

It can’t have been easy choosing just twenty-four tracks for People Get Ready: The Curtis Mayfield Songbook as he was a prolific songwriter whose songs were covered by so many people.  The great and good of music covered Curtis Mayfield’s songs and there’s more than enough material for a double or triple album. However, compiler Tony Rounce managed to choose just twenty-four songs, and has chosen well.  

Legends of soul and R&B rub shoulders with what will be new name to many people on People Get Ready: The Curtis Mayfield Songbook. It features beautiful ballads and  timeless socially conscious soul. The result is a lovingly curated compilation and a welcome instalment in the Ace Records Songwriter Series.

People Get Ready: The Curtis Mayfield Songbook features twenty-four songs from the pen of one the greatest singer and songwriters of his generation and is a poignant reminder of the late, great soul man’s considerable talents.

People Get Ready: The Curtis Mayfield Songbook.



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