By 1972, Arthur Alexander had a pretty impressive résumé. In the preceding decade, he’d recorded a string of R&B hits including the classic “You Better Move On.” The Beatles covered his song “Anna (Go To Him)”; Dusty Springfield, The Bee Gees, The McCoys and Ike and Tina Turner covered “Every Day I Have To Cry.” And The Hollies, The Moody Blues, and The Rolling Stones covered “You Better Move On.”
That track record certainly suggested that his 1972 self-titled LP would be tremendous. It was, after all, a comeback album of sorts. And yet, the record disappeared quickly and quietly. Alexander issued a handful of singles over the next couple of years, and then left the music business. (He reemerged in 1993 with a new album and was prepping to tour when, tragically, a sudden heart attack killed him.) Omnivore’s reissue of that record -the comeback of the comeback—gives it a chance to find the audience it missed some 45 years ago.
Arthur Alexander the album certainly affirms the writing chops of Arthur Alexander the man. The eight songs he wrote or co-wrote stand out for their economy and clarity. The pretty, unadorned vocal melody of “In The Middle Of It All” sits apart from the arrangement, echoing its narrator, lonely in the midst of a busy world. In “Go On Home Girl,” Alexander wistfully but firmly turns away the woman he loves out of loyalty to her boyfriend, his best friend. The song’s conveys both the simple honor of friendship and the complexity of heartbreak, and marries the whole thing to an engaging, elementary tune and breakaway chorus.
The reissue’s six bonus tracks are at least as good as anything on the original. Alexander’s “You Got Me Knockin’,” a harmony-touched lament would have fit nicely on The Band’s Music From Big Pink. And while the liner notes list “unknown” as the songwriter of the bouncy charmer “Sing a Simple Song,” it’s not exactly a stretch to guess it’s an uncredited Alexander composition.
The performances, though, just don’t have a whole lot of kick. Alexander has a featureless, if pleasant voice that makes the songs pass by agreeably and forgettably. His early singles’ raw production gave the vocals a needed edge, but Arthur Alexander smooths out the rough spots to the record’s detriment. Even a potential scorcher like Dennis Linde’s “Burning Love”—still a few months away from Elvis’s defining performance—comes off as tame.
Less socially conscious and significantly less dynamic than its peers (e.g. Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, Donny Hathaway’s Everything Is Everything), Arthur Alexander doesn’t rise to their level of greatness. Nevertheless, a handful of very good performances, a half dozen excellent extra songs and above all, the strength of Alexander’s writing make this reissue an instructive reminder of the man’s terrific talent.