If you turn your ears a certain way, You Make Me Feel by soul great Don Bryant can be heard as a love letter to his wife of nearly 50 years, Ann Peebles. That killer horn riff that kicks off the album? Think of it as a fanfare preceding the reading of a royal decree; or maybe it's a funky version of a wedding march. Written by Bryant and producer Scott Bomar, "Your Love Is To Blame" has the chorus of a good blues song: "Nothing in my life is the same/Your love is to blame." But here, "blame" gets a halo. "I tried to turn this one around," Don says with a slight grin. Then he explains, "Your love is to blame because we are together!"
Produced by Scott Bomar, who recently scored Dolemite Is My Name and mixed by Matt Ross-Spang (Elvis Presley, Al Green, John Prine), You Make Me Feel continues Don's resurgence with newly written music and a revisit to Don's celebrated back catalog, where he's interpreting some of his songs for the first time. Musicians include members of the Hi Rhythm section - Howard Grimes, Archie "Hubbie" Turner and Charles Hodges - with members of St. Paul and the Broken Bones and The Bo-Keys.
"It feels good to have found my own voice," says Don, who never stopped writing. "Music has always been a part of me, I've never given up on it, never let it go. If I'm walking around, I'm humming songs. Now, I'm trying to let it all out. What I had, what I got, and what I'm gonna get."
Don is nearing the age of 80, and You Make Me Feel is his third solo album. His 1969 debut Precious Soul was produced by Willie Mitchell, who planned for Bryant to be Hi Records' next star. Don instead took a supporting role and made a career as a Hi Records hit man, namely as the songwriter and background singer for Peebles, who topped the charts in 1974 with "I Can't Stand The Rain". Ann retired from music in 2012, and Don returned to the spotlight in 2017 with his second album, Don't Give Up on Love.
"I fell in love with Ann when she first came in to Hi," he reveals. "But there was so much going on with her - recording, travel, so many around her - it wasn't my time. And I wasn't in no hurry - I knew I wasn't going nowhere! We got to know each other better and better and it opened up. It was a long drawn out situation, but for me it was love at first sight."
One of the many standouts on Make You Feel is the reprise of "Don't Turn Your Back on Me", a single Don originally released in 1965. The new version is slowed down, and as anyone who has ever pleaded - for love, for life, for time - you know that the slow petition is more effective... but so much harder to carry out. Don recorded a new version of "99 Lbs" "to put some light on Ann," he demurs, and there's a punch to this new version that would make Willie Mitchell proud - classic soul with a 21st century power. And he doesn't shy from the darker feelings; "Is It Over" sounds like it might date to 1973, when Otis Clay recorded Bryant's song, "I Die A Little Each Day", also featured on the album.
This is the first time Don released a version of his "Cracked Up Over You", recorded enough times to be an R&B chestnut. (Jr. Parker gave it a fine workout.) Don released the B-side "I'll Go Crazy" in 1968, and its the only song on here he didn't write. He related to the hook: "If you love me any better, I'll go crazy."
"My main thing is to tell a story," reflects Don. "Taking an idea and making a full story out of it is a challenge to me. I go back to look at situations in my life, work the story in my head...If you can tap into things that people go through, then they want to listen."
Bryant's vocals are miraculously strong for a man pushing 80, clear and just gritty enough to do the job, and his phrasing is every bit as impressive, sounding remarkably fresh and engaged, and this is unquestionably some of the best singing of his life. What makes this all the more special, though, is Bryant's songwriting. He penned eight of the ten numbers here, and he's given himself words he can believe in... it's retro soul at its absolute best, and anyone who has a partner who makes them feel the way Bryant feels about Ann Peebles on this LP has plenty to be thankful for.
- Vinyl LP
- Your Love Is To Blame
- 99 Pounds
- Is It Over
- I Die A Little Each Day
- Don't Turn Your Back On Me
- Your Love Is Too Late
- I'll Go Crazy
- Cracked Up Over You
- A Woman's Touch
- Walk All Over God's Heaven