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Claudia Lennear - Phew! (1973/2013)
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Claudia Lennear - Phew! (1973/2013)

17-02-2014, 16:16
Music | Blues | Soul | Funk | R&B | Rock

Claudia Lennear - Phew! (1973/2013)

Artist: Claudia Lennear
Title Of Album: Phew!
Year Of Release: 1973/2013
Label: Warner Brothers
Genre: Blues, R&B, Soul, Rock
Format: MP3
Quality: 320 kbps, 44.1 Khz
Total Time: 36:51
Total Size: 110 Mb
Covers: Full

01. It Ain't Easy (3:59)
02. Sing With The Children (3:56)
03. Sister Angela (3:20)
04. Not At All (2:55)
05. Casey Jones (3:52)
06. Goin' Down (3:14)
07. From A Whisper To A Scream (3:11)
08. Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky (3:42)
09. What'd I Do Wrong (3:04)
10. Goin' Down (Reprise) (2:25)
11. Two Trains (Bonus Track) (3:08)

Claudia Lennear, who came to fame as a member of the singing and dancing Ikettes, has a unique voice that combines strength and fragility. She can wail and shout with the best of them, but there's a certain vulnerability that always shines through (that incongruity describes her countenance, as well, which projects joy and sorrow in equal measure).

It's an appealing combination, though anyone who picks up Phew! expecting Tina Turner's brand of firepower may leave disappointed. Lennear had her own thing going on.

Her participation in Joe Cocker's Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour, which produced both a record and a concert film, gives some indication as to the eclectic sounds she laid down on her lone solo album, now available in a vibrant new reissue.

Despite the involvement of pianist and composer Allen Toussaint, who produced the medley-like side two, Phew! isn't strictly an R&B release (Ian Samwell produced side one and Ted Templeman produced the bonus track, Lowell George's "Two Trains"). Instead, Lennear draws more from the wells of rock and blues, with the exception of Toussaint's "Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky," which holds its own with Lee Dorsey and the Meters at their groove-heavy, New Orleans best.

Once I got to that track, I realized how much she and the pre-disco Sylvester were on the same wavelength in 1973. This album and his twin rock records, Sylvester and the Hot Band and Bazaar, didn't attract the attention they should have, so I'm as grateful for this reissue as for Sylvester's Blue Thumb Collection.

In the documentary 20 Feet from Stardom—still playing at the Crest—director Morgan Neville catches up with Lennear and other prominent backup singers from the 1960s to today, like Gloria Jones ("Tainted Love") and Merry Clayton ("Gimme Shelter"), and finds that every single one of them has had a hard time making—or maintaining—the transition from the back to the front of the stage.

It's understandable that Lennear wouldn't want to toil for the infamous Ike Turner for the rest of her days, and with her talent, it's inevitable that she would step out of the shadows, but her time in the spotlight was relatively brief—she left the Ikettes in 1970—but at least she made the most of it. Phew! includes the cream of the Warner Brothers session crop, namely Ry Cooder (guitar), Jim Dickinson (piano and guitar), Jim Keltner (drums), and Spooner Oldham (electric piano).

As any 1970s photograph of her will attest, Lennear was also a shapely lady who once posed for Playboy, something Neville asks her about in the documentary—to her obvious discomfort. It's possible that listeners of the day didn't expect such a foxy mama to rock as hard as the shaggy men with whom she was associating at the time, like Leon Russell who tried (and failed) to sign her to his Shelter label.

Mick Jagger, who appears in 20 Feet, gets a lascivious look on his face when talking about his former tour mate. I had no idea, while watching, whether or not they had an affair, but his expression indicates that the thought certainly crossed his mind. (In a 1973 issue of Rolling Stone, writer Ben Fong-Torres refers to their relationship as "a romance." Responds Lennear, "It's very platonic." Later in the same interview, which appears in the CD booklet, Lennear backtracks: "That 'platonic thing'," she admits, "That was a lie.") The Claudia Lennear Appreciation Society doesn't end there: David Bowie wrote "Lady Grinning Soul" about her.

Since the 1980s, the California-based Lennear has been working as a foreign-language tutor and making music on the side. Unless another LP comes along, this 40-year-old recording, which hasn't aged a day, stands as her only solo effort. I'm sorry she never released another, but I'm glad this one turned out so well. ~Kathy Fennessy

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