Music Review: Lonely & Blue: The Deepest Soul of Otis Redding

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A “new” Otis Redding album some 45 years after the artist’s tragic passing? That’s the concept behind Stax’s new Lonely & Blue. Though the dozen cuts selected for the album have all been previously released, the producers of the compilation have aimed for a vintage visual look. The cardboard CD sleeve even has visible ring wear and present-tense liner notes written by a fictitious DJ.

It’s kind of a fun way to offer a new “Redding 101” for those not yet indoctrinated in the music of the soul great. The idea was to present the best of Redding’s hurting, pleading, yearning ballads, whether they were hits or not. That means we get popular tunes like “These Arms of Mine” and “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” as well as more unexpected fare like the alternate “Rougher Dreams” version of “I’ve Got Dreams to Remember.”

Any Otis is good Otis, so if you don’t have any of the man’s music in your collection, far be it from me to turn you away from Lonely & Blue. I’m a little uncomfortable about the idea of creating a “new” album, one which very plausibly could’ve been released during Redding’s lifetime. His catalog is already a mess, with some of the very best compilations out of print (such as the jaw-dropping, four-disc box set Otis! The Definitive Otis Redding). This new compilation’s producer David Gorman directly stated that the goal was “to create the best album Otis never made and ‘reissue’ it in 2013.”

Again, not an entirely bad idea but we’re talking about one of the most vitally important soul singers in music history. If you’re already a serious Redding fan, you’ll own most—if not all—of these tracks. If you’re just discovering The Big O, why limit yourself to what amounts to someone’s “ballad playlist” when there are better introductory options out there? The Definitive Soul Collection will only run you about two dollars more, but you’ll get 30 tracks on two discs! That collection is a sampler of all sides of Redding. Don’t get me wrong, I never tire of listening to his ballads, but sequencing 12 arpeggiated slow burners in a row isn’t necessarily the best way to showcase the endless dynamism of Otis Redding.

Lonely & Blue: The Deepest Soul of Otis Redding releases March 5, 2013. Collectors may want to wait until March 12 for the blue vinyl edition. I must emphasize, I would never advise anyone against purchasing an Otis Redding album. But be aware, there are some absolute steals out there right now on other compilations. The 16-track The Very Best of Otis Redding (which contains four of same tunes found on Lonely & Blue) is the most cost-effective starting point if you need the big hits. For a collection similar to Lonely & Blue, with a mix of hits and deeper cuts, Love Songs has 16 tracks but is currently available on Amazon at less than half the cost of the new compilation.

The bottom line is that you cannot go wrong with Otis Redding. Just know what kind of compilation you’re interested in so that you get the best value for your money.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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