Sunday 24 June 2012

Jean Carne - knocks 'em dead at Ronnie Scotts

Its 40 years since Philadelphia International Records (PIR) began and brought us so many wonderful tracks from Teddy Pendergrass, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, Archie Bell and the Drells, Dexter Wansel, The O'Jays, the Jones Girls and many more.

Many of the famous "Philly Sound" recordings acted as a soundtrack to my late teens and early 20's, including a couple of brilliant tracks from Jean Carn (as she used to spell it). I remember buying a great vinyl 7 inch single US import from the now sadly departed Fearnley's Records in Middlesbrough - Was That All It Was, backed with My Love Don't Come Easy. Soul perfection as Ms Carn's voice ranged over the five octaves she is credited with. I never thought that one day I would get to hear her sing live.

But...many years later I found myself in Ronnie Scott's for the final concert in a three night run of the Doug and Jean Carne (as she now spells it) Revelation Tour. The diminutive and very trim Ms Carne came to the stage to begin her set with fabulous vocal versions of the John Coltrane classic, A Love Supreme, and Wayne Shorter's Infant Eyes where she demonstrated her prowess at scat. Make no mistake, this woman can sing jazz alright. Nice one Jean.

She then moved into a string of her own Philly hits. We began with Free Love, followed by Was That All It Was and then straight into My Love Don't Come Easy. Now its some years since I first heard these treasures but they still sounded fresh to me and Jean's voice was close to the original recordings. And it might be a cliche but when she sang My Love Don't Come Easy, the hairs on the back of my neck really did stand on end!

This woman had songs written for her and albums produced for her by Gamble and Huff, Dexter Wansel, Jerry Butler and Eddie Levert. I have never been able to understand why she didn't get the recognition she deserved, similarly the now departed and much missed Phyllis Hyman. They knock spots off many of todays "stars" - these women could/ can sing.

The audience, already captured by the earlier numbers were of course completely won over by this point, clapping in time to the intros, singing along with the hits and then at Ms Carne's request performing the chorus of Don't Let It Go To Your Head.  She is a singer who loves the audience and tonight she loved them so much that she sang Happy Birthday to those there to celebrate birthdays, and also invited a young woman from the audience to join her on stage and sing a few lines from Don't Let It Go To Your Head. And she was good too!

Continuing the love-in with the audience, she took a few requests including Valentine Love (which she dueted with Michael Henderson on the original recording) and Naima, another Coltrane number, the lyrics of which were penned by ex-husband Doug Carn. Doug was excellent throughout on keyboards as well as acting as musical director for the evening, holding the band together. The band had a couple of other heroes in Stacey Dill - outstanding on saxophone and for me, the revelation of the night, Duane Eubanks on trumpet. Rashaan Carter on bass gave us one great solo whilst his brother Russell held things together nicely on drums. And speaking of a love-in, well done Jean for not being put off by the couple right at the front of the stage who eventually did leave presumably to get a room. For goodness sake.

Closing with a great version of Closer Than Close, during the intro of which she paid tribute to some of the Philly Stars now departed - Teddy Pendergrass, Harold Melvin, Lou Rawls - she left us wanting more. I was sorry not to hear If You Wanna Go Back or a solo version of I'm Back For More, but that's  just me being churlish. Hopefully, she will be "back for more" very soon. Jean Carne, you were worth waiting for all those years!

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