Little Richard – Five releases on Omnivore Recordings
The Rill Thing
13 Tracks – 47 minutes
King Of Rock And Roll
17 Tracks – 64 minutes
The Second Coming
13 Tracks – 55 minutes
14 Tracks – 52 minutes
12 Tracks – 50 Minutes
In 1970, Reprise Records made some noise with a new release from a rock & roll legend, Little Richard, who had disappeared for five years during his self-imposed exile from the music business. On his return, the flamboyant singer struggle to regain a place in the spotlight. The Rill Thing made it abundantly clear that Little Richard was still a force to reckoned with, still rocking as hard as ever.
Omnivore Recordings reissued The Rill Thing, and now has added four more titles recorded from Reprise that collectively provide listeners with a deeper appreciation for Little Richard’s artistry. The 1971 follow-up record, King Of Rock And Roll, has a cover photo of the singer on a throne, holding a scepter and crown, with a flowing robe off-set by multi-colored beams of light in the background. To make sure that no one misses the message, the title track opens the disc with an announcer giving an introduction over crowd noise and horn fanfare. Then Little Richard proclaims his rightful place on the throne, name-checking a number of perceived rivals as the unidentified backing band sets a rockin’ pace.
Listeners get a taste of how the singer might of sounded preaching the gospel during his religious hiatus at the start of a spirited cover of “Joy To The World,” then he tears into “Brown Sugar,” two of the many covers on the disc. “Dancing In The Street” is taken at a frantic pace, then he offers his funky interpretation of the Motown sound on “The Way You Do The Things You Do”. The mood shifts to a more reflective condition on the Hank Williams classic, “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” allowing Little Richard to showcase his considerable vocal skills.
He does some testifying at the beginning of “Born On The Bayou,” then delivers another fine performance on the John Fogerty hit. Little Richard’s original, “In The Name,” has another memorable vocal performance. The band serves up a professional sound, slicker than the approach on Richard’s previous effort, cut with the veterans at the FAME Studio in Muscle Shoals, AL. Six bonus tracks are included, with “Open Up The Red Sea” a highlight as Richard finally unleashes some volleys on the piano. As a follow-up record, The King Of Rock And Roll kept the comeback rolling along.
The Second Coming, released in 1972, reunites the singer with some old friends from the days of recording in New Orleans for Specialty Records. Producer Bumps Blackwell enlisted drummer Earl Palmer and saxophone ace Lee Allen for the project, along with other notables like Chuck Rainey on bass and Sneaky Pete Kleinow on pedal steel guitar.
Another change is the shift to Little Richard’s original tunes. “Mockingbird Sally” and “Thomasine” are sturdy rockers, and “Sanctified, Satisfied Toe-Tapper” is rollicking instrumental featuring Little Richard doubling on electric piano and clavinet. “Rockin’ Rockin” Boogie” misses the mark due to generic lyrics while “Prophet Of Peace” makes an attempt to update the Little Richard sound. The four bonus tracks include two versions of “Money Is,” a driving number written by Quincy Jones for the feature film $, starring Warren Beatty and Goldie Hawn. Overall, the disc is a solid effort with a few highlights.
First issued as part of a 1995 Rhino Handmade box set, the tracks comprising Southern Child were shelved for a scheduled release in 1972 at the last minute. Omnivore has released the album as it was intended, along with several bonus tracks. In the liner notes, noted writer and historian Bill Dahl refers to this as Little Richard’s great lost country rock album, a diversion far from his usual path, which could explain the reluctance of Reprise to release the record.
The truth is that the singer is in prime form, establishing on cuts like the gentle “If You Pick Her Too Hard (She Comes Out Of Tune)” and “Ain’t No Tellin’”that he has a deep affinity for country music. The original title song finds him celebrating his Georgia heritage. “In The Name” sounds like a true blue Hank Williams number, and Richard nails it. Longtime fans will certainly be drawn to the steady rolling sound of “California (I’m Comin’)” and the bluesy nature “Last Year’s Race Horse (Can’t Run In This Year’s Race)”. Taken as a whole, this record elevates Little Richard’s status as a vocalist, proving that he could excel at more than shouting rock & roll lyrics.
Fourteen years later, Warner Brothers Records gave Little Richard yet another attempt at a comeback with the release of Lifetime Friend, with Travis Wammack on guitar. He penned the title track, a slickly produced tune extolling the grace of God. Billy Preston co-wrote the opening song, “Great Gosh A’Mighty,” combining with Little Richard on a hard-rocker with a burning Wammack guitar solo. “operator” is another flag-waver complete with surging horns and a vocal chorus.
“Destruction” goes to a darker place, but comes up short musically. “I Found My Way Home” gives listeners a taste of the singer as a rapper, with mixed results. “One Ray Of Sunshine” is a soothing ballad with Preston’s lush organ work filling out the arrangement. “Big House Reunion” is a rousing celebration of the promise of life ever-after. Bonus cuts are two additional mixes of “Operator”.
Only the most ardent Little Richard fans will consider purchasing all five of the Omnivore reissues. For those who lean towards the singer as a rocker, The Rill Thing and King Of Rock And Roll would be the first albums to grab. For country fans, or anyone who enjoys fine singing, Southern Child is a revelation. These releases mark one more comeback for the man who, for many, defined rock and roll music. Long live Little Richard!