Review: Don Bryant expresses deep soul on ‘You Make Me Feel’

Don Bryant, “You Make Me Feel” (Fat Possum Records)

Don Bryant’s second secular album in decades is like a lost Memphis soul treasure.

Everything on “You Make Me Feel,” from the songs to the sounds to Bryant’s still-astonishing voice, confirms that his 2017 comeback, “Don’t Give Up On Love,” was no fluke.

Bryant, whose early singing days at Hi Records gradually morphed into a songwriting career, helped create hits like “I Can’t Stand the Rain” for his wife, Ann Peebles, while also supplying tunes for Otis Clay and others.

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Still an impassioned and convincing vocalist as he approaches 80, Bryant is backed by members of the glorious Hi Rhythm Section, like drummer Howard Grimes and organist Charles Hodges, as well as other fine musicians like guitarist Joe Restivo and keyboardist Al Gamble.

Four of the album’s 10 songs are of recent vintage, written by Bryant and bassist/producer Scott Bomar. They also arranged the gospel standard “Walk All Over God’s Heaven” which closes the album on a joyous note. In his youth, Bryant and his brothers formed a gospel quintet. He released gospel music in the 1980s.

The album’s two halves open with new songs about aspects of romance: the exultant “Your Love Is to Blame,” inspired by Peebles and graced with a punchy horn arrangement, and the swampy, dismissive “Your Love Is Too Late.”

Written for his wife, who sang “99 Pounds” in the first person on a 1972 album, Bryant now sings it about Peebles and the fact that “good things come in small packages.”

Two ballads, “Don’t Turn Your Back on Me” and “I’ll Go Crazy,” reprise Bryant singles from the ’60s. Both versions are slower and longer than the originals and about as good as soul gets, while “Cracked Up Over You” is a lean and mean amalgam of the Hi and Stax sounds.

The mix of Bryant classics, new songs and the ace backing band make “You Make Me Feel” a celebration of great American music and of a singer-songwriter again demonstrating his skills.

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