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New releases by Otis Redding, the Anonymous 4


Otis Redding: "Dictionary of Soul"

(Atco/Rhino, two discs)

"Live at the Whiskey a Go Go: The Complete Recordings"

(Volt, six discs)

No career in American popular music has ever been quite as posthumous as Otis Redding's. Death marked the difference between a young journeyman and a soul legend. He died in an airplane crash on Dec. 10, 1967. The record he had wanted to be his first crossover smash "(Sitting by the) Dock of the Bay" was released after his death and, if anything, became several times as big a crossover hit as he'd hoped it would be in his lifetime. What happened after that, though, is truly extraordinary.

In death, his complete works up to then--which had been popular but not on track for "legendary" -- took on a different identity. His phenomenal, almost singular, bloom in death has continued largely due to Rhino, one of the two major retrospective pop labels in America. Because it is now the 50th anniversary of the original release of Redding's "Dictionary of Soul," it has been re-released "Complete and Unbelievable" in a two-disc set --"Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)," "Try a Little Tenderness," "She Put the Hurt On Me," the works, including newly released stuff  and alternates so that no one who wants will be the denied the joys of Redding completism.

The beauty of Redding is that he was the kind of performer who was so electrically charged in live performance that his alternate takes and rejects are remarkable. To understand how much of a jolt Redding was when experienced live, little is ever likely to improve on what is now the complete six-disc version of "Otis Redding: Live at the Whiskey a Go Go" wherein his April 1966 Hollywood gig is presented in full. "What you hear on this record," said writer Harvey Kubernik, "is a sort of tepid (audience) response, Otis trying to get them going. The audience, at first, didn't seem to be knocked out--the applause is polite." Said Ry Cooder: "Who knows what the rock audience thought? Attendance was not up there with a Johnny Rivers show but how could it be? But one thing for sure, they heard 'Satisfaction' done at land-speed record tempo. I don't think any white band could ever play that fast in those days."

We think about Redding so much differently than his own time did. The world of records is replete now with a full demonstration of Redding's career -- the 12-disc "Soul Manifesto: 1964-1970," the four-disc "King of Soul." The continuing fidelity of posterity to his career is quite wonderful.

Four stars for both sets.



Anonymous 4

"Three Decades of Anonymous 4 1986-2016"

(Harmonia Mundi)

Prominently displayed on this fine anniversary collection is a New York Times critic's wisecrack that The Anonymous 4 is "the Andrews Sisters of the Early Music Set." Well, not quite. Nothing here is really a counterpart to "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy," but the idea gets across the giddy eclecticism of the group's appeal nicely. It began in a New York church in 1986, just to "hear how medieval chant and polyphony would sound by sung by female voices." And not those behind cloistered religious walls either.

For the next three decades, Anonymous 4 has been a major classical attraction for the best of reasons. They can -- and do in this omni-style collection -- sing everything from Gregorian chant to such American folk and gospel hymns as "The Wayfaring Stranger," "Shall We Gather at the River" and "Just Over in Gloryland." Throw in Irish traditional ballads, French motets, the chants of Hildegarde von Bingen, and English and American Christmas carols. Guest musicians include country fiddlers, mandolinists and banjo pickers. The singing is impeccably beautiful which, one could argue, on the American folk material replaces silken splendor for what should be muslin hominess. Inarguable, though, is the wonder of this group's 30 years of existence and the beauty of this representative collection.

Three and a half out of four stars.

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