Judge Clark Douglas is sittin' on the dock of the bay, watching the tide roll away.
It's painful to think just how much further Otis Redding could have gone. When he died in a plane crash in 1967 at the young age of 26, he was only just beginning to demonstrate what a talented and iconic part of the R&B/Pop/Rock scene he could be. Alas, we'll never know what Otis Redding could have accomplished in the decades that followed. However, Redding left behind a considerable amount of memorable music; material so strong and distinct that Redding had already secured himself an important place in the musical history of the 20th Century. This CD and DVD set, Otis Redding: The Best offers those unfamiliar with Redding's work a chance to sample some of his more well-known songs (in addition to choice less well-known tunes) and gives them the opportunity to see Redding perform live in concert.
The CD begins with what has always been my favorite Redding song, the melancholic "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay," a simple ballad co-written by Redding and Steve Cropper (who also co-wrote three other numbers included on the disc) made all the more affecting the by the understated sound effects and that famous whistling coda. The sensitive mood continues with "Try a Little Tenderness," a deceptively transformational cover that slowly allows the song to evolve from gentle ballad to high-octane R&B energy. The fervored manner in which the song ends is a nice lead-in to Redding's "Respect"; perhaps less iconic than Aretha Franklin's famous cover but nonetheless an excellent song. Redding successfully offers cover versions of the next two numbers, the ballad "I've Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)," and the Rollings Stones smash hit "Satisfaction." The latter is a particularly striking R&B take, though I do wonder if the use of the electric guitar during certain sections causes it to veer just a tad too close to the original (at least in this studio version…the concert versions contained on the DVD seem a bit more distinctly Otis).
Next up is "Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)," not one of my own personal favorites but nonetheless a big hit for Redding. Things get a bit livelier when Carla Thomas turns up to perform the give-and-take musical conversation "Tramp," and the follow-up "Mr. Pitiful" is considerably more energetic that the mournful title would suggest. The Fats Domino-esque ballad "Pain in My Heart" is an excellent addition, masterfully allowing small bursts of intense feeling to break through the quiet and controlled musical atmosphere. "That's How Strong My Love Is" is also quite good, but perhaps too similar to "Pain in My Heart" to be placed directly after that song on the CD. A pleasant R&B number called "The Happy Song (Dum Dum)" serves as a lead-in to the strong ballad that closes the album, "I've Got Dreams to Remember." It's a nice way to conclude a very respectable sampler of Redding's work.
The DVD feels a bit secondary here, considering the rather limited number of songs included on the disc and the very sub-par quality of the video presentation. The disc kicks off with a set from the 1967 Stax-Volt Tour, featuring four songs from Redding: "Shake," "My Girl," "Satisfaction," and "Try a Little Tenderness." In addition, for no particularly discernable reason, three songs performed by other artists of the era are included: "Green Onions" by Booker T. and the MG's, plus "When Something is Wrong With my Baby" and "Hold On! I'm A Comin'" by Sam & Dave. These are good songs and solid performances, so it's hard to complain about their inclusion, but they do sort of come in out of left field. The biggest problem with this section is the video quality, which is about as messy and blurry as a concert performance can possibly get. The sound quality is perfectly adequate for a live performance of the era, but the image is just an eyesore, which sort of ruins the whole concept of making this a DVD rather than a CD.
The redeeming part of the disc is the second half, which offers a five-song set Redding performed at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. Taken from the film directed by D.A. Pennebaker (and re-arranged by Pennebaker as a 19-minute piece called Shake! in 1989), this material is presented with a good deal more flair and enthusiasm. While it's a little disappointing that three of the songs included in this set ("Shake," "Satisfaction," and "Try a Little Tenderness") are repeats from the previous section, the raw energy of Redding's remarkable performance more than makes up for it. To see him in this performance is to witness an artist at the peak of his powers, whether offering his electric "Shake" opening or his deeply heartfelt "Try a Little Tenderness" conclusion. Pennebaker gives the concert a bit of scope to, examining those in attendance at the festival both inside and outside the concert while Redding does his thing.
This isn't the ultimate Otis Redding collection, but fans of Redding's music looking for a fun hits compilation could do a lot worse.
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