2 LPs on 1 CD: BLUE SPOON (1964)/SPOON IN LONDON (1965).
Personnel includes: Jimmy Witherspoon (vocals); Kenny Burrell (guitar).
This CD combines two chronologically close, but stylistically different, LPs onto a single-disc reissue. Blue Spoon, from 1964, was one of Witherspoon's jazzier sessions, still retaining his characteristic jazz-blues blend, but lighter on the soul, pop, and shouting R&B elements of some of his other releases. The jazzy flavor was guaranteed by his backup quartet of Kenny Burrell on guitar, Eddie Kahn on bass, Gildo Mahones on piano, and Roy Haynes on drums. Dominated by ballads, it's on the mellow side, with a pleasant yet unadventurous selection of covers. These include Cecil Gant's "I Wonder," "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out," "It's All in the Game," and "Baby Please Don't Go" (here retitled "Back to New Orleans," with the writing credits given to Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry). Kenny Burrell contributed one composition, "Blues in the Morning." Spoon in London is an uncharacteristic entry in the Witherspoon catalog. Recorded in London in June 1965, there's a definite soul-pop slant to the production, with backup woman singers who wouldn't have been out of place at a Ray Charles session; brassy, bright arrangements; and lean blues-rock guitar backup that leads one to suspect that an ace U.K. session man like Jimmy Page or Big Jim Sullivan might have been responsible (the personnel, unfortunately, are not documented). The orchestra was arranged and conducted by Benny Golson, and there's a definite sense of trying to cross Witherspoon's habitual classy soul-jazz over into the soul and rock markets. Purists, of course, will probably be offended, but in fact this deviation from the usual format makes this one of Witherspoon's more interesting and, yes, fun releases. He's more than up to the task of broaching this territory, sounding rather like a cross between Ray Charles and Brook Benton at times (yet closer to Benton). Tracks like "Free Spirits" swing in a more traditionally jazz manner; "Room for Everybody" has a singalong country-folk feel; and "Two Hearts Are Better Than One" is decorated by odd Dixieland touches. ~ Richie Unterberger