The songs (all by Brill building denizens) are all top notch, and Springfield's...
Peter Marsh 2002
Despite its status as a classic record, Dusty in Memphis had less than auspicious beginnings. By 1968 La Springfield had scored a string of chart successes with what she called 'big ballady things' and her decision to make an album in Memphis, home of hard edged R 'n' B grooves, was viewed with puzzlement by many.
Teaming up with the crack production/arrangement team of Jerry Wexler, Tom Dowd and Arif Mardin (responsible for Aretha Franklin's Atlantic classics) also proved a bit much initially for Springfield, whose confidence in her vocal abilities was never very high. Worried that the session musicians would think she was a sham and unnerved by singing in the same vocal booth as used by Wilson Pickett, Dusty's relationship with her producers became strained, with Wexler claiming he never got a note out of her during the initial sessions in Memphis.
You'd never know this from the recorded evidence though. Springfield unsurprisingly resists any temptation to do an Aretha, instead relying on understatement, timing and delivery rather than vocal firepower. The songs (all by Brill building denizens) are all top notch, and Springfield's interpretation of them is peerless, almost to the point that it's tempting to slap a preservation order on them to stop any attempts at future covers from the likes of Sharleen Spiteri. Likewise Mardin's sensitive blend of Bacharach poise and Memphis funk provides the perfect frame for Dusty's blue eyed soul.
'Son of A Preacher Man' and 'Breakfast in Bed' hum with a potent mix of vulnerability and knowing desire; though both songs are pretty much ingrained in the psyche of anyone of a certain age, they still retain a hefty emotional charge. On the other hand, Randy Newman's 'I Don't Want to Hear It Anymore' and 'I Can't Make It Alone' must rank amongst the finest ballad performances you're likely to hear, and Springfield even makes the cod psychedelic inanities of Michel Legrand's 'The Windmills of Your Mind" seem almost meaningful.
The cover boasts a sticker proclaiming that this record made it into Rolling Stone's Coolest records of All Time Top 10. Don't let that put you off; if you have ears, you need this album...