On a hot day in July 1965, the Stax house band convened at the label's South Memphis studio to record an album with Otis Redding, a project intended to capitalize on the success of his biggest hit to date, "I've Been Loving You Too Long." Because Redding was in Memphis for only one day between tour dates, the band — including the Memphis Horns, Isaac Hayes, and Booker T. & the MGs, among a few others — worked all afternoon, broke at 8 p.m. to make their evening gigs around town, then picked up again at 2 a.m. and worked through the night.
The result of that short, intense session is Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul, which stands as the singer's greatest long-form achievement — an album that is startling, affecting, and absolutely vital more than 40 years later. Arguing for Redding as an album artist as well as a singles artist, the new two-disc collector's edition of Otis Blue offers an opportunity not only to reconsider the popular results of those 24 productive hours at Stax — well-known hits "Respect" and Sam Cooke's "Shake" — but also to revel in the lesser-known non-singles like the zippy Solomon Burke cover "Down in the Valley" and Redding's heated take on B.B. King's "Rock Me Baby."
Song for song, it's difficult to imagine a better soul record, thanks to the Stax musicians' measured accompaniment and to Redding's effortlessly expressive vocals. He knew when to cut loose and testify mightily on songs like "Change Gonna Come" and when to hold back and let the natural texture of his voice carry the emotion. In the liner notes, Rob Bowman (author of the definitive Soulsville U.S.A.: The Story of Stax Records) writes that Redding had never heard the Stones' "Satisfaction" until hours before he recorded his own version, yet he's so comfortable with the song that it sounds like he's been living with it for ages.
In addition to the original mono and stereo versions of the album, this edition of Otis Blue includes an album's worth of alternate takes, B-sides, and live tracks from 1966 and 1967. These versions of "Respect," "Satisfaction," and "Shake" sound impossibly urgent, with Redding sparring with the horns and cajoling the audience into shouting along. As this reissue makes clear, the singer knew that in soul music, emotional and musical spontaneity are everything. In other words, that hot day in 1965 was all he needed. — Stephen Deusner