Tribute recordings are exceedingly commonplace nowadays. These releases too often become overly solemn, nostalgic journeys or rote, by-the-numbers explorations.
Thankfully, neither is the case with the outstanding new release Dedicated: A Salute to The "5" Royales, featuring guitar legend Steve Cropper and an esteemed cast of R&B, rock and country/Americana types. Co-produced by Cropper and veteran songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer Jon Tiven, Dedicated, which will be released Aug. 9 via 429 Records, is fresh, vibrant and daring.
The "5" Royales, a masterful North Carolina ensemble, smartly merged doo-wop, jump blues, gospel and jazz during the '50s into a sound that signaled the coming of soul and funk. Their tunes spotlighted guitarist/songwriter Lowman "Pete" Pauling's instrumental and compositional wizardry, with fiery vocals from Johnny Tanner and occasionally his younger brother Eugene, supported by Otto Jeffries (initially), Jimmy Moore and Obadiah Carter.
Dedicated is also the latest in a lengthy string of excellent sessions produced by Tiven, whose tenure as a player, songwriter and producer dates back to the '70s. A Nashville resident along with his wife (and bassist) Sally since 2002, Tiven's impressive list of past collaborators includes Wilson Pickett, Don Covay, Betty Harris, Frank Black, Little Milton, P.F. Sloan, Garnet Mimms, Howard Tate and Ellis Hooks.
"Steve and I worked on his first album with Felix Cavaliere and got along really well," says Tiven. "But Felix and I had some differences of opinion and he decided he wanted to go in a different direction for the second project."
"Steve said he wanted to do something else with me," Tiven continues. "I had an idea about a record that could be a tribute to The '5' Royales, yet have appeal for a contemporary audience. We were very fortunate to discover in [record executive] Stu Fine someone who was enthusiastic about the idea. So we could avoid the label politics and instead concentrate on making the record we wanted."
Tiven and Cropper assembled a stellar corps of vocalists (Delbert McClinton, Bettye LaVette, Willie Jones, Dylan Leblanc, Shemekia Copeland, Brian May, Sharon Jones, B.B. King, and Buddy Miller) and instrumentalists (Cropper, bassist David Hood, drummers Steve Ferrone and Steve Jordan, keyboardist/organist Spooner Oldham, and Neal Sugarman and Tiven on tenor saxophones).
Dedicated blends dynamic arrangements with joyous lead vocals, while covering both familiar and obscure Royales efforts. The duo of Lucinda Williams and Dan Penn (who also engineered) make "Dedicated to The One I Love" a standout, while equally exuberant duets are delivered by Lavette and Willie Jones ("Don't Be Ashamed"), King and Copeland ("Baby Don't Do It") and Leblanc and Sharon Jones ("Come on and Save Me").
But perhaps the album highlight is "Someone Made You for Me," featuring Penn, usually a reluctant though always magnificent vocalist. "When we were going over the list and Dan saw those lyrics, he said, 'Who's doing this one?' " Tiven recalls. "At the time we had decided to make it an instrumental. He told us, 'You can't leave those great words off this record. I'll sing it.' The funny thing was both Steve and I had been looking for the chance to get him singing on the disc, but we hadn't figured anything out at that point. Then this just kind of fell in our lap. I think he did a fantastic job."
"Both Steve and I know how things work today in terms of sales and airplay, and the one thing we wanted was to make sure when we finished Dedicated we had something we felt did a service to The '5' Royales and could also stand on its own," continues Tiven. "We certainly hope it does well and people enjoy it. But most importantly, we feel it's not only a fitting tribute to a great group, but a wonderful showcase for a lot of talented people and for Steve, who is one of the finest musicians I've ever had the opportunity to meet, work with and have befriend me."