Several months ago I reviewed a new pre-release CD by Dan Penn, the legendary composer, musician and producer. He is the composer behind classic soul and pop hits like “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” (Aretha Franklin), “Cry Like A Baby” (Box Tops), “It Tears Me Up”(Percy Sledge), “Dark End Of The Street” (James Carr) and “I’m Your Puppet” (James & Bobby Purify). He also wrote the title track from my favorite album of 2002, Solomon Burke’s Don’t Give Up On Me.
Please click here to read my earlier review for some context for this update on the vinyl version of his newest album.
In short, Dan Penn’s Living On Mercy is a glorious primer on effortless songwriting driven by one of our present day masters. One should-be hit after should-be hit flows out like the sweetest of molasses, track-by-track. These are classic structured soulful pop songs with verses, choruses and bridges, all bearing that timeless, relaxed southern soul groove.
Penn’s rustic and rich voice sounds real good on the CD and streams (on Qobuz and Tidal) in 16-bit, 44.1 kHz resolution, calm and pure like a more robust Eric Clapton from the Unplugged period. You can find the album streaming in CD quality on Tidal (click here) and Qobuz (click here) which is handy. But you’ll probably want to support the artist and track down a vinyl copy of Living On Mercy as it sounds great — and this way this singer-songwriter-producer actually makes some money on it.
Living On Mercy is a pure, clean and organic sounding recording: simple basic drums, bass, guitar and keyboards support and keep the vocals the central attraction. Smooth slow soulful grooves let you hear Mr. Penn’s every word which is important for this type of music.
Living On Mercy sounds rich and round on LP. I don’t know exactly how it was recorded but poking around the web — I looked at the websites for each of the studios where it was made and they all seem to offer analog multi-track capabilities as well as digital — the odds are that some analog warmth crept into the mix.
However they recorded it, Living On Mercy is elegant and the songs are just plain terrific. These songs have only grown on me since I first reviewed the CD. Some of my favorites include the hooky “Clean Slate” which I could imagine Solomon Burke doing had he lived. The boogie-woogie flavored “I Didn’t Hear That Coming” is sweet. And “Things Happen” feels almost like a lost George Harrison song from his late 70s period when he was mining smooth soul grooves ala Smokey Robinson.
You can find Living On Mercy on Amazon (click any of the titles here in this review to jump to it) or at your favorite music store. The nice thing is that this is a European pressing so the vinyl quality is nice, well pressed and quiet.
While you are at it, you might want to also order Moments From This Theatre, a wonderful intimate live album by Dan Penn and his longtime songwriting partner Spooner Oldham. Originally released on CD and DVD back in 2005, it was recorded in 1998 at theaters in the UK and Ireland while they were on tour with Nick Lowe. A charming and wonderful 14 song set, I can’t wait to get the DVD as it has 22 tracks from a show recorded at St James’s Church, Piccadilly, London.
Moments From This Theatre was released on vinyl this year and it sounds really solid as modern digital recordings go. That is due to a combination of no-doubt sympathetic production supporting the nature of the music at hand: Dan Penn’s hearty voice, acoustic guitar and occasional keyboards. There is not much opportunity for sharp harsh edges to invade the soundscape there! But really, its all about the music and what a treat this is to hear the writers perform the hit making songs they wrote for others including “I’m Your Puppet,” “Cry Like A Baby,” “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man’ and “It Tears Me Up.” This is classic stuff folks. Get it.