Review Summary: No soulful affectation here, just easy listening.
Signing with Atlantic Records was probably one of the smartest decisions by Dusty Springfield. At least, that's what she had in mind. Heading south and diving into soul music, this UK star decided to give it her all with Dusty in Memphis. With the help of legendary producers (Jerry Wexler, Tom Dowd, and Arif Mardin), backing vocalists (The Sweet Inspirations), bassist Tommy Cogbill, and guitarist Reggie Young, she was able to create a work of art she had always dreamed of. However, the album turned out to be a commercial failure. Dusty had done R&B before, but her previous albums were more pop-oriented. This was the first time she had done an entirely soulful album and although it didn't sell, it became a staple of an amazing blue-eyed soul work over time.
Dusty in Memphis deserves the reputation is has gained over the decades. It is smooth, easy-listening at its finest. This is an album that radiates with class and confidence. Jerry Wexler and company did a great job at picking the songs for Dusty to sing, each written and composed very well. The sweeping strings and gentle percussion on the opener "Just a Little Lovin'" set the vibe of the entire album, but each song brings something fresh. "So Much Love" brings The Sweet Inspirations in for some beautiful background vocals while album highlight "Son of a Preacher Man" turns up the tempo and blasts powerful horns, also prominent in "Breakfast in Bed." Cool, groovy guitar plucking along with more strings and tambourine shaking can be heard on other tracks. "In the Land of Make Believe" even sounds a bit psychedelic at times.
Dusty's voice is one of the greatest highlights. She shows off her range by smoothly opening the album with "just a little lovin' - early in the morning - beats a cup of coffee - for starting off the day" and then two songs later belting out "the only one who could ever reach me - was the son of a preacher man," never losing her classy composure and hitting all the right notes in every song. You'd think the feelings portrayed would sound artificial, because none of the songs were written by her personally, but she sings them with such credence it's hard not to be moved.
Honestly, Dusty in Memphis really needs more attention. It's an embodiment of a pop star doing what she wanted to do, with the right people, and borrowing from her idols such as Aretha Franklin. It's a great and easy listen, perfect for mornings or evenings or anytime you want to feel the passion of some amazing soul music.