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Music Review: Carla Thomas – The Queen Alone

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For all her talent, Carla Thomas is not usually considered a major artist in the history of Stax Records. This is a shame given how essential she was in the early success of the fledgling label. Her 1960 duet with her father Rufus Thomas, "'Cause I Love You," was Stax's first hit, providing them with some much-needed capital. 

More importantly, the song caught the attention of Atlantic Records co-owner Jerry Wexler, and Atlantic wound up with the national distribution rights to every Stax release until the deal was terminated in early 1968. In other words, without Carla Thomas, the world might never have heard Booker T. & The MG's, Sam And Dave, Otis Redding, and Isaac Hayes, among others. 

Thomas continued to have hits throughout her career, including "Gee Whiz," "B-A-B-Y" and "I'll Bring It Home To You." Her 1967 duet album with Otis Redding, which featured another smash in "Tramp," established her as the Queen Of Memphis Soul. Stax has recently reissued her album, The Queen Alone

Six of the songs on The Queen Alone were written, either partially or entirely, by the team of Isaac Hayes and David Porter, who were riding high in the midst of their successes with Sam And Dave. They add their magic touch to such songs as "Stop Thief" and "When Tomorrow Comes," which, with its tambourine and prominent bass line, could easily be mistaken for a Supremes classic.

It is on the ballads where Thomas shines. Her sweet voice was always best suited for the poppier side of soul, and her vocals on the Bacharach-David song "Any Day Now" and the Dusty Springfield hit, "All I See Is You" show her ease with a soaring melody. "I'll Always Have Faith In You" and "Unchanging Love" are classic Stax ballads in 12/8 time, complete with Steve Cropper's trademark guitar fills.

Remastered with five bonus tracks and extensive liner notes by Stax historian Rob Bowman, The Queen Alone is, along with Johnnie Taylor's Live At The Summit Club, part of the reissue series undertaken by Stax as part of their 50th anniversary celebration this year. Stax deserves praise for re-introducing underrated albums like these to the public. By showing off the depths of some of their lesser-known artists, Stax is doing more to further their importance in soul history than yet another Otis Redding or Booker T. & The MG's compilation.

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