Little Richard, of course best known for his seismic impact on popular music in the 1950s, had a surprisingly potent run of strong releases in the early '70s. Collectors' Choice Music has reissued a trio of albums that prove the artist remained largely in command of his talents a decade and a half after his debut. Mixing original songs with well-chosen covers, Little Richard updated his sound for a new generation. Sadly not many record buyers paid attention, but these new reissues give the worthy music a second chance.
The Rill Thing was originally released in 1970. Its lead-off single "Freedom Blues" actually managed to put Little Richard back in the charts, peaking at #47 on Billboard's Hot 100 and reaching a healthy #28 on the R&B chart. The song, with its driving funk rhythm, doesn't sound at all like nostalgia. The vocal is strong and vital, setting the tone for a solid comeback album. "Greenwood, Mississippi" managed to slip into the lower reaches of Billboard's Hot 100, but otherwise the comeback fizzled on a commercial level. The title track is a ten-minute instrumental R&B work-out, with constantly shifting grooves keeping the piece interesting.
"Dew Drop Inn" is a throwback to Little Richard's '50s style, with pounding piano and rambunctious sax riffing. "Spreadin' Natta, What's the Matter?" is a churning funk track with a full throttle lead vocal. This material is raw, gut-bucket funky soul delivered with absolute conviction. A cover of The Beatles' "I Saw Her Standing There" reworks the song as a horn-driven soul jam, and points the way toward Richard's cover-dominated follow-up album.
The year 1971 saw the release of King Of Rock and Roll, and if anything it's even more self-assured than the previous album. However, there is a more self-conscious approach as the artist attempts to "reclaim his throne" as the true king of rock 'n' roll. There is too much preaching in the form of rambling monologues used to introduce several songs. While it's amusing when heard the first time, as Little Richard shouts boasts like "the beauty is on duty," and "I am the Georgia Peach," they don't do repeated listens any favors.
The album features drastically rearranged takes on Motown classics like "The Way You Do the Things You Do" and "Dancing In the Street." The former, in particular, really cooks. Covers of "Born On the Bayou" and "Joy To the World" are more faithful to their sources, but sung with just as much power. "Brown Sugar" offers a chance to hear Little Richard interpreting the Stones, but is undercut somewhat by a rather lame backing vocal arrangement. While more than half of The Rill Thing is made up of Penniman originals, King Of Rock and Roll features only one track penned by the artist. That song, a laid back gospel-inflected number called "In the Name," boasts one of the more nuanced vocals on the album.
The third album in the Collectors' Choice reissue series is 1972's The Second Coming. There are more Penniman songwriting credits on this than the previous two records. At its least interesting, the songs sound like forced attempts to recapture the earlier Little Richard sound. "Thomasine" reworks "Miss Ann," while "Rockin' Rockin' Boogie" is one big '50s-era cliche. That's not to write off the whole album, which closes with an instrumental jam, "Sanctified, Satisfied Toe-Tapper," that grooves along for seven greasy, sweaty minutes. Similarly "Nuki Suki" is a bumping, grinding jam with some growling sax work. "It Ain't What You Do, It's the Way How You Do It" is lighter fare, an almost poppy jaunt with some tasty steel guitar work courtesy of co-writer Sneaky Pete Kleinman.
Little Richard, it should go without saying at this point, is one of the most influential and important artists in popular music. For anyone under the impression that he became an oldies act after his '50s heyday, these three albums need to be heard. Each Collectors' Choice reissue features an informative essay about the recording as well as reprinted original liner notes. Despite the relative lack of interest at the time, the trio holds up very well nearly forty years later.