Otis Redding began his career in the small, smoke-filled rhythm & blues clubs that are tucked away in big cities and small towns across the United States. He gradually built a solid reputation as he became a rare black artist to find commercial success with the mainstream white audience. His performance at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival was his coming out party. During early December of 1967, he went into the studio and recorded what would become one of the defining songs of the era, “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay.” Three days later he was dead at the age of 26 in a plane crash.
His music has been released in many different forms. Lonely & Blue is the latest entry in the Otis Redding catalogue and it is a well thought out and creative release. It is an album that could have been released during his lifetime, right down to the artwork.
The theme of the album is ballads. While his live shows many times consisted of gritty up-tempo R&B songs, he also recorded a number of sad, moving, and poignant ballads. Lonely & Blue has collected 12 of those performances to form this new release.
There are a number of his well-known songs, “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,” “These Arms of Mine,” and “My Lover’s Prayer,” interspersed with some deeper cut material such as “I Love You More Than Words Can Say,” “Little Ol’ Me,” and “Gone Again.”
Just about any Otis Redding music is worth multiple listens. What makes this an outstanding album is the mood it evokes. The music is Redding at his most raw as he wails, strains, and begs his way through an array of painful subjects. Gone is the high energy of his live performances, replaced by music and emotions for around-the-fireplace, late-night listening.
Rather than just repackage some of his hits again, Lonely & Blue takes the road less traveled. Even the liner notes, which were written in the present tense, make it seem as if Redding is still alive and releasing a new studio album. It is essential for anyone who appreciates his music and a must for anyone not familiar with his legacy.