Sunday, October 7, 2012

"Meet the Checkmates" Justice JLP 107

If you're looking at this item you're either lost, bored out of your mind, or on of a handful of pop who are fans of Justice's unique low tech sound.  

Like most groups in this Winston-Salem, North Carolina-based label's catalog there doesn't seem to be much in the way of biographical information out there.  Like most Justice releases the barebones liner notes don't tell you much about the group other than they apparently had not been together very long before recording 1967's "Meet the Checkmates".  Oh, the back panel group photo shows the band to have been a rather dork-ish collection of white guys who were about three years behind popular dressing styles (to say nothing about musical styles).  In terms of content, most of the 12 tracks are competent if uninspired covers of popular soul and pop hits.  Actually anyone into beach music is liable to find this quite enjoyable.  Singer Billy Carden had a lounge-ish voice that was actually well suited to much of the material.  The rest of the band (including the three piece horn section of John McCurdy, Jon Mueller, and Sammy Winston) were never less than competent, though seldom truly exciting.  The one band original 'Half a Man' happens to be the standout track, though their cover of Curtis Mayfield's 'Gypsy Woman' wasn't bad.  Credit producer Calvin Newton for surprisingly good sound.  (Kudos for the catchy, if  cheesy cover art - though I've always wondered why it shows the band's name as the singular 'Checkmate'.)   

photo off of album back cover

- Showcasing the band's horn section, the leadoff single 'Comin' Home' had a nice enough soul-jazz vibe - imagine The Young Holt Trio with horns and you'd have a feel for their niche.  rating: *** stars 
- Their cover of the Tom Jones hit 'It's Not Unusual' wasn't half band.  Musically it didn't stray far from the original tune, but for such a young kid (I'm guessing he was still in his teens), Billy Carden turned in quite a compelling performance.    rating: *** stars 
- Mind, you their cover of 'Gypsy Woman' wasn't going to make you forget the original (Carden didn't sound particularly comfortable using a falsetto), but give them credit for having good tastes in term of their covers - Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions.  rating: *** stars 
 rating: ** stars 
- ' You Don't Know Like I Know' was another cover demonstrated their tastes in classic soul, though there was no way you'd pick this version over the Sam and Dave hit ...   rating: ** stars 
- Surprisingly accomplished for such a young outfit, but go for The Temptations version of 'My Girl '.     rating: ** stars 
- I originally passed 'Laugh It Off' as a forgettable slice of MOR pop, but the refrain and George Outlaw' frenetic drumming gave the song and extra kick.   rating: *** stars 
- The lone original and one of two standout performances, 'Half a Man' had a likeable blue-eyed soul vibe, though Carden sounded like he was pushing a bit too hard and the horns were irritating this time around.   rating: *** stars 
- I never liked the Bill Deal and the Rhondells version and I can't say I like their cover of 'I've Been Hurt'.   Again, Outlaw's drumming provided the standout performance (great name for a drummer).   rating: ** stars 
- Geez, how many folks ever heard the Bobby Moore and the Rhythm Aces original version of 'Try My Love Again' ?   Shame it wasn't many since their version shred this lame-a** cover.   rating: ** stars 
- A cover of Jr. Walker and the All Stars' 'Hot 'Cha' was the album's second instrumental.  Probably not a surprise, tenor sax players Mueller and Winston got the spotlight on this on.   rating: ** stars 
- The blue-eyed soul-tinged 'That's Enough' was another one that kind of grew on me after awhile.  This on had some nice backing vocals.  rating: *** stars 
- The album's other highlight, 'Kidnapper (with Heat Wave)' had a nifty beach music melody and some hysterical lyrics that were seemingly inspired by mid-1960s television programs.  The unexpected transition into 'Heatwave' was both extremely short and unnecessary.   rating: *** stars 

No, it isn't an essential Justice release, but it isn't half bad. 

"Meet the Checkmates" track listing: 
(side 1) 
1.) Comin' Home (instrumental) - 2:35 
2.) It's Not Unusual - 3:21 
3.) Gypsy Woman  (Curtis Mayfield) - 2:10 
4.) You Don't Know Like I Know - 2:08 
5.) My Girl - 2:54 
6.) Laugh It Off - 2:12 

(side 2) 
1.) Half a Man - 2:27 
2.) I've Been Hurt - 2:15 
3.) Try My Love Again - 1:35 
4.) Hot Cha (instrumental) - 3:31 
5.) That's Enough - 2:21 
6.) Kidnapper (with Heat Wave) - 3:25

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