The Second Coming-reissue 3 1/2 stars
Lifetime Friend-reissue-2 stars
The second and likely final batch of Omnivore’s Little Richard reissues, includes two albums released over a decade apart.
The Second Coming from 1972 followed 1970’s The Rill Thing and 1971’s The King of Rock and Roll, both rereleased and remastered with extra tracks earlier this year. The title likely referred not to any sort of comeback, or even to Richard’s Christianity, but rather that the rocker was back working with producer Robert “Bumps” Blackwell and many of the New Orleans session players that contributed to the piano pounding wildman’s biggest 50s hits. It’s a somewhat surprisingly solid, rollicking affair that finds Richard tearing into “When the Saints Go Marching In” as if it was “Tutti Frutti,” getting swampy on “It Ain’t What You Do, It’s The Way How You Do It” and heading into crispy James Brown styled funk with “Second Line.”
Richard sounds inspired, singing and rocking hard. His voice hasn’t lost a step and is instantly distinguishable. The band kicks up plenty of dust too with Lee Allen and Jim Horn blowing tough, even searing, sax on nearly every track. But a shortage of new material results in two mostly instrumental jams, combining for about 15 minutes, padding a short album. They are funky and fun, for a while, but unnecessary. This version includes two extras in Quincy Jones penned tunes for the soundtrack to a high profile Warren Beatty/Goldie Hawn film $. Both are energized if not particularly memorable funky rockers. Kudos to Dave Willardson’s classic cover painting which captures Richard in full sweaty flight.
Richard left the business afterwards to follow his religious path but returned in 1986 with the disappointing Lifetime Friend. It opens strong enough with the feisty “Great Gosh A’Mighty” but quickly weakens with not just sub-par spiritual material, but dated mid-80s over-production (reverbed drums, squiggly synths) that sinks the project. Think Huey Lewis and the News with schlocky songs. Richard’s voice gets lost in the murky mix and at times is unrecognizable from his heyday. A few tracks find the old life-force alive and cooking like “I Found My Way” and the closing funked up “Big House Reunion” where Richard oddly sounds somewhat like a watered down Bob Seger.
It’s still a mostly lifeless return that all but the most devoted will seldom want to play. It also was generally the end of any Richard albums with original material until his death earlier this year. But anyone who saw him perform in the 90s while he was healthy knows that his energy and showmanship remained in exuberant form. He owned the stage as he did four decades earlier, frantically pounding that piano and whooping like a man possessed.
There will never be another like him.