Ann Peebles & the Hi Rhythm Section
Live in Memphis
(Memphis International Records)
3 out of 5 stars
Even with a handful of well-known almost classics, Ann Peebles was never a household name. Rather, as a member of the Hi Records roster along with Otis Clay, Syl Johnson, Al Green, and others, she knocked out some terrific, timeless soul that sounds as fresh today as when it was recorded nearly 50 years ago. Having the talented Hi Rhythm Section along to provide the extra dollop of grease that made Green’s music so much a representation of the ’70s Memphis R&B sound surely helped.
The nucleus of that band, along with backing singers and a horn section, joined her for a one-off gig in Memphis on Feb. 7, 1992. The evening with Otis Clay headlining was a financial dud, but Peebles’ short 40-minute, nine-song slot found her in supple voice and spirits as she and the Hi studio guys that first recorded these tunes, combined their talents live for the first and only time.
That’s a historical enough event to justify the existence of this belated document chronicling the gig. Still, even though Peebles, then a vibrant 45 years old (she’s 75 now), is in top form, the show takes a while to find its footing. The band seems a little under-rehearsed, the new mix lacks presence, especially with the horns and drums, and the relatively brief set is disappointingly abbreviated.
Peebles charges through her handful of hits such as “Part Time Love,” “I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down” and of course her signature “I Can’t Stand the Rain” with energy and enthusiasm. But the playing seems frustratingly flat and by the time things warm up for a crackling “Let Your Love Light Shine” (co-written with her husband and fellow Hi artist Don Bryant), the performance is nearly over.
The truncated nine-song set oddly omits “99 Pounds,” one of her biggest and best tracks. She seems rushed on the closing “…Rain,” so much so that an MC yells “we gotta go” just as the tune is picking up speed and gospel intensity, ending the concert and this album on a lopsided note.
Peebles’ fans will want this to complete their collection, but anyone new to her talents should stick to the classic studio sides, easily available to stream or on a variety of collections, to hear these songs, and lots more, in their rugged and far superior original versions.