Jean Wells "Soul On Soul Deluxe Edition" (BBE 189ACD)
by Greg Mudry
Have A Little Mercy; I'll Drown In My Own Tears; After Loving You; Sit Down And Cry; Ease Away A Little Bit At A Time; Our Sweet Love Turned Bitter; Somebody's Been Loving You (But It Ain't Been Me); Keep Your Mouth Shut And Your Eyes Open; If You've Ever Loved Someone; Broomstick Horse Cowboy; I Couldn't Love You (More Than I Do Now); I Feel Good; With My Love And What You've Got (We Could Turn This World Around); Keep On Doin' It; Take Time To Make Time For Me; Try Me And See; Roll Up Your Sleeves, Come Out Lovin' (Winner Takes All); What Have I Got To Lose; Puttin' The Best On The Outside; He Ain't Doing Bad; Hello Baby, Goodbye Too; Daddy Reconsider; I Want To Live; Ordinary Woman.
“J ean Wells: Soul On Soul Deluxe Edition” was released on BBE Records in 2011. It contains most of the songs that Jean Wells recorded with producer Clyde Otis between 1966 and 1973. Among them are all of her greatest musical achievements.
Jean Wells was a relatively obscure figure in the world of soul music, but that does not in any way diminish her stature as an artist or her significant contribution to the genre. She didn’t have a fantastic voice or extensive range, but that didn’t matter. She was able to infuse every word, every note and even every breath with emotional intensity. Through her deceptively simple turns of phrase and vocal inflections Jean managed to express such depths of feeling that listening to her can easily move one to tears.
Jean Wells was born in West Palm Beach, Florida in 1942. She sang in gospel choirs and learned to play the piano. She became interested in secular music and headed to Philadelphia to pursue her career when she was only 17. After recording a few songs that didn’t sell, Jean got to know producer Clyde Otis who signed her to his company, Argon Productions, in 1966. There followed a string of remarkable recordings, mostly on New York’s Calla label.
The “Soul On Soul” CD starts with Jean’s most commercially successful song, “Have A Little Mercy”, which reached number 25 on the R&B chart in 1968. Jean does a fine job belting out her impassioned pleas.
The next song was not released as a single, but appeared on Jean’s one album for Calla which came out in 1968. “I’ll Drown In My Own Tears” is a significant step up from the opener. Jean’s interpretation of this well-known ballad is nothing short of sublime. Jean brings a superb bluesy touch to the song, bending notes in all the right spots. Her lean phrasing imparts an atmosphere of heartbreak and loneliness. This is without doubt one of Jean’s most moving performances, a truly deep soul ballad.
The third track on the CD is Jean’s first single for Calla which was released in 1967. Written by Jean herself, “After Loving You” made it to number 31 on the R&B chart. Jean’s rhythmic singing lays perfectly on top of the band’s relentless pulse. The arrangement is lean and spare allowing Jean’s searing delivery to come on strong. Near the end of the song a surprising segment appears that features just Jean, bass and drums. The effect is one of parched emptiness as Jean calls out vainly for her departed lover. This is an exceptional song.
It’s hard to imagine anything topping the two previous tracks, but Jean’s performance on Clyde Otis’s “Sit Down And Cry” achieves perfection. It is Jean Wells’ masterpiece, one of the greatest deep soul ballads ever recorded. The song didn’t even make the R&B chart. It’s been suggested that it was just too intense for that. It is virtually impossible to describe the depths of pain and despair that Jean so convincingly communicates. Her bluesy inflections, agonized breaths and mesmerizing vocal articulations combine to create a devastating emotional experience that is one of soul music’s defining moments.
“Ease Away A Little Bit At A Time” reveals another side of Jean’s singing skills. She infuses this lilting, country soul waltz with feeling and conviction. “Our Sweet Love Turned Bitter”, co-written by Jean, returns the CD to the world of deep soul ballads. Jean gives a lesson on how to use restraint to build emotional intensity. The tension builds and becomes almost unbearable until finally, near the end of the song, Jean erupts with ferocious passion. Despite Jean’s brilliant effort, “Our Sweet Love Turned Bitter” didn’t sell, and became her final recording for Calla.
“Somebody’s Been Loving You”, written by Jean and released on Canyon Records in 1973, is a nice slice of Philly funk. “Keep Your Mouth Shut And Your Eyes Open” came out on Volaire Records in 1969, and shows what Jean could do with a mid-tempo stomper. “If You’ve Ever Loved Someone” was Jean’s first recording with Clyde Otis, and was released on Eastern records in 1966. The song showcases Jean’s formidable artistry as an interpreter of deep soul ballads, and gives a clear indication of the further brilliance to come.
There are some real gems among the rest of the songs on the CD including a number of cuts which were not initially released after being recorded as well as three demo tracks seeing the light of the day for the first time. Of particular note are “I Feel Good” and “With My Love And What You’ve Got”. The former track was released on Calla in 1967, and made it to number 33 on the R&B chart. Jean is in fine form on this funky, insistent number. “With My Love And What You’ve Got” was the flip side of “Have A Little Mercy”. Jean leads the way on this highly charged dancer with a stunningly powerful performance.
Jean left the music business around 1973 and returned to her gospel roots. She attempted to make a go of her secular career again in 1979 for a couple of years at the height of the disco craze without any luck. Jean vanished after that, and as far as I know has not been heard from since.
Unfortunately, Jean wells did not experience much success and recognition during her career despite recording some of the most brilliant soul tracks of all time. However, her music has clearly stood the test of time. Her artistry is unsurpassed. This is amply demonstrated by her songs on “Jean Wells: Soul On Soul Deluxe Edition”, a must for every soul lover’s collection.