Out There

Soulful surprise

Soul of the Bee Gees
Various Artists
The Right Stuff/Capitol Records

Although it seems yet another pop culture recycled-trash recipe, this new compilation of Bee Gees covers is one of the best tributes I've seen. Whether you think of the Bee Gees as childhood icons or music-industry Antichrists is beside the point--the fact is, the Brothers Gibb could write a damn good song.

There is very little "new" about Soul of the Bee Gees--almost all of the tracks were released years ago, but rather than turning the whole thing into a less-than-funny joke by employing, say, Dinosaur Jr. or the Butthole Surfers to cover "Stayin' Alive," the producers hand-picked musical gems that make the Bee Gees shine far more than they ever did themselves. Al Green doing "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart" and jazz legend Nina Simone covering "Please Read Me" not only validate the Bee Gees as songwriters, they make them look like geniuses of soul music. Leave it to people like Al Green to listen to a song without prejudice, find its true soul, and hand it right back to you in all its glory, like a man who finds a pearl in an oyster.

The same can be said of "Jive Talkin'" as interpreted by Rufus and Chaka Khan circa 1975. They strip the song down to its bare roots, exposing it as the funky-ass soul number that it is and forever should be. Ditto for "Nights on Broadway" as seen through the eyes of Candi Staton in 1977. In fact, when the Bee Gees weren't out making stupid movies or fools of themselves, Barry Gibb was writing music for people like Yvonne Elliman ("If I Can't Have You") and Samantha Sang ("Emotion"), both of which are included on the CD and are undeniably fantastic pop songs.

Some excellent trivia on the Bee Gees is included in the liner notes, giving a brief though interesting history of the English-born Aussies whose musical career began in earnest with the 1967 hit "New York Mining Disaster." The notes chronicle the brothers' eventual drift into KC and the Sunshine Band territory, followed by the Saturday Night Fever peak--or valley, if you prefer.

The Bee Gees, however, were just as much victims of pop culture as they were of their own lapses in judgment--yet both missteps are rectified once and for all by bands like The Staple Singers (doing a gospel-inspired version of "Give Hand, Take Hand" that would make even Aretha stop and listen).

In a world all too ready to exploit music and pop culture for a laugh and a quick buck, Soul is a welcome gift, not only as a great CD to sit back and listen to, but as historical revisionism of the best kind--the kind that's both illuminating and on target.

--Richard Baimbridge

 
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