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James Brown’s “Try Me!” Reviewed

After “Please Please Me” broke big in 1956 and “Try Me”was a huge hit in 1958, and James Brown’s first album Please Please Please, released in late 1958, had both singles and 14 other singles and/or B Sides (here), he was ready for more of the same. In 1959 James hijacked “Try Me” and put it to lead Try Me!, his sophomore effort. The two albums were recorded around the same time and not as one big session, the way the Beatles would, but more like Presley, where a session might provide four songs that are warehoused till needed.

However, because by the second album we are getting used to the product, the influences are clearer than ever: Ray Charles, Little Richard, and Gospel harmony (performed by The Famous Flames) which merges into doo wop. The songs are very strong, mostly by James himself, sometimes with various Famous Flamers, including two by the harmony group leader Bobby Byrd.

With the aid of hindsight, the two albums, combined for over 30 songs, were a picture of James practising self restraint: as certain as opening track “There Must Be A Reason” being dance music without being what we would consider James Brown dance music. However, that doesn’t mean that the r&b hit single taken from the album isn’t a step further: it didn’t include the Famous Flames and is better for it. Nothing here is for beginners, none of the songs are negligible, but the bar is so high with James Brown, they are clearly minor in the great scheme. The horns, backing vocals, and James’ scratchy soulfulness are good as they need to be, it is just our knowledge that he isn’t there that keeps us expecting explosions Brown isn’t set to deliver… yet.

Grade: A-

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