There seems to be a resurgence of interest in Dusty Springfield of late, in particular her landmark 1969 album, Dusty in Memphis. This is good.
Dusty in Memphis was a great album; it's on my top five all-time album list. That's due in part to Dusty's sensual white soul vocals, of course, but also due to the choice of material. This was back in the day when singers didn't feel obligated to write their own material, which meant they chose songs from professional songwriters -- almost always of a higher caliber than that from non-trained writers. In Dusty's case, she had a knack for choosing first-rate songs from the top songwriters of the day. Or maybe the top songwriters singled her out for their best tunes. Whatever the case, one can't argue the results.
On Dusty in Memphis one finds tunes by Burt Bacharach and Hal David ("In the Land of Make Believe"), Carole King and Gerry Goffin ("So Much Love," "Don't Forget About Me," "No Easy Way Down," "I Can't Make It Alone"), Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil ("Just a Little Lovin'", Randy Newman ("Just One Smile," "I Don't Want to Hear It Anymore"), and Alan and Marilyn Bergman with Michel Legrand ("Windmills of Your Mind"). Plus the superb "Son of a Preacher Man" (by John Hurley and Ronnie Wilkins) and "Breakfast in Bed" (Eddie Hinton and Donnie Fritts). Not a ringer among them.
Among all these great songs, my personal favorite is Newman's "I Don't Want to Hear It Anymore," which is just heartbreaking. Of course, Dusty delivers on the heartbreak, just as she does on the sweet seduction of "Breakfast in Bed" and the sublime Southern sexuality of "Son of a Preacher Man." For a white chick from England, she had a lot of soul.
Believe it or not, we're coming up on the 40th anniversary of Dusty in Memphis; the album was released in 1969 to much fanfare but disappointing sales. Like many of pop music's best works, Dusty in Memphis gained stature over the years, eventually being recognized for the classic that it is. I expect we can see some sort of special 40th anniversary re-release next year, complete with alternate takes, bonus tracks, and a long-lost recording of Dusty putting on her mascera. While I welcome a remastered version, I'm not all that hot on "expanded" versions of classic albums; I want to hear the album as it was originally released, not tarnished by unwanted bonus tracks. If you have bonuses, put them on a separate disc; let the original album end as it was intended.
Perhaps it's the pending anniversary which has inspired the current attention to Dusty and her landmark album. It started last year, with Breakfast in Bed, a somewhat overlooked CD by Joan Osborne that was obviously inspired by Dusty and Dusty in Memphis. I found that CD ultimately disappointing, despite the choice of material and Osborne's inspired vocals; the production and arrangements had too much of a 2000-era sheen and approach instead of the classic understated accompaniment that the collection of soul tunes required.
A much better tribute is Shelby Lynne's Just a Little Lovin', just released to much publicity and acclaim. I've been a Shelby Lynne fan since her extraordinary 2000 CD, I Am Shelby Lynne, and this new album cements her reputation as a Dusty-insprired songstress. On this album she takes several songs from Dusty in Memphis, along with a selection of other Dusty tunes, and makes them her own. The album has a Norah Jones-type vibe; the instrumentation is laid back and stripped down, which lets Lynne's sultry vocals come to the forefront. It's a worthy tribute to a great vocalist and a great album, yet more than stands on its own as a showcase for one of today's most talented artists.
As with the original Dusty in Memphis, of course, much of the appeal of Just a Little Lovin' lies in its selection of quality material; again, all the best songwriters of the 1960s are represented. Great songs sung by a great singer; that will always be a winning combination.
But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.