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Jean Knight “Mr. Big Stuff” (1971)

It’s easy to overlook Jean Knight’s sole – killer – Stax album, as it so evidently centres on the huge, huge hit “Mr. Big Stuff”. But that smoking, slightly reggae-esque funk jam really wasn’t a fluke. Miss Knight had pipes that were greased in the finest Deep South gospel tradition, and, when paired to the producing magic of Wardell Quezerque, she had the ability to churn out a soulful masterpiece of an album, every bit the equal of Aretha Franklin or Mavis Staples’ finest moments.

Knight’s rough, blues-drenched vocal is apparent on the slow grinding, gospelish workout “A Little Bit of Something (Is Better Than All of Nothing”), where her huge voice is accompanied by Jerry Puckett’s sweet, country-soul guitar noodlings and divine back up vocals. It’s back to the Funk with the hard socking “Don’t Talk About Jody”, a sturdy answer song to Johnnie Taylor’s smash hit “Jody’s Got Your Girl and Gone”. Jody’s been getting a bad rep, per Jean Knight, and she’s here to set some things straight, cause Jody made her happy. Fat, sleazy funkin’ comes your way once more with the ploddin’ “Take Him (You Can Have Him)”, an incessant groove-based finger-snapper layered in horns and propelled by William Laverne Robbin’s thick bass. There’s an old-timey feel to the glorious, slow ballad “Why I Keep Living These Memories”, with its jazzy guitar chops and low-fi piano. A great showcase for Knight’s churchily testifyin’ vocal power. The same can be said for the bone-chilling, richly orchestrated mid-tempo lilter “One-Way Ticket to Nowhere (It’s the End of the Ride)”, a warm tune filled with Bacharach-like hooks and melodies. That chanking guitar, poppin’ bass and gutbucket groove is back with the swankin’ “Call Me Your Fool If You Want To” and the incisively rompin’ “Your Six-Bit Change”, featuring more crunchy guitar lines and piles of brass.

It’s a shame Jean Knight has been typecast as the “Mr. Big Stuff”-singer. This album is testament to a huge talent. Do yourself and justice a favor and get this gem of an album. —soulmakossa

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