It’s damn near impossible to quantify soul with regard to male vocalists, but consensus has built over the decades. Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, James Brown, Al Green, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and Bobby Caldwell generally top the lists of singers who can make you break down and cry with a few syllables. Rarely, if ever, though, do you hear Lee Moses’ name among the elites. But if you learn one thing from this review, it’s that Moses—who died in 1997 at age 56—ranks as one of the best excavators of deep emotions in music history. The pain and grain of his pipes were just profoundly wrenching. That he died relatively young and unheralded only adds to the pathos when you listen to his records.
A major figure in Atlanta’s soul scene in the ’60s, Moses played guitar for some live gigs with Gladys Knight & The Pips; they wanted him to become a full-time member, but Moses yearned to make it on his own. He had high hopes for his sole album, Time And Place, but it stiffed in the marketplace upon its 1971 release. Nevertheless, true heads knew it was loaded with specialness. There’s a reason that Light In The Attic subsidiary Future Days Recordings has reissued Time And Place on vinyl four times since 2016, including this year. Once you hear Lee Moses sing, it’s like crack for your soul-starved ears. Plus, the originals and the covers that Moses selected cut you deep. You shall be moved.
The opening 1-2 gut punch of “Time And Place” and “Got That Will” should swiftly convince you that Moses was emoting on a level that few could equal. The former lopes into the frame with some horn-laden, laid-back funk as Moses testifies his obsessive love to an inamorata; it also possesses the greatest “mmm hmmm” ever to kick off a song. The latter finds Lee reeling off names of his fellow musicians who made it, and then proclaims that he’s eventually going to join them in the pantheon. Alas, that didn’t come to pass, but the song sure is soul-funk gold. “Every Boy And Girl” is a doom-laden, church soul belter that exudes “House Of The Rising Sun” vibes while “Would You Give Up Everything” is a momentous funk/soul ballad with a complex, corkscrewing bass line—a pretty rare thing. The buoyant, open-hearted melody of “Free At Last” totally embodies the title. And if you dig heart-shredding ballads, Moses sings the shit out of the staggering “Adorable One.”
The album’s best covers are among the most frequently attempted in pop/rock history. Moses puts his indelible stamp on them and makes you wonder why more people don’t consider them definitive. He slows down “California Dreaming” and alters the arrangement into stormy soul, and gruffs it up on the vocal tip. Moses doesn’t so much blow away the Mamas & The Papas’ original as he does transform it into his own joint. Then there’s one of the greatest “Hey Joe”s I’ve ever heard, and I’ve heard over a dozen. In the intro, Moses explains how he was trying to dissuade Joe from going down to shoot his old lady, who was messin’ around with another man. “This is a song about a soul brother named Joe. Joe was a good friend of mine.” Etc. When Moses gets around to singing, he outshines even Tim Rose’s bruised and blustery delivery on this classic. The backing is greasy, Southern blues funk of the highest order.
Time And Place should’ve made Moses a star, with his guitar playing as gritty and expressive as his voice. Plus, he got that will to learn. But all of this somehow wasn’t enough. That the LP’s still in print a quarter century of Moses’ death, though, is a testament of sorts. (Also highly recommended: Future Days’ 2019 comp How Much Longer Must I Wait? Singles & Rarities 1965-1972.) -Buckley Mayfield