Line Out Music & the City at Night

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Northern Soul Man: Melvin Davis

Posted by on Wed, Sep 21, 2011 at 8:35 AM

Artwork by Niall McCormack
  • Vampi Soul
  • Artwork by Niall McCormack
"Detroit has always been a hotbed of expression."
—Melvin Davis (b. 1942)

Melvin Davis, Detroit Soul Ambassador, Vampi Soul

Mick Collins has never steered me wrong. On Ultraglide in Black, a celebration of his favorite soul sides, the Dirtbombs cover Melvin Davis's "Chains of Love." The highlight of a stirring song cycle, it ended up in Julian Schnabel's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, and gave the Detroit sextet the chance to play the Cannes Film Festival (it also appears on the original motion picture soundtrack).

But I'd never heard anything else by singer/songwriter/drummer/producer Melvin Davis until Vampi Soul issued Detroit Soul Ambassador, a collection of his hard-to-find singles for Jack Pot, Fortune, Ke Ke, Wheel City, and Groovesville.

According to Michael Hurtt's liner notes, Davis played on Smokey Robinson & the Miracles' "Tears of a Clown" and Dennis Coffey's Hair and Thangs, among other Motor City recordings. He's also written for Johnnie Mae Matthews, Darrell Banks, Edward Hamilton, Ann Perry, Steve Mancha, and the lovely Lonette McKee.

"Chains," a song popularized by J.J. Barnes, also provides the highlight here, though I dig the other 13 tracks, too, especially the whammy bar-saturated "This Ain't the Way" (co-written with Clyde Wilson and Mike Hanks), the only one that emphasizes the bottom end—ironic, considering Davis's drumming finesse.

If he isn't as distinctive as Marvin Gaye, the singer he reminds me of the most, his lightly vibrato-laden style goes down just as easy. He can also wail and moan, like Sam Cooke, but aims for a more relaxed style over emotional displays.

Aside from his singles, the collection gathers up four unreleased cuts, "I'm the One Who Loves You," "I Need My Baby," "I Won't Love You and Leave You," and yes, "Chains of Love." I would assume that the Dirtbombs-provided exposure helped to dislodge this one from the vaults. I also hope that it brought Melvin Davis, who helped to compile this release, a few well deserved coins along the way.


Comments (2) RSS

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nipper 1
I can never get anyone to dance to "Chains of Love"...any version. I think that JJ Barnes is pitched up, BTW...and the Barnes 45 mix is kinda dull so I quit even trying to play it out!!
Posted by nipper on September 21, 2011 at 9:47 AM · Report this
Kathy Fennessy 2
How can anyone not dance to "Chains"? Couldn't find Davis's original version on YouTube, though there's (at least) one recent live rendition.
Posted by Kathy Fennessy on September 21, 2011 at 2:01 PM · Report this

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