Often those familiar with the musician being toasted in a tribute may want to stick with the originals. It’s a tough sell. That’s why I’m in awe of Amos Garrett’s triumphal tribute to Percy Mayfield, considered the top R&B composer between 1947 and the early 60s, on Get Way Back. It’s as good a tribute as I’ve ever come across.
This release has been nearly 40 years in the making, ever since Garrett heard Mayfield’s brooding and emotionally baring baritone back in 1972. As Garrett points out, "Despite the dark nature of his songs, they always maintained high level of dignity and beauty---never maudlin or weak in any."
Mayfield, often dubbed the "Poet Of The Blues," set the standard for song craftsmanship, but he was especially competent in conveying desolation, loneliness and world-weariness, although he could also deliver a joyful romp with the best of them, "Hit The Road Jack" being the obvious example. His own performing career was cut short by a 1953 car accident that left his face permanently disfigured and that also exacerbated his descent into various addictions. Perhaps, that’s why Mayfield is mainly remembered as Ray Charles chief go-to composer at Ray’s Tangerine label, penning such classics as "Hit The Road Jack" and "Please Send Me Someone To Love."
Garrett’s helps set the historical record straight, since his interpretation of Mayfield’s vocal majesty is uncanny to behold. It provides a sense of completeness to the tribute, since Garrett understands all those nuances, intonations and subtleties of the master. Proper justice is done to the Mayfield legacy, as Garrett gives as insightful and respectful a reading of each tune as one could possibly hope for.
"My Jug And I" is far more than another drinking song. Lyrically, it penetrates the deep dark psychic recesses of the alcoholic who is staring into the debris of his shattered life. It truly captures the sense of desolation and anguish that the author must have felt. This brilliant opener sets the tone for the rest of this remarkable journey.
It’s followed by a couple of up-tempo numbers, "Pretty Eyed Baby" and "Stranger In My Hometown." Suffice it to say, that Mayfield was incapable of writing a song that wasn’t both extremely literate and mood altering. Garrett’s interpretations of both are inspirational. And let’s not forget his ineffably tasty guitar work, which gives a slightly modern ambience to the Mayfield canon without sacrificing the core integrity of the music.
Garrett’s interpretation of "Never Say Naw," a gripping tale of futility and disappointment, is another tour-de-force. Garrett’s weary, muted delivery captures its sense of gloom with unerring accuracy. It’s in stark contrast to "The Country," which offers up a sense of solace through its understanding of how nature can cleanse the mind. Garrett’s ability to shifts gears and uplift your spirits is in full display. This one will nourish your soul, while also taking your breath away!
There are six other staggering performances and I wish there was space to praise each to the hilt, although mention must be made of "To Claim It’s Love," which is stunningly beautiful, yet heartbreaking at the same time. "Lost Mind," "Rivers’ Invitation," Fading Love," the title track, and more round out this memorable release.
Amos Garrett’s extraordinary vocal and instrumental gifts have made him the perfect vehicle for this endeavor and I feel that Get Way Back will be regarded as his masterpiece. It’s certainly a highlight of his brilliant career. Let’s hope there are more Mayfield songs that Garrett has simmering in the back of the mind. That would be something to look forward to with the highest anticipation.