by Perry Meisel
Try living with Ann Peebles for awhile. Soon you'll be slowstepping your living room in a funk masque of the pharaohs, bobbing your head and shoulders back and forth in a cool shake that talks stuff as heavy as the stars.
Ann's no purveyor of cute feminine personality like the name ladies who fool you with erotic promise, jive you with high school sighs and pouts. No, Ann's a singer first and last, a musician with a weight of insight and a core of soul.
Sure, you feel her breath on your shoulder when you listen to her sing. But it's no lipstick lady who says
You can dream, dream, dream
But it won't come trueno big-eyed sweetheart who tells you
I'm gonna tear your playhouse down,
Room by roomThis is Ann 's third album with producer Willie Mitchell, Memphis swami and agent of Al Green's Annuciation. Once again Mitchell's saying Look Here and once again there's plenty happening. Remember too that this isn't empty rock and roll hype, but Memphis r& b, the real thing.
The comparison with Al Green is inevitable but unrewarding. Ann's voice is generous, not ascetic, though surface similarities abound: the slight twang of a tongue thick with feeling or the mild hesitation, the reticence that comes from an emotion too complex for easy utterance.
Her styles are various, from badass akimbo ("I'm Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down" and "Run, Run, Run") to liquid embrace ("If We Can't Trust Each Other"). She sings best on a sustained groove, bouncing in and out of the band's heartpulse rhythms that set her landscape and a pace. In fact, the studio musicians (Al Green's band, too) often rival Ann for attention. After all, only vintage Motown and Muscle Shoals outdo these subdued giants - the Hodges, Howard Grimes, Rhodes, Chalmers, and Rhodes. The Memphis Horns outdo only themselves (with some help, of course, from Mitchell's brilliant wind arrangements).
Ann's range is a measure of mood as well as of technique. Though she can stretch a melody line over three octaves, giving the lyrics a weight even cynics have to admire, she's most satisfying in her middle, most natural, register. Then she pumps home, twisting melodic expectations ever so slightly with a syncopated economy as a writer as well as a singer.
Inside Ann's voice is the real magic, the moist texture that ranges from the whisper of ballads like "Do I Need You" and "Hanging On" to the full-throated strut of "You Got to Feed the Fire" and "I Can't Stand the Rain." Her trembling vibrato and delicate phrasing occasionally fall short of their aims. But these are welcome imperfections, signs of ambition and confidence.
Truth is, you just can't say no.
Originally published in Crawdaddy, June, 1974