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José Feliciano: That the Spirit Needs/Memphis Menu/Compartments

Album Notes

BGO's two-disc three-fer rounds up three José Feliciano albums from the early '70s: 1971's That the Spirit Needs, 1972's Memphis Menu, and 1973's Compartments. To put these three LPs in context, they arrived after Feliciano's second big crossover hit, the 1970 Top Ten smash "Feliz Navidad." That song turned into a seasonal standard, a fate that escaped all the songs on these three albums, but they offer a better reflection of what Feliciano was doing musically at the dawn of the '70s. On That the Spirit Needs, he was deep in thrall to early Elton John -- he covers "Border Song" and "Take Me to the Pilot," while his original "Come Down Jesus" is certainly within the same vein as John/Taupin -- and on Memphis Menu he concocts his own version of Van Morrison's Moondance. He splits the difference on Compartments, running the echoes of artiness and soul through a Paul Williams filter, allowing himself to indulge in some serious funkiness on a cover of Allen Toussaint's "Yes We Can Can." The latter two records were helmed by Steve Cropper, who deserves credit for steering Feliciano away from the creeping MOR tendencies of his late-'60s records, but the singer adeptly navigates these polished soulful rhythms, just as he sounded comfortable in the moodier climes of That the Spirit Needs. Combined on this BGO set, these three albums offer a corrective to the popular notion that José Feliciano was merely an ingratiating easy listening singer; here, he shows that he can get deeper and lighter with equal skill. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine


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