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Bobby Purify 

Better to Have It (Proper)

Plain-spoken, affecting, and effective, this is a comeback album both for Bobby Purify and for the pure soul music of the late '60s and early '70s. It's a keeper akin to Don't Give Up on Me, Solomon Burke's comeback album of 2002 -- Dan Penn, who produced this disc, co-wrote the title track to that lean, eclectic effort. Penn is the Alabama man who produced "The Letter" and "Cry Like a Baby" for the Box Tops, and wrote "The Dark End of the Street" for Memphis soulman James Carr. Like those touchstones, Better to Have It packs authenticity and passion.

Some tunes are lame: "Only in America" is hokey, if heartfelt, and "Things Happen" is every bit the throwaway its title suggests. But "I'm Qualified" boasts everyman conviction, "The Pond" is terrific and funny vernacular soul, and "Nobody's Home," Penn's take on poverty, is heartrending.

Despite Penn's guiding hand, the songs wouldn't ring so true without Purify's tenor. He sings with purity, perfect pitch, and power. Blind since birth, Purify is the underrated, underheard equal of contemporaries like Dobie Gray, Ben E. King, and Brook Benton. At long last, with this rich album, he's earned his day in the sun.

More by Carlo Wolff

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