The Ultimate Arthur Alexander

Arthur Alexander

album cover

Call Him Lonesome

Most people who rode on the social-services bus that Arthur Alexander drove around Cleveland for much of the '80s didn't really know who he was. They weren't aware of his "other" career—as a singer and songwriter who blended country and soul in ways no one had done before. Being a soft-spoken fellow, he didn't talk much about why, after years on the edges of the music business, he ended up driving a bus. Some accounts say he left the music business to overcome substance abuse problems, others attribute his disappearance to a debilitating illness.

Alexander's cover was blown in 1993, when a "comeback" album, Lonely Just Like Me, appeared. The album reawakened interest in his sly, genre-blurring singing, and drew new attention to his unusual track record as a songwriter. An early original, "Anna (Go to Him)," was covered by the Beatles, and one of his biggest hits, "You Better Move On," reached number 24 on the pop charts. (It was later done by the Rolling Stones.) Alexander's 1962 version of the latter, which is part of this collection, was the very first recording made at the legendary Muscle Shoals studio in Alabama—Alexander and songwriter Rick Hall converted an old tobacco warehouse themselves—and it began a career that, despite hot flashes, never fully took off.

That lack of success is a great mystery, because there's passion and grit inside everything Alexander recorded. His nimble, unassuming voice had a touch of George Jones in it; like Jones, he could make generic odes of lost love instantly riveting. At the same time, Alexander was a Southern soul man with Otis Redding's ability to work a groove; one head-swiveling moment on this collection comes on the up-tempo "Shot of R&B," an ebullient party song that should have been massive. Though it's not a full-career retrospective, this compilation gathers most of Alexander's most heart-wrenching work from the 1960s. Those enchanted by it should seek out Lonely Just like Me, the album that rescued him from the footnotes. Though he'd been gone from active performance for more than a decade, Alexander hadn't lost a step: His plaintive vocals are nothing less than astounding. Alexander, just fifty-three, was promoting Lonely when he fell ill and died.

Genre: R&B
Released: 1993, Razor & Tie
Key Tracks: "Anna (Go to Him)," "You Better Move On," "Shot of R&B," "Call Me Lonesome"
Catalog Choice: Lonely Just like Me; Rainbow Road: The Warner Bros. Recordings
Next Stop: James Carr: You Got My Mind Messed Up
After That: O. V. Wright: The Soul of O. V. Wright
Book Pages: 13–14

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#1 from T.S., USA - 02/15/2009 6:10

Arthur did make a major change in the music business. I read in one of his fan websites that he actually ended up driving a bus but not sure if that was true.

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