Album Reviews

Bobby Hatfield: The Other Brother: A Solo Anthology 1965-1970 (Ace Records)

Bobby Hatfield
The Other Brother: A Solo Anthology 1965-1970
Ace Records

It’s sort of amazing how frequent it seems that when a successful singing duo splits up, one member’s career outshines the other. It’s understandable, though, that both can’t be equally successful; one artist will inevitably do better than the other. Even though their solo careers may have been modest, that was the case for The Righteous Brothers; Bill Medley had a higher profile with his solo work, releasing a steady stream of solo albums, while Bobby Hatfield’s solo career was modest, consisting of a handful of obscure singles and only one solo album. The Other Brother: A Solo Anthology 1965-1970 collects a few of these songs, a handful of unreleased numbers, and his solo album, 1971’s Messin’ In Muscle Shoals. (Fun fact: the title of the album comes from a wonderfully self-depreciating in-joke about his reputation that was made in a cameo appearance on the TV show Cheers.)

One wonders just why Hatfield didn’t catch on as a solo act; his sweet, soft voice was the duo’s strongest asset, and listening to his first post-Righteous Brothers single, it’s clear that he could handle being a soul act. “Hang-Ups” is a lushly arranged ballad that’s reminiscent of the duo’s work, while the self-penned B-side, “Soul Café,” is a fun, funky number. His follow-up, “Brothers,” was a gorgeously-sung retelling of the Righteous Brothers’ story, while the flipside, “What’s The Matter, Baby” pure psychedelic soul, with fuzzy, distorted guitar licks, backup singers, blaring horn section, and some fine, fine singing. It’s a mess, but it’s a mess that works, even if it didn’t stand a chance on the radio. Perhaps, then, it’s not surprising that the lack of success of his singles meant that great songs like “Cryin’ In The Chapel,” “In My Mind,” and “Paradise” went unreleased until now.

But it’s on Messin’ In Muscle Shoals that Hatfield truly shines. It’s an exciting, electric soul album, the sort of record you expect to come out of Muscle Shoals, and it’s a blend of great song choices. His take on The Beatles’ “Let It Be” captures the pain and the beauty in the Fab Four’s farewell, and his version is probably closer to what McCartney had in mind with its arrangement; stripped down to basic organ, bass, drums, and backing singers, it’s minimal but powerful in its simplicity. The country funk of “You Got A Lot To Like,” “Shuckin’ And Jivin’,” and “Messin’ In Muscle Shoals” is Hatfield having a lot of fun and jamming in a loose way that wasn’t explored with The Righteous Brothers. But he still brings a sensitive touch to softer and tender songs “Show Me The Sunshine” and “The Feeling Is Right.”

Messin’ In Muscle Shoals is a fine album that should have kicked off a superb solo career, but Hatfield wasn’t particularly interested in being a solo act; he was beholden to the Righteous Brothers, which is understandable; after all, his earlier solo work had been stymied by a one-off and unsuccessful reformation of the duo with his friend and former touring member Jimmy Walker replacing Medley. The duo would reunite in 1974, and would continue to work together until Hatfield’s sudden death in 2003. Still, The Other Brother: A Solo Anthology 1965-1970 is a superb archival release of an artist whose talents ran much deeper than his main gig, and this reevaluation of that work is a welcome introduction to a side of Bobby Hatfield one might not have otherwise known.

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