Many will already know Martha High from her 30 plus year stint in the James Brown Revue, firstly as a member of vocal group “The Jewels”, then as backing singer for JB himself, also recording duets with his bad self and featuring on many of his albums including “The Payback” and “Hell”. However, Martha never really got her own upfront spotlight during JB’s heyday and hence “Soul Overdue” finally lets her considerably amazing vocals shine. All the tracks here are either covers or previously penned Speedometer tracks, yet I quickly got past that fact, given that each are so expertly handled, with every track a highlight.
Firstly to give praise to Speedometer, this band have always delivered a sturdy, tight groove, heavily influenced by Brown – so not only are they the ideal pairing for Martha but given the nature of the well-known material, do an outstanding job of delivering versions that are way beyond simply ‘serviceable’, adding an extra groove and some nice arrangements to each – no easy task. And now for the lady herself, Martha’s vocal is commanding, wether she is oozing soul on a ballad or dripping funk on a groove. She takes on some seriously big tunes by Etta James, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin,Vicki Anderson and Lyn Collins – let me say, for any vocalist to even attempt to take on such greatness is brave and yet Martha impressively handles the material not only with ease but with verve, putting her own slant on each performance – something worthy of high praise indeed. Take as example the storming opening, Vicki Anderson’s JB produced ” No More Heartaches”, Speedometer put in a rousing performance with big brass hits atop a pounding rhythm from the band firing on all cylinders – it takes a huge, huge voice to even sit well on top of such a big arrangement, yet Martha absolutely commands. It works marvellously too on the Speedometer penned tracks such as “No Man Troubles”, itself featuring many references to classic JB tracks, they’ve given this a new string arrangement and a fresh dynamic snap to the groove that, together with Martha’s enigmatic voice, really give this a big, bright new feel. “Don’t” by Swedish songstress Doris Svensson unexplainably gets a new title “Never Never Love A Married Man” but a stunning, stunning treatment with a thrilling instrumental break. Thrilling also is the take on Aretha’s “Save Me”, the band attacking the groove with a particularly blazing organ and Martha unleashing some considerable power.
Yes, yes, yes, Mr. Brown would be very proud Im sure. It has been such a long wait for a proper Martha High showcase but that all now seems like yesterday. “Soul Overdue” is here… now… and it’s a full bodied scorcher that should please any funk and soul fan. Martha and Speedometer bounce off each other wonderfully, I do hope they will now produce some new originals together. Until then, this collection is more than adequate, it’s really quite awesome. Yes, It was well worth the wait.