One of the best performances on Freddie Hughes’ 1968 album “Send My Baby Back” – the first legitimate reissue of which is now available on Kent – is a song entitled ‘Natural Man’. It is Aretha’s classic reworked from a male perspective, but the tune’s title pretty much sums up Hughes’ abilities and his incredible voice. Though he came from a church background that many soul singers share, Freddie’s gift was one hundred per cent his own, an untutored and breathtaking instrument, with a flexibility and range that makes him completely distinctive. When married to the compelling arrangements of producer Lonnie Hewitt, it’s a match made in 1960s soul heaven.
Let’s get one thing straight right away. Our Freddie is NOT the same artist that sang ‘Oo Wee Baby’, or recorded for Vee-Jay or Brunswick. With all due respect to that fellow, he couldn’t hope to scale vocal heights such as those represented on this disc. The lingering fondness for Freddie’s best-known number, the charming and completely soulful mid-tempo ballad ‘Send My Baby Back’ means that many believe it to have been a bigger hit than it actually was (#20 on Billboard R&B in July 1968). Freddie’s artistry is clearly on display on every track of this classy longplayer and if I had to choose a favourite song, by a narrow margin it would have to be the Bacharach-ish lilt of ‘He’s No Good’, a guaranteed heartbreaker any way you slice it.
Adding bonus tracks to the album’s rather brief running time was easy in theory, not so in practice. Freddie’s background with San Francisco duos: the Impression-istic Soul Brothers with Ken Pleasants, the storming, searing Casanova II with Wylie Trass, was familiar enough, but the rights to certain cuts were in flux. Just a couple of years ago, there was a breakthrough, which came along with the exciting discovery of several unissued songs from the Soul Brothers. These superlative items, derived from Freddie’s first prolonged period in the studio at Music City of Berkeley, include early arrangements of tunes recorded later, as well as the unknown – and fabulous – ‘She’s Coming Back’ and ‘Station L-O-V-E’. All this additional material gives us not just an intimate glimpse of Freddie’s evolution as an artist in the San Francisco Bay Area, but is some damn fine soul music in its own right.
by Alec Palao