Son Zak suggested I grab and gab: pick out, listen to and talk about an album. So I picked a buried treasure, Accept No Substitutes, a half-forgotten masterpiece by Delaney & Bonnie and Friends. It’s a 1969 classic from the mid-south by way of LA, a record Jimi Hendrix described as “Call it spiritual, and leave it at that.” I’ve loved it since the summer of Woodstock.
Acceptmay be less well known than Motel Shot, a later effort whose bulging talent roster boasted British superstar Eric Clapton. “Slowhand”/God jumped the sinking ship of Blind Faith to sail instead on the soul-gospel-R&B wings of the loose crew of flyover-state pros Mississippian Delaney Bramlett recruited from LA’s Wrecking Crew studio gang. An elastic ensemble, Delaney and Bonnie’s “Friends” featured top talent including George Harrison, Duane and Gregg Allman, Dave Mason, King Curtis and more. Clapton once said Bramlett taught him how to sing. This album shows those lessons in Delaney’s confident soulful swagger. Then-wife Bonnie – likely the palest ever Ikette (background singer in Ike and Tina Turner’s Revue) – more than holds her own with power and subtlety.
Like the Mad Dogs and Englishmen touring juggernaut he launched a few years later behind Joe Cocker, and with some of the same players, Leon Russell was the guiding principle shaping the Friends as keyboardist and arranger. But here, the hit-record aim of LA studio cats animates the music more than the laid-back Tulsa shuffles that dominated his later music, while also miraculously retaining a proud regional tang.
Acceptis a glorious monster of deep soul.
Only Dan Penn’s exhortation “Do Right Woman” stretches past five minutes and most tunes hit it and quit it in around three. They’re righteous radio-ready blasts of concise power.
Like “Do Right,” many songs urge better behaviors, but without preaching or pretense. They deliver their wisdom from the neighboring barstool, not the pulpit. Huge sonic generosity confers a welcoming acceptance that renders the album title deliciously warm, un-ironic.
There’s a dancefloor beat under nearly everything. Voices and horns mass into choirs with soloists standing up amid muscular harmonies. They shake out their robes and reach for the stars; most later became stars. The Friends on Acceptinclude future luminaries Jim Keltner, drums; Carl Radle, bass; trumpeter Jim Price, organist Bobby Whitlock and saxophonist Bobby Keys, guitarist Jerry McGee and singer Rita Coolidge. But the album is less about star-time than about speaking to us since these masters play with such low-key, well, human-ness and a well-oiled command of sounds that, like The Band’s music, predates commercial trends of the time. It helps that Keltner’s drum sound feels way clearer and cleaner than most percussion engineering of the time.
The opening “Get Ourselves Together” enlists the listener in the vibe right out of the box. More than reminding us that we’re all in this together – a lesson compelling enough in these times – it announces that we’re doingthis together; active and energetic. Just try to listen passively to Accept– can’t be done.
Next, “Someday” revs the sonic-righteous force with a tempo shift in the middle that carries your pulse with it, inside it.
“Ghetto” is Delaney at his most powerfully plaintive, riding Russell’s choir-loft piano like sun sparkling on moving water, until women’s voices edge their way in, pushing him into falsetto, then shouts, as strings gang up on us for a minute.
A march beat chugs foursquare under “When the Battle Is Over,” Bonnie’s voice answering Delaney’s power in “Ghetto,” This time, stirring women’s voices lock to bluesy piano-and-guitar chords before Delaney knocks on the door, walks in, sings his piece (or peace?), both challenging and decorating Bonnie’s lead. On its face “Battle” may seem a simple, obvious report on the battle of the sexes – and Delaney and Bonnie divorced three years after this album hit. So the next three tunes – “Dirty Old Man,” “Love Me a Little Bit Longer” and “I Can’t Take it Much Longer” – deliver pleas powered by defiance more than desperation. In “Dirty Old Man,” Bonnie warns, “Darling, listen here” and growls strong in accusation.
If “Do Right Woman” is the album’s moral fulcrum, its last two tunes bear enough heft in exultant forgiveness to balance it. The pulsating “Soldiers of the Cross” waves the flag of united action, in humility, before breaking out into “This Little Light of Mine,” Bonnie leading in proud exhortation. After its up-and-down dynamic, you wipe sweat from your face and marvel that this great band drove us so hard in just a few breaths over three minutes.
Where to go from there but “Gift of Love” with its serene mid-tempo benediction reassuring us that “love is everywhere.”
As it fades, Bonnie’s voice rings in the choir behind Delaney’s comforting words.
Fast forward 44 years in a future post.