A sultry tribute to love and vice from one of James Brown’s female contemporaries

A sultry tribute to love and vice from one of James Brown’s female contemporaries

In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing.

Every release by archival record label Numero Group is like a novella. Each compilation features its own characters, locales, and interpersonal dramas, all of which build a narrative detailing the story of a particular musical ambition. 

Eccentric Soul: The Forte Label is no exception. The compilation focuses on the eponymous Kansas City soul record label, the brainchild of Ellis Taylor, a man with ample enthusiasm but little business sense. Predictably, the label had its ups and downs; unpredictably, its most consistent artist (and Ellis’s wife), Marva W. Taylor, shared stages—and, briefly, an abusive personal life—with James Brown. In one dramatic scene described in the release’s liner notes, Marva performed at Brown’s famous concert held at Boston Garden the night after Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. Despite the personally and globally devastating circumstances, Marva gave it her all, “her slender arms issuing Supremes-style waves to the tense audience.” 

“Nothing I’d Rather Be (Than Your Weakness),” a 1974 rewrite of an earlier Forte song, makes it easy to imagine that scene. From her first sound (a sultry “mmmmm”), Marva fully commits to the song’s central conceit: Let me into your life, even if it’s just as a vice. It’s a great idea for a song, and she knows it; she passionately coos her case among an arrangement that blends sleek R&B and the upbeat-only guitars of reggae.

As with many labels profiled by Numero, Forte had its share of local hits but faded gradually and unceremoniously, finally folding for good in the early ’80s. And like other Numero stories, the label’s music seldom reflects the discord behind the beauty. 

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