Doris Duke Woman

Trading Places
10th August 2021

Michael's Pick

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Astounding final album from Deep Soul royalty, Doris Duke. Doris Duke cemented her place in the deep soul pantheon with her debut album I’m A Loser, one of the defining artefacts of the sound, though she never enjoyed mainstream commercial success. By the time she recorded Woman, for independent British soul label Contempo, she was coming back from an hiatus and remarriage. With a more lush sound replete with Philly-sounding string arrangements, dub effects in places and a funky clavinet, Duke’s masterful vocal is at ease and in control. Opener Woman Of The Ghetto (a deep, lush cover of the Marlena Shaw’s soul jazz heavy hitter) is up there with Gloria Ann Taylor’s deep soul moody stomper Love Is A Hurtin’ Thing, all swishing strings and echo experimentation that Duke’s vocal towers over. Hey Lady, a follow up, stretched out stomper about infidelity is classic Doris Duke subject matter, carrying on the musical vibe of the first track.

On the Supreme’s Love Is Here And Now You’re Gone, Duke’s voice is at turns fragile and tender, a slow burner of a track that powers through the slightly sugary arrangement. The album’s only Duke original, Please Come Back has a typically smokey, husky vocal performance against the swirling string backdrop, with Duke’s deep, soulful pain shining through the arrangements like a dark light before a double time drum kicks in on the upswing. On single Grasshopper the clavichord is back out with a high octane soul funk slammer that suits 1975’s Duke down to the ground. Closer, the big weeper Full Time Woman has a lounging pace waltzing with Duke’s world-weary soul.

Woman may have been a commercial flop, the last album statement from an artist who seemingly had her time in the late 60s but in reality it’s an overlooked collection that showcases the bottomless soul and talent of one of music’s greatest, if uncelebrated, voices.