Brook Benton & Dinah Washington - A Perfect Pair?

Brook Benton & Dinah Washington - A Perfect Pair?
When thinking of Jazz/R&B duets, you might be forgiven for not bringing Brook Benton and Dinah Washington to mind right away – after all, they never cut a huge number of hits as a duo; in fact, they really only had the one album back in 1960 entitled The Two of Us. That said, this is a timeless, important album and the chemistry between the two is unmistakable, even though the liner notes tell a very different story. But that’s for later so back to the artists themselves …

As well as being absurdly handsome, Brook Benton was a songwriter as well as a gifted singer and had more than 20 records go gold amongst the four dozen or so he had in the charts during his time. He also penned songs for Nat King Cole including “Looking Back” and many other successful artists. (Benton was often compared with Cole but never gained the same popularity for some reason). Brook’s style was slightly more edgy while maintaining a smooth, creamy sensibility that made for an intimate and sincere delivery. (Think: the very convincing Lou Rawls’ expressiveness heard in“You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine” - only way more badboy).

Dinah Washington was of course a major star at the time and was apparently in full-on Diva mode when she was paired up with Brook for this record since she considered him a bit of an upstart. (This may be in fact, as the liner notes hint, why they did not make another record together despite the huge commercial success of this one).
As a result, the “playful” ad-libbing and jibes that are peppered throughout this record (most famously on ‘Rockin Good Way’) were perhaps not as, um, “playfully” intended as everyone believed at the time!

Brook was up for it though (I love this actually) and countered each of her warning put –downs with lightning fast retorts volleyed back at top speed. The producer picked up on all of this and did not clean up any of the back and forths between them believing correctly that the public would love it (wasn’t this just like Ella and Louis?) and perceive it as a spontaneous chemistry. Ironically, both “A Rockin’ Good Way” and “You’ve Got what it Takes” (where Dinah is hissing through her teeth “You’re in my spot again baby”) would become smash hits.

Dinah Washington was a superlative vocalist and the so-called “teardrop” in her voice is an apt description. She died tragically young at only 39 years old. Benton’s success waxed and waned somewhat as the years went by but he rallied briefly in the seventies with the hit “Rainy Night in Georgia.” Benton passed away in 1988.

*Editor’s Note: This cd is from the editor’s personal collection.*

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