By the time Dusty Springfield decamped to Tennessee to cut her 1969 masterpiece Dusty in Memphis, both the artist and her destination were proven hit factories. The bewigged British singer had racked up smashes on both sides of the Atlantic, displaying breadth and intuition with the ersatz Wall of Sound romp "I Only Want to Be with You," the sophisticated "The Look of Love," and the widescreen grandeur of "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me."

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Springfield loved American R&B. Via her recurring role on the show Ready Steady Go, she introduced Motown acts to UK TV audiences. She cited Baby Washington, the underrated R&B performer, as her favorite singer. And she knew the gospel-infused "Memphis sound," as epitomized by labels like Stax Records, had been pivotal to the success of others she revered: Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin.

Working in the American South might have seemed overly ambitious. The harder sounds typically associated with the region were not the best setting for Springfield; she could do many things, but she was not a shouter. No worries. The players surrounding her for the Memphis sessions—rhythm section the Memphis Cats, backing vocalists the Sweet Inspirations, and producers Jerry Wexler, Tom Down, and Arif Mardin—proved capable of taking the grooves in any number of directions.

And Springfield had a flair for picking top-quality material. The songwriting credits on Dusty in Memphis include such heavyweights as Bacharach & David, Goffin & King, Mann & Weil, and Randy Newman. Yet the tunes she selected from these proven vets were hardly standard Top 40 fare; teens might have dug the bittersweet desperation of "Just One Smile," but the playful come-ons and sunny carnality of "Just a Little Lovin'" and "Breakfast in Bed" were definitely meant for adults.

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Springfield was already an emotionally charged performer. Now, she laid herself bare; several introductions were stark, almost unaccompanied. She transitioned from the sultry "Son of a Preacher Man" to the unsettling intimations of madness in "Windmills of Your Mind" as if moving through such disparate sentiments over one disc were as instinctive as strolling barefoot across a summer lawn.

It was that ease that ultimately ensured the triumph of In Memphis (aesthetically, that is; commercially it flopped, stalling at number 99 on U.S. charts). Springfield simply did what she did best, in harmony with new surroundings. She never tried to pass herself off as a native... and thus proved as much a natural-born soul musician as any of the black Americans she admired.