VARIOUS ARTISTS: 'Atlantic Soul 1959-1975' (Label: Rhino Handmade)

Thursday, 08 May 2008 11:49 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

VARIOUS ARTISTS: 'Atlantic Soul 1959-1975'

This new, utterly fantastic, 82-track 4-CD box set (which is housed in an eye-catching sepia-tone 12-inch LP-style package) is a must-have for soul collectors. It's imaginatively compiled by singer-turned-soul historian, Billy Vera, whose insightful liner notes give an insider's perspective as to how arguably the greatest R&B label functioned during its heyday back in the 1960s. Interestingly, Vera hasn't gone for any easy options in relation to the tracks he's selected - rather, in the main, he's avoided the label's over-familiar big hits (there's no 'Respect,' 'Soul Man,' and 'Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay' for example) and picked songs that singers like Ray Charles, Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin recorded that have been overlooked by all but the devoted collector. Book-ended by Ray Charles's plaintive ballad, 'Come Rain Or Come Shine' from 1959 and The Trammps' disco-fuelled 'Hooked For Life' from 1975, this collection chronologically traces the evolution of Atlantic soul, charting its progress from rough-hewn, gut-bucket R&B in the '60s to sleek '70s disco-soul. All the Atlantic big hitters are featured, of course - Aretha, Otis, Solomon Burke, Wilson Pickett, Sam & Dave, Ben E. King, Carla Thomas, Percy Sledge, Clarence Carter, The Spinners and Donny Hathaway - but there are plenty of great performances by the label's less-heralded acts: namely Doris Troy, Esther Phillips, Mary Wells, The Vibrations, The Falcons, Tami Lynn, Don Covay, Willie Tee, Soul Brothers Six, The Sweet Inspirations, Harvey Scales & The Seven Sounds, C & The Shells, The Dynamics, Walter Jackson, Betty LaVett, James Carr, Garland Greene, Judy Clay, King Floyd, Jackie Moore, Bettye Swann, and Howard Tate plus many more. A particular favourite of Vera's seems to be singer Baby Washington, who recorded a few sides for Cotillion in the late-'60s - Vera, in fact, includes three rare Washington tracks here, including the chanteuse's marvellous interpretation of the Dusty Springfield-favourite, 'Breakfast In Bed.' There are a few surprising omissions - for example, some soul fans might lament the absence of artists like Laura Lee, Dee Dee Warwick, Margie Joseph, Black Heat, Archie Bell & The Drells, Blue Magic and Roberta Flack - but overall, this is a stupendous collection that reveals the depth of talent on the Atlantic roster in the '60s and '70s. This box set is available exclusively from Rhino's new website,

(CW) 4/5


WEBSTER LEWIS: Four Reissues (Label: Expansion)

Thursday, 08 May 2008 11:46 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

WEBSTER LEWIS: Four Reissues

The late Baltimore-born/LA-based keyboard sorcerer, Webster Lewis (1943-2002), was immensely popular with British jazz-funk aficionados in the late-'70s as a result of a clutch of slick fusion albums he released for Epic Records. His first LP, the little-known 'Live At Club 7' for the Counterpoint label, came out in 1971 and largely fell on deaf ears. Five years later, though, Lewis - who, apparently, was also a decent clarinet player - hit the big time by inking a major label deal with Epic. Between 1976 and 1981, he produced four albums for the company, all of which have now been reissued by Expansion (three come to CD for the first time and also contain rare, previously unheard bonus cuts). The keyboard maestro's first outing for Epic, 1976's 'On The Town' was credited to Webster Lewis and The Post-Pop Space-Rock Be-Bop Gospel Tabernacle Orchestra & Chorus (thankfully, Lewis dropped the pretentious name on subsequent albums). Released when the disco inferno was burning at its brightest 'On The Town' is understandably packed with slurping hi-hats, funky bass lines and baroque-like string orchestra parts. A mixture of instrumental and vocal tracks, it's camper than Butlin's but enjoyable nevertheless, with 'Love Is The Way' and 'Do It With Style' standing out. There's also a previously unissued track in the shape of an instrumental cover of Curtis Mayfield's 'Let's Do It Again.' 1978's 'Touch My Love' dropped a lot of the disco affectations and proved to be a better album - the killer cut is the Rare Groove favourite, 'Barbara Ann,' which is characterised by a winning blend of percolating Latin dance rhythms, percussive Rhodes piano and soft, breathy female vocals. Amazingly, four studio outtakes from the same sessions have been discovered in the vaults and appear here. The best is the propulsive, fusion-style instrumental, 'Japanese Umbrella.' In 1979, Lewis produced a third album for Epic, '8 For The 80s,' a set co-produced with Herbie Hancock (Lewis was musical director of Hancock's group at the time). Featuring an impressive cast of A-list session personnel (James Gadson, Paul Jackson Jr, Nate Watts et al) plus a cameo from singer D.J. Rogers (on 'Heavenly') it's undoubtedly one of Lewis's best records. Soul fans will recall it for the song 'Give Me Some Emotion' - which Merry Clayton turned into a Stateside hit - and the excellent 'The Love You Give To Me.' Lewis's Epic swansong was 1981's 'Let Me Be The One,' regarded by liner note writer, Ralph Tee, as the keyboard player's most cohesive set. It contains the brilliant Latin-tinged instrumental, 'El Bobo,' the soulful groover, 'Bout The Love' and a plaintive ballad, 'Open Up Your Eyes.' This new reissue includes two terrific bonus cuts - 'Reach Out,' and 'Boston.' After leaving Epic in 1981, Webster Lewis recorded 'Welcome Aboard,' an album in tandem with Barry White's Love Unlimited Orchestra and also produced albums by Gwen McCrae and Michael Wycoff. Sadly for soul fans, after that Lewis largely abandoned recording and focused his energies on TV and movie work. Now thanks to Expansion, Webster Lewis's unsung genius is celebrated by this batch of superlative reissues. Get them now at
(CW) 4/5


MILLIE JACKSON: 'Millie Jackson's Soul For The Dancefloor' (Label: Kent)

Thursday, 08 May 2008 11:44 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

MILLIE JACKSON: 'Millie Jackson's Soul For The Dancefloor'

Raspy-voiced Millie Jackson put the sex into soul in the 1970s with a series of risqué and humorous raps that got progressively more explicit, cringe-worthy and foul-mouthed by the time the 1980s arrived (think 1989's 'Back To The Shit,' with its jaw-dropping front cover of the singer sat on a toilet). Jackson's controversial antics to court publicity have often overshadowed her true abilities as a singer and her sensitivity as a song stylist. Of course, ballads are regarded as her forte - rightly so, given her dramatic, soulful delivery - though as this superb 22-track collection illustrates, tucked away on Jackson's numerous Spring LPs are a plethora of uptempo tracks that have the ability to pack soul dance floors. Compiled by Sean Hampsey and Ady Croasdell, this absorbing terpsichorean collection kicks off with a previously unissued mix of 'If That Don't Turn You On,' and includes classics like the driving yet poignant 'House For Sale,' the Phillip Mitchell-penned 'You Can't Stand The Thought Of Another Man Loving Me,' and strong cover of Don Covay's 'Letter Full Of Tears.' Even when there's a strong hint of disco in the arrangements, the cathartic soulfulness of Jackson's delivery guarantees that her performance transcends the vagaries of ephemeral dance floor trends. A personal favourite is the slower, slinky, mid-tempo number 'Put Something Down On It,' penned by the Womack brothers. Other gems include the brilliantly-titled 'You Can't Turn Me Off (In The Middle Of Turning Me On),' 'Love Doctor,' and a passionate rendition of George Jackson's 'A Little Taste Of Outside Love.' A tremendous, deeply soulful, collection.
(CW) 4/5


ROY HAMILTON: Tore Up (Label: Shout)

Wednesday, 07 May 2008 03:18 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF


UK reissue specialist, Shout continue their series on Roy Hamilton with this concise 22 tracker that covers the singer's work right at the end of his career when he was pacted to AGP and RCA. Big voiced and with a gospel background, Hamilton had enjoyed major success in the 50s with songs like 'You'll Never Walk Alone' and 'Ebb Tide' but as the 60s dawned his management and marketing people found some difficultly in finding a style that suited both Hamilton and contemporary tastes. By 1966 he was working for RCA and that very problem was still apparent in the variety of material he recorded. His people still wanted him to record big, dramatic ballads and show tunes like 'The Impossible Dream, 'and 'Walk Hand In Hand', though to hedge their bets they tried him on faster Motown-inspired dancers too - one of which 'Crackin' Up Over You' eventually found acceptance on the UK Northern scene. Better - at least in terms of soul quotient - were Hamilton's stabs at the Burt Bacharach song book and versions of 'Let The Music Play' and 'Reach Out For Me' rival all the better-known takes. To catch Hamilton at his most soulful though try 'Heartache Hurry On By' - a great example of mid-60s uptown soul balladry that will recall the best of Jerry Butler and Walter Jackson. Despite the quality of such tracks, lack of success drove Hamilton out of RCA to AGP where owners Chips Moman and Tommy Cogbill recorded him in classic southern soul settings on new songs like 'Angelica' and oldies like 'It's Only Make Believe' and 'The Dark End Of The Street'. Hamilton acquitted himself well - so well in fact that Dave Godin picked up Hamilton's version of 'Dark End' for release on his legendary Deep Soul label. That cut and the B side, 'One Hundred Years', take soul pride of place here, though, as we've outlined above, Hamilton had lots more to offer. Roy Hamilton died prematurely in 1969 while working on new soul material at AGP - though the session tapes seem to have disappeared. The Shout soul sleuths are currently trying to track them down, but in the meantime this 22 track RCA/AGP compilation offers a great snapshot of Hamilton's last years.
(BB) 3/5


THE REAL THING: It's The Real Thing (Label: Castle )

Sunday, 04 May 2008 08:37 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

THE REAL THING: It's The Real Thing

Sadly, Liverpool's the Real Thing hardly ever feature in soul histories. The reasons, I guess, are obvious... and we've just mentioned one. They came from Liverpool and the Culture Capital is, of course, best known for breezy, mop-top pop than searing soul. Then there's the fact that they enjoyed a decent run of pop hits and some soul people often show distaste for commercial success. Add to that the fact that they were sometimes branded as David Essex's backing vocalists and that their emergence was via the TV talent Show 'Opportunity Knocks' and you might understand why many soul folk steer clear of them. Well, those clear-steerers are missing out on a lot, 'cos the Four From Eight offered a lot more genuine soul than some of their US contemporaries ever did. Let's reveal their soul credentials. First the Real Thing predate the whole 'Opportunity Knocks' thing. Their roots lie in a Liverpool 60s soul quartet called The Chants who emerged from the Liverpool 8 ghetto. Consequently they knew as much about inner city prejudices and deprivations as anyone from Harlem or Watts. Then, in Chris Amoo they had a gritty vocalist whose conviction and passion could match the very best… TV viewers noted that early on in his blistering performance of 'Grazing In The Grass' on that telly talent show I've just mentioned. And the commercial success? Well, surely that's the goal of every performer in any genre and there's nowt wrong with royalties… and when you listen again to the hits like 'You To Me Are Everything' and 'Can't Get By Without You' they're really rather decent. But then dig deeper into the group's catalogue and you'll discover some real soul gems. 'Children of The Ghetto', for instance, has been covered by many soul luminaries and several serious jazzers, while the jaunty 'Love Takes Tears' recently re-surfaced on an Expansion 'Village Soul' collection. Then listen hard to stuff like 'Stone Cold Love Affair',' Lovin' You Is Like A Dream', 'You'll Never Know What Your Missing' and 'Love Is Such A Wonderful Thing' and you'll draw favourable comparison to some of the best Philly vocal groups. Admittedly there are some blatant cheesy moments in the catalogue ('Let's Go Disco', 'Can You Feel The Force'), but hopefully this 39 track collection will help us all to reassess the Real Thing.
(BB) 4/5


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