VARIOUS ARTISTS: 'The Complete Motown Singles Vol. 9: 1969' (Label: Hip-O Select)

Thursday, 28 February 2008 03:36 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

VARIOUS ARTISTS: 'The Complete Motown Singles Vol. 9: 1969'

1969 was the final year of what had been a turbulent decade. The so-called 'Age of Aquarius' had begun with the threat of Armageddon when the USA and USSR played a tense game of brinkmanship over the presence of nuclear missiles in Castro's Cuba. When that crisis was averted - much to the relief of the whole watching world - more were to follow, especially in regard to the USA: there was a neo-colonial war raging in Vietnam, of course, and on Uncle Sam's home soil, much blood was spilled (and lives were lost) on the streets as African-Americans sought to achieve equality via Civil Rights protests. American popular music vividly reflected the zeitgeist and even at Motown - which had resisted making records that commented on events in the 'real' world earlier in the decade - many of label's songs had become politicized by 1969, thanks to writers and producers like Norman Whitfield, who gave the company a reality check and helped The Temptations claim the company's first Grammy award. 1969, then, was a year characterised by both idealism and loss; of Woodstock and Altamont, of the first moon landing and the Manson murders - Motown, too, couldn't resist the inevitability of change and in 1969, Diana Ross stunned Supremes' devotees by announcing that she was leaving the group. Also, Berry Gordy quit the Motor Town to live in LA while his company shifted its business operations from the quaint Hitsville building to plush, new, state-of-the-art offices in downtown Detroit (three years later the company would follow Gordy to LA). On a sadder note, Shorty Long and the Funk Brothers' drummer, Benny Benjamin, both died. But on the plus side, Motown signed the Jackson 5, a young Afro-topped quintet from Gary, Indiana, that burst on the pop scene with the infectious Stateside chart topper 'I Want You Back' in November 1969. Significantly, that momentous Motown smash, which ushered in a new era for Berry Gordy's Detroit company, is the vinyl 45 attached to the front cover of Hip-O Select's latest instalment of their incredible retrospective series, 'The Complete Motown Singles.' Anyone familiar with the series format will know that the packaging to each volume is unimpeachable - the track by track annotation is richly informative, while archival colour photos bring the era vividly to life. And then there are personal recollections of Motown that give an insight into how the company was run - this time, it's the turn of Shelley Berger, former west coast man for Berry Gordy who also managed The Supremes, The Temptations and the Jackson 5. There's also a thoughtful essay by Stu Hackel, who expertly puts the music into its historical, political and cultural context. But it's the music that's the true star of this compilation series and in 1969, Motown was still on fire and its hit records kept burning up the charts. Former Temptation, raspy-voiced David Ruffin, made his solo debut with a slice of cathartic deep soul called 'My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me).' It stalled at Number 2 in the R&B charts, but the Mississippi singer's career was off to an auspicious start. Other Motown hits in 1969 came from big hitters like Diana Ross & The Supremes (the line-up's valedictory single, 'Someday We'll Be Together'); The Temptations ('I Can't Get Next To You'); Marvin Gaye ('That's The Way Love Is'); the Four Tops ('Don't Let Him Take Your Love Away' - the group's only chart entry that year); Gladys Knight & The Pips ('Friendship Train'); Edwin Starr ('25 Miles'); Smokey Robinson & The Miracles ('Baby, Baby Don't Cry') and Stevie Wonder ('My Cherie Amour'). Lesser known acts, too, were cutting singles the same year but not all made a huge commercial impact - like white 'comedian' Soupy Sales, whose 'Muck-Arty Park' (a lame parody of Jimmy Webb's 'MacArthur Park') is possibly the worst ever record to come off the Hitsville presses. Other unfamiliar names present here are The Honest Men, Joe Harnell, funk guitarist Wes Henderson, blue-eyed soul group The Rustix, The Five Smooth Stones, Dorothy, Oma and Zelpha, Terry Johnson, The Lollipops, Stu Gardner and the brilliantly named novelty group, Captain Zap and the Motortown Cut-ups, who issued the zany comedy single 'The Luney Landing.' Some of the above acts recorded for Rare Earth, a new Motown subsidiary aimed at the rock longhairs and which also spawned a group of the same name (their debut 45, 'Generation,' is included here). This stupendous 6-CD set also features great 45s from Bobby Taylor, The Originals, Martha Reeves & The Vandellas, Shorty Long, Earl Van Dyke, Chuck Jackson, The Marvelettes and the Spinners. As retrospectives go, 'The Motown Complete Singles' series is arguably the best there's ever been in the CD age - and this current volume, like previous instalments, is a musical cornucopia that will bring hours, even years, of pleasure and enjoyment to Motown aficionados the world over. It's limited to 5000 copies, so buy it while you still can.
(CW) 5/5


ASHFORD & SIMPSON: 'The Warner Bros. Years: Hits, Remixes & Rarities' (Label: Rhino)

Wednesday, 27 February 2008 12:54 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

ASHFORD & SIMPSON: 'The Warner Bros. Years: Hits, Remixes & Rarities'

Mention Ashford & Simpson to any British person over 30 and the odds are that they'll recall the duo's big romantic anthem from 1984, 'Solid,' which peaked at number 3 in the UK singles chart. Ironically, though, I truly believe that the Big Apple-based songwriting team were already past their best by then, even though they were enjoying the biggest commercial success of their careers. Indeed, as this excellent new 2-CD retrospective illustrates, the twosome's '80s work for Capitol really does pale in comparison with their earlier recordings for Warner Bros. Husband and wife team, Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson, joined the Loony Tune label in 1973 after a fertile stint penning and producing hits at Motown for the likes of Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell and Diana Ross. They experienced a few modest Stateside R&B chart entries from '73 until '77, when a change of direction - they decided to swim along with the disco tidal wave - got them attention and eventually resulted in the Top 20 smash, 'Send It.' A year later, they almost topped the R&B lists when their hypnotic dance floor groove, 'It Seems To Hang On,' stalled at Number 2 and stayed there for 5 weeks (interestingly, the song's groove and chord sequence became the template for many smooth soul records in the following decade) . Both those tunes can be found on this commendable new compilation, which includes several of the duo's hard-to-find 12-inch disco mixes - including 'One More Try,' 'Tried, Tested & Found,' 'Found A Cure,' and 'Love Don't Make It Right' - and a bonus CD of remixes. The emphasis here is on the duo's soul-infused dance floor burners and so some of their great ballads - 'Crazy,' 'Destiny' and 'Let Love Use Me' - are omitted. Even so, this is a top-notch set packed with great music, like 'Found A Cure' and their brilliant original version of 'Top Of The Stairs.' You'll also find the duo's rendition of the song 'Bourgie Bourgie,' which they originally cut as an instrumental (it was later given words and a vocal melody and taken into the charts by Gladys Knight & The Pips). To my mind, the remixes on CD2 are largely redundant - sure, there's nothing too radical that will upset the purists and the likes of Tom Moulton, Joey Negro and Paul Simpson stay true to the spirit of the originals, but overall it seems a pointless exercise. Nevertheless, this is a pleasing compilation packed with beats and grooves that would make even the most arthritic of lower limbs twitch in anticipation of boogieing down on the dance floor.
(CW) 4/5


VARIOUS: The Bert Berns Story (Label: Ace)

Tuesday, 26 February 2008 17:17 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

VARIOUS: The Bert Berns Story

Though he doesn't always get the credit, Bert Berns was one of the founding fathers of modern popular music. His achievements put him up there with the likes of Holland-Dozier-Holland, Phil Spector, the Chess Brothers and the team at Atlantic. Maybe it was his premature death in 1967 that ultimately denied him the status he deserved, but now with this wonderful Ace 26 tracker of music he worked on, music fans and critics alike can at least start to reassess Berns' contribution to the 20th century's most enduring art from. Born Bertrand Russell Berns in 1929, the native New Yorker went on to write and produce a slew of hits that became 60s pop mainstays. More, he recorded himself as Russell Byrd, worked in swingin' sixties UK, owned his own label and was so influential that the savvy Atlantic bosses bought him in to work for them. That huge variety is reflected in this album which covers his career from 1960-1964. The two main focuses are Solomon Burke's 'Cry To Me' and the Isley Brothers' 'Twist And Shout'. Both those recordings would guarantee Berns iconic status but add to that cuts like the Vibrations' 'My Girl Sloopy', Little Esther Philips' 'Mo Jo Hannah', the Drifters' 'One Way Love', the Jarmels' 'Little Bit Of Soap' and Ben E King's 'Gypsy' and you'll start to understand Berns' importance. Those cuts of course, are all great New York 60s soul sounds but there's great pop here too from people like Gene Pitney, Mel Torme and little old Lulu - whom Berns recorded on his song 'Here Comes The Night'. You'll know that Van Morrison's Them also cut the tune - leading to Morrison signing to Berns' label and the start of his solo career. But that's another story and one we're promised will unfold in Volume 2 later in the year.
(BB) 4 out 5


AL WILSON: Searching For The Dolphins (Label: Kent)

Tuesday, 26 February 2008 12:20 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

AL WILSON: Searching For The Dolphins

Classy soul singer, Al Wilson is best known over here for two recordings - 'Show And Tell' and 'The Snake'. The former, a real smooth soul favourite, was cut in the second phase of Wilson's career while Northern fave and Lambrini ad soundtrack, 'The Snake' dates from the time the man was pacted to Johnny Rivers' Soul City records. That 100 mph version of the Oscar Brown allegory comes from Al's only album for that label, 'Searching For The Dolphins' which, at last, has won reissue via Ace's Kent imprint. Here you get all the album's original eleven tracks and - as is the way with Ace - a slew of bonuses. Recorded in 1968 the 'Dolphins' album is a perfect artefact of late sixties smooth soul and like much contemporary material is made up of original songs and some thoughtful covers - like 'The Snake'. Other re-treads include a version of the 4 Tops' 'Shake Me Wake Me' and Jerry Butler's 'I Stand Accused' and Wilson acquits himself well on both. There's also takes on two Jimmy Webb tunes - 'By The Time I Get To Phoenix' and 'Do What You Gotta Do' and though we know that Webb was a Soul City staffer, there's still a debate as to who recorded the definitive originals. It is all academic, of course, but Wilson offers strong versions and they rival the LP's title cut as the pick of the bunch. The Ace/Kent sourced bonus cuts aren't quiet as strong. They include Soul City B-sides and a quartet of songs dating from Wilson's time with Carousel but they will satisfy completists, who'll also now demand, I'm sure, a decent, re-mastered reissue of the Rocky Road album 'Show And Tell'.
(BB) 3 out of 5


LORI JENAIRE: Fruition (Label: NBE Records)

Tuesday, 26 February 2008 05:09 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF


Committed and knowing indie soul fans will know all about the talents of Lori Jenaire. Thanks to the sterling (and often unsung) work of UK soul promoters her work has been filtering in over here for a year or so and despite the odd dance aberration, her work has been consistently good. Now with this new 12 tracker - aptly called 'Fruition' - Lori's music moves to another level. Working with Gladys Knight's musical director Scott Cannady, Lori has crafted a wonderful indie soul set that demands investigation from anyone who digs divas like the aforementioned Gladys Knight or Anita Baker - to whose primetime work this album most resembles. The set starts promisingly with a cover of 'California Dreamin''. I never understood why the soul fraternity like this tune but Lori does it her way. Different to Bobby Womack's take, she even manages to work a snatch of Aretha's 'Daydreamin'' in. Track two, 'Stay Strong' doesn't quite take off, but maybe it's because I have a thing about those cod Caribbean interjections made popular by the Fugees. However, all's quickly forgiven with the third track - 'Matter Of Time'. It's a beaut and possibly the best indie soul tune of the year so far. The song boasts a lovely melody, there's the sweetest of choruses, the beats are elegantly paced and Lori's vocal is truly 'felt.' Add to that some extra soulful sax from Rodney Taylor and you have a perfect modern soul confection. Almost as good are 'Dontcha Wanna Know' and 'Pieces.' The former has some lovely, restrained beats which are perfect for the modern room while the latter is a steady groove underpinning a wonderful vocal on an ultra-catchy melody. If ballads are your thing then try the drama of 'Pictures'. It equals the Dianne Warren-penned 'Lately I' as the LP's best slowie - check out the piano on that one. Elsewhere, 'Unexpected Storm' has a touch of Latin about it while 'Better Now' has a different feel altogether. That one's produced by guitar man John Dixon and adds variety to a great indie soul set which I can't commend too highly.
(BB) 4 out of 5


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