VARIOUS ARTISTS: The Complete Motown Singles Volume 8: 1968 (Label: Hip-O Select)

Thursday, 25 October 2007 13:49 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

VARIOUS ARTISTS: The Complete Motown Singles Volume 8: 1968

The first record to roll off the Motown presses in 1968 was 'I Can't Give Back The Love I Feel For You' by a sweet-voiced young female singer who like Martha Reeves and Chris Clark before her had been working as a secretary in the Hitsville building. Her name was Rita Wright. Sadly, her record - though penned by Ashford & Simpson and produced by Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier - bombed ignominiously and Wright didn't record again for another four years (when she triumphantly returned under her real name, Syreeta). Given Motown's astounding success rate during its peak in the mid to late '60s, the failure of Wright's 45 must have been hard to accept even if it was just a minor blip on the company's sales graph. But it certainly didn't set a pattern for 1968. The same month, Motown released the Four Tops' 'Walk Away Renee' and 'Gladys Knight & The Pips' 'The End Of Our Road.' Both were big smashes and the Motown hit machine marched relentlessly onwards. That was a blow for those commentators that were predicting that Motown would struggle in 1968 as a result of the company's principal tunesmiths, Holland-Dozier-Holland, leaving over a bitter royalty dispute. But as the music on this magnificent 144-track box set confirms, it was merely a case of business as usual. Norman Whitfield grasped the production reins, embraced the Zeitgeist and took the label into an exciting new era with the searing psychedelic soul of The Temptations' 'Cloud Nine' (which showcased singer David Ruffin's replacement, Dennis Edwards). Whitfield also masterminded Marvin Gaye's indelible version of 'I Heard It Through The Grapevine,' considered by many as Motown's greatest ever single (there's an actual vinyl 45 of it attached to this set's front cover). There were plenty of other great 45s issued by Motown in 1968 and all are included here of course: 'Love Child' by Diana Ross & The Supremes, 'For Once In My Life' by Stevie Wonder and a personal favourite, the beautiful ballad about inter-racial love called 'Does Your Mama Know About Me' by Bobby Taylor & The Vancouvers. If you've purchased any of the previous volumes, you'll know that there's much here to enjoy besides the music. Packed with nuggets of fascinating Motown info, the track-by-track commentary is superlative. Then, of course, there's a plethora of rare archive photos which help bring the era to life. In addition, Temptations member, Otis Williams, supplies a personal reminiscence while historian, Herb Boyd, contextualises the music via a thoughtful essay. Another glorious instalment of a compilation series that has truly raised the bar for archival retrospectives.

(CW) 5/5


ARETHA FRANKLIN: Rare & Unreleased Recordings From The Golden Reign Of The Queen Of Soul (Label: Rhino)

Thursday, 25 October 2007 12:08 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

ARETHA FRANKLIN: Rare & Unreleased Recordings From The Golden Reign Of The Queen Of Soul

For a long time it was thought that a fire at a tape storage building in the late-'70s had destroyed any remaining unreleased Atlantic recordings by Aretha Franklin. That was certainly the reason cited for the conspicuous dearth of previously unissued songs on the 4-CD box set, 'Queen Of Soul,' back in 1992. Thankfully, though, a recent rummage in the Atlantic vaults by dedicated soul detective, Patrick Milligan, proved that this accepted wisdom was built on conjecture rather than fact - it turns out that there was a plethora of forgotten and long lost studio outtakes waiting to be discovered in the Atlantic tape archives. This fantastic 2-CD compilation masterminded by veteran producer, Jerry Wexler, features 35 rare Aretha tracks, 32 of which have never seen the light of day before. For Aretha aficionados and avid fans of classic soul music, it really is an amazing treasure trove of lost soul gems that will send shivers down the spine. The music spans the fertile period 1966-1973, when Aretha was arguably at her peak and enjoying what Wexler describes in his absorbing liner note commentary as her 'golden reign.' The collection kicks off with three demos from 1966 including versions of 'I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)' and 'Dr. Feelgood,' which would later become big hits and help catapult Aretha to superstar status. These are followed by a clutch of high quality studio outtakes from her late '60s LPs. The most ear-catching of these is 'Mr. Big' (co-penned by Re's sister, Carolyn), a tremendously earthy version of Holland-Dozier-Holland's 'You Keep Me Hangin' On,' and the plaintive organ-drenched ballad, 'I'm Trying To Overcome,' featuring the Sweet Inspirations. There's also a rare 45 flipside: a lovely version of the Van McCoy tune, 'Lean On Me.' Disc 2 opens with an alternate, horn-less, mix of the funky 'Rock Steady' from 1970, followed by eight left over cuts from the Quincy Jones-helmed 1973 LP, 'Hey Now Hey (The Other Side Of The Sky).' They're all strong tunes but Aretha's mid-tempo rendition of the Gene McDaniels' song, 'Tree Of Life,' is absolutely sensational (and very reminiscent of her version of 'Bridge Over Troubled Water'). Also noteworthy is 'Ain't But The One,' a rousing, high-octane duet with Ray Charles recorded for a Duke Ellington TV special in 1973 that climaxes with a stomping, gospel-soaked finale. In fact, there's so much scintillating stuff on this collection, that it's difficult to do justice to it here. This is undoubtedly one of the year's best archival soul packages and re-affirms why Aretha was crowned the Queen of Soul. Stunningly magisterial.

(CW) 5/5


ROZETTA JOHNSON: Personal Woman: The Legendary Clintone Sessions 1970-1975 (Label: Soulscape)

Saturday, 20 October 2007 08:29 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

ROZETTA JOHNSON: Personal Woman: The Legendary Clintone Sessions 1970-1975

Hailing from Tuscaloosa - the small Alabama town where the great jazz/blues diva, Dinah Washington was born - Rozetta Johnson must have thought Dame Fortune was on her side when her debut 45, 'A Woman's Way' snuck into the Billboard R&B Top 40 in December 1970. Co-helmed by budding R&B tunesmith Sam Dees, the record - a striking, plaintive mid-tempo ballad - was issued on producer Clinton Moon's Clintone label, then distributed by mighty Atlantic Records. Johnson followed up her debut chart entry with an even stronger Dees-penned song, 'Who Are You Gonna Love (Your Woman Or Your Wife),' a spouse's heartfelt plea to her cheating husband. One of several outstanding tracks on this new 16-track compilation, 'Who Are Gonna Loveā€¦' for all its musical merits failed to crack the R&B Top 40 on its release and sadly, all subsequent 45s that Johnson cut for the label in the next few years sank without trace. A cult favourite in the eyes of the UK soul cognoscenti for some time, this gospel-reared singer finally has her small body of work anthologised on CD. It's a fantastic collection, comprising all of the singer's Clintone 45s and their flipsides. There are also two previously unissued cuts, 'For That Man Of Mine' and 'Mama Was A Bad Seed.' The material and Johnson's performances are consistently strong, with her original version of '(I Like Making That) Early Morning Love' - later covered by Gwen McCrae - catching the ear along with uptempo workouts like 'I Can Feel My Love Comin' Down' and the disco-tinged 'You Better Keep What You Got' (recently available as a 45 on Shotgun). This compelling cache of '70s Southern soul is undoubtedly one of the year's best soul compilations. Miss it and weep.

(CW) 4/5


ANN NESBY: This Is Love (Label: Shanachie)

Friday, 19 October 2007 08:17 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

ANN NESBY: This Is Love

The ever-dependable Ann Nesby is a real soul heroine. However, most agree that since the milestone Perspective album 'I'm Here For You', the lady's not quite fully delivered again. Yes we've had odd tracks ('Put In On Paper' for instance) and uplifting gospel dance workouts, but now, I can happily report, she's back to her very best. Put simply, 'This Is Love' is stuffed with quality modern soul music and there's truly something for everybody. For modern room people there's the year's best cut - 'I Can't Explain'. It's one of those rare outings where everything's right. For those who prefer the steppers beats, there's the predictably named 'Step', while if you want high-energy dance there's the supercharged 'It's So Easy Lovin'. Then, of course, there are the ballads where that special voice really does cut loose. 'I Apologise' is as good as anything Aretha recorded at her peak; 'Special Occasion' has a real jazzy atmosphere to it; while on the closer 'See U Cry' there's an almost country feel. Here's the 2007 album to prove to the doubters that REAL soul is still being made while for a 2007 peak you won't beat 'I Can't Explain It'.
(BB) 5/5


JILL SCOTT: The Real Thing, Words and Sounds Volume 3 (Label: Hidden Beach)

Friday, 19 October 2007 08:16 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

JILL SCOTT: The Real Thing, Words and Sounds Volume 3

It's been seven years since this honey-throated Philadelphia songstress emerged with her much-lauded debut platter, 2000's 'Who Is Jill Scott?' Initially, some observers perceived Scott as little more than a sound-alike acolyte of Erykah Badu, who pioneered jazz-infused neo-soul in the late-'90s. It soon became apparent, though, that Scott boasted a much bigger talent than Badu's - not only in terms of her voice, which is richer and more sonorous, but also both the melodic and lyrical content of her music. Discounting the live album 'Experience Jill Scott 826+' and last year's disappointing stop-gap compilation, 'Collaborations,' this is only the chanteuse's third album proper. On first listen, it's not as adventurous as 2004's 'Beautifully Human' - and indeed, there's nothing quite as stunningly infectious as the killer cut from that album, 'Golden' - but with repeated listens, 'The Real Thing' reveals it has plenty of noteworthy moments. The best of these is the sumptuous slow ballad, 'Whenever You're Around' featuring a keyboard solo from jazz-fusion doyen, George Duke. Other highlights include a couple of slow-jams 'Insomnia,' and 'Come See Me' plus the sprightlier 'Crown Royal,' though the latter track is disappointingly brief. There's no doubting that there are moments of great sonic beauty here but it doesn't disguise the album's one fatal flaw: tempo-wise, the music sounds stuck in second gear much of the time, with ponderous, mid-tempo ballads predominating. This helps create a relaxed, sensuous ambience, of course, but also verges on being soporific at times - a tad more variety would have made for an even better album. All in all, though, a strong and appealing set.
(CW) 4/5


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