Latest classic soul Reissue Reviews - September 2016

Latest classic soul Reissue Reviews – September 2016



My first introduction to this group was with the truly exciting soul masterpiece “Wear It On Our Face” in 1968, followed by “Stay In My Corner” and “I Can Sing A Rainbow – Love Is Blue” , a top 15 UK hit in 1969. Wonderful, priceless music with no sell by date. So imagine the thrill having this double header to listen to – “We Got To Get Our Thing Together” (1975) and “No Way Back” (1976); the first never available on CD before, with the second only previously available as a limited edition Japanese reissue. Opening with the laid back, mellow single, and CD’s title, its melody change is quite inspiring. “Strike Up The Band”, a fast paced take on the Gershwin composition, is more befitting the nightclub stage than my office, yet not unattractive. Thankfully, “Reminiscing” returns me to the Dells’ groove; the drifting melody is unpretentious as the singers join and part in song. Another single, “Love Is Missing From Our Lives” features The Dramatics, transforming the balled into more powerhouse performance, albeit on a gentle level. With its spoken introduction, “The Power Of Love” chugs along at an easy pace, and would have befitted The Temptations as well, while the closing track on the first album, “You Don’t Care” is beautifully performed in a lazy style.

Into the second disc, “West Virginia Symphony” lifts the groove into a dance high, and the pace appears to be set. “When Does The Lovin’ Start”, mildly funky against a driving beat, leads into The Dells being introduced on stage before “I’ll Make You My Girl” oozes into life; the group at its very best, for sure. Seven plus minutes of “Ain’t No Black And White In Music” with its hard hitting lyrics, drives home the political message of gross unfairness. By comparison, “No Way Back” is barely three minutes long yet it’s packed with a lush funk feel, while “You’re The Greatest” kicks up a steady dance pace. The deliciousness returns with “I’ll Try Again” leaving “Slow Motion” to close the set, again with its spoken word introduction, that leads into another typical group ballad, crammed with voices that caress the heart and soul. Ignore at your peril!
Rating 10


The internet has practically boiled over waiting for the release of this solo project from ex-Supreme Scherrie Payne. When the day was looming near, the first single “Remember Who You Are” was lifted. A laid back, comfortable ballad, delivered so easily in the lady’s creamy, rich voice. It almost wraps itself around you. However, it was a song she was reluctant to record but was persuaded in the end by her daughter. Wise move. Although a taster for the pending album, the song isn’t really representative of the music within. Covering a Diana Ross classic – who herself covered the Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell original, although nobody could pretend the songs were anywhere near the same – Scherrie bravely takes on “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, inspired by Diana’s musical interpretation. There’s more earthiness to Scherrie’s delivery, which of course is damned near perfect, while the song slowly drifts along, gradually building until it explodes with a plethora of voices. “Hope” has to be one of my favourites with its essential soul searching and gospel feel; heartfelt and sincere. By the way, this was intended as the follow-up single to “One Night Only” and recorded at the same session. On the other hand, Scherrie whips up some sharp funk with “Crumbs Off The Table”, transferring The Glass House version on to another musical high. Whether she’s singing the disco slanted “I’m Not In Love” and “Chasing Me Into Somebody Else’s Arms”, or an a capella version of the single which is the opening track, Scherrie is fearless in her approach. It’s taken awhile but the album is finally in our hands. I take my hat off to Rick Gianatos and Ian Levine for their production skills, to the ladies whose voices support Scherrie so sympathetically, and to the lady herself. She may be slight of height but her voice is as big as her huge heart. And she treats recording as she does life by grabbing the moment!
Rating: 10


For the first time, these are the surviving 1964-1967 King recordings in their entirety by one of R&B’s most endearing artists, Hank Ballard. This release focuses on a period where he fell under the musical radar, when soul music replaced raw R&B, and funk was being born, a revolution spearheaded by his King label mate, James Brown. And while the music scene was changing, Hank didn’t, finding it increasingly hard to get his music heard in the mainstream market place, yet the high standard of his recordings never wavered. A state of affairs that befell several artists of his ilk, and some, unfortunately, never recovered and moved into daily jobs to earn a living. This is a musical sweet shop of differing sounds, most of which have never been reissued previously, and although it’s now easy to hear why Hank fell from favour in the musical changeover, it kinda ridicules the feeling that there’s room for all out there. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Anyway, Hank and The Midnighters disbanded in 1965 as groups like The Temptations made their huge presence felt in the commercial market, enabling Hank to embark upon a solo career in an attempt to carve a place for himself. It didn’t go to plan. However, during the mid-eighties he reformed the group to play the club circuit across the world, until he died in 2003. While hit records didn’t come his way, this compilation shows he could easily have joined the A-team had the circumstances been different.
Rating: 7


Considered to be one of the greatest composers of his generation, Mr Penn enjoys a second release of tracks excavated from the Fame Records’ vaults. His early years at Fame where he cut his musical teeth during the mid-sixties, was a period of the faceless and nameless, from songwriters, producers, session musicians and, often, the singers themselves. Dan, originally lead vocalist for the Mark V, Nomads and Pallbearers, now takes the solo stage, visiting R&B in its purest form, Southern Soul, across to the Motown backbeat and uptown New York. “I liked Stax…I liked the records that were coming out of Memphis…They were a big hunk of our soul supply, along with Motown and all of New Orleans” so said the man himself. Plus, he believed black singers to be the best (song) interpreters because they didn’t, among other things, sacrifice a song to suit themselves. Wilson Pickett, Percy Sledge, Clarence Carter, and so on, are prime examples. So, here’s history in the making from a man behind the scenes who was responsible for some great material which we were able to enjoy from others voices. Get stuck in!
Rating: 7


This was such a significant release for Dusty in 1990 because it was the long awaited ‘comeback’ album, following the top two hit “What Have I Done To Deserve This?”, her collaboration with the Pet Shop Boys. This surprise uniting of musical giants was unpredicted, yet a glorious combination that injected a huge renewal in the lady’s then stagnant career (except of course, for the constant plundering of her magical back catalogue) and, of course, elevated the Pets into a different stratosphere, working with a British soul icon. In her inimitable fashion Dusty was quick to praise the duo for believing in her, and presenting her with the vehicle to return to the business she loved so dearly, even with some reservations! From this near-chart topper, Dusty returned with “Nothing Has Been Proved”, the musical tale of the Profumo Affair which rocked the British government during the sixties, followed by “In Private” written solely for her, for inclusion in the “Scandal” movie. In the end it was dropped but “Nothing Has Been Proved” remained. Both songs were personally interpreted by the singer, drifting from suggestion to power, teasing to directness, while all the time, the underlying soulful delivery could be detected. Two further hits of varying degrees followed – “Reputation”, with its dramatic introduction, leading into a heavy, meaty track with Dusty’s voice strong and true, totally in command of the busy musical backdrop. And “Arrested By You”, which is as smooth and silky as you can get, with a strong melody guiding her soft voice as she weaves and drifts through the lyrics. Dan Hartman’s “Time Waits For No One” skips along while “Born This Way” offers some Springfield rappin’ against a semi-funk support that hits the spot. Much in the same vein as “Arrested By You”, “Daydreaming” glides along, again with some soft rapping, resulting in a beautifully constructed song that conjures up pictures of mist covered fields. On the other hand, her take on Goffin/King’s “I Want To Stay Here” lends nothing to the Eydie Gorme version but rather is taken at a skipping pace and, well, Dusty-ised. This rather special 3-disc package contains various 12” versions, remixes and B-sides, plus five promotional videos – a positive ‘wow’ for Dusty fans of course, and also a wonderful introduction to those who may not have caught up with her yet. We’ll never forget this lady’s huge contribution to soul music, not only with her voice, but, among other things, standing up against apartheid in South Africa and subsequently being booted out of the country for her beliefs, and for her persuasive ways in ensuring our beloved Motown artists hit the small screen in 1965. Will say no more.
Rating: 10





Motown Spotlight - Soul Music's regular feature - August 2016

Motown Spotlight – Soul Music’s regular feature – August 2016

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As I was thinking about this month’s Motown musings, news arrived of an exciting – let’s not be coy here, it’s a wonderfully incredible – release courtesy of Kent Records at the end of September. “The Rita Wright Years 1967 – 1970”, a fourteen track compilation, some of which were previously recorded, with the remainder taken from a pair of recently found tapes which she recorded during 1970 in Los Angeles. No, I haven’t heard it yet, but the sheer historical value of this pending release is staggering because, for one thing, it will fill in blank spaces in Syreeta’s early career. Among the unissued material like “Love’s Gone Bad”, “I Want To Go Back There Again”, “Can’t Stop”, “You” and “Save The Country”, there’s the version of “Love Child” which has been kicking around on YouTube for ages now.

During our many conversations, Syreeta told me her version was never seriously considered for single release, and this was also backed up a few years ago by one-time UK Motown product manager, Gordon Frewin, despite the singer’s fans begging to purchase it. Syreeta recorded many demo songs for Motown’s A-list acts and “Love Child” was one of them, providing as she did guide vocals for lead singers. That’s the real purpose behind demo versions, apart from there (then) being a Union requirement that an artist has to be at the microphone when a band track was laid down. Syreeta, who died too soon in July 2004 after a battle against cancer was a loyal Motown artist, enjoyed her life with the company and the artists, and never once spoke out against either. She once told me “I learned all the way up and now have experience in a little bit of the business side because I used to sit in on Mr Gordy’s meetings sometimes and learned how to manoeuvre things.” It was only when Motown was sold that she was told she didn’t fit into the company’s new image. “..I fought for my own identity and freedom for a number of years so I don’t want to be anywhere where they’re going to put me in clothes that are slit from my toes up to my neck, and where I’m not wearing underclothes because it’s fashionable. That’s not me”. Oh lor, this planned short mention has gone on a bit, so my apologies to those who’ve nodded off.

You’ll never guess what I’m playing while I tap away at the keyboard. “Big Motown Hits & Hard-To-Find Classics Vol 2” but check this out. It’s on cassette!! Yup, and, apart from the occasional click, plays like it did in 1986. No sleeve notes of course, but track listing is pretty wonderful with Brenda Holloway’s “When I’m Gone” kicking off. Eddie Holland’s “Jamie”, The Supremes/Four Tops’ “River Deep, Mountain High”, Undisputed Truth’s “Smiling Faces Sometimes”, Tammi Terrell’s “I Can’t Believe You Love Me” and R Dean Taylor’s “Indiana Wants Me” following on side one. Get up, walked to the player and turn cassette over. First track is Shorty Long’s “Function At The Junction”, with The Velvelettes’ “He Was Really Sayin’ Something”, Isley Brothers’ “I Guess I’ll Always Love You”, Charlene’s “I’ve Never Been To Me”, Rare Earth’s “Born To Wander” following. Leaving Billy Preston/Syreeta’s “With You I’m Born Again” as the closing track. Enjoying every second!

News has also reached me that legendary Motown press man, Al Abrams will be inducted posthumously into the 4th annual Rhythm & Blues Music Hall Of Fame. The ceremony took place on 21 August at the Ford Performing Arts Theatre, Dearborn, Michigan. (I must have driven pass this when in Detroit a couple of years ago without realising it – doh!). You may not know, but also this year Al was the recipient of a Detroit Music Award for his special achievement within the music industry, and inducted into the Ohio Senior Citizen Hall Of Fame as a transplanted Michigan Wolverine for his international contribution to music. It goes without saying, of course, that for Al to be inducted into this year’s Rhythm & Blues Hall Of Fame is an honour indeed when bearing in mind other notables included Smokey Robinson, Prince, Dionne Warwick, The Supremes and the like. He would have been really chuffed and humbled for sure, and so very sad he couldn’t receive it in person. Al’s widow Nancy accepted the award on his behalf. Bet she was beside herself too during what could only have been an extremely emotional ceremony.

Talking of Smokey, he’s branched out again, following his food range marketed by SPGL Foods Inc, back in 2006 or thereabouts. With the logo “the soul is in the bowl”, the dishes were inspired by the food he discovered while on the road. Apparently, food is one of Smokey’s life passions, and was never far from his mind as he sought out the famous and the lesser-known chefs throughout America. Subsequently, each of the four dishes that went on sale had its own special story. So, marketed under the banner “Smokey Robinson Food”, he offered Down Home Pot Roast, Seafood Gumbo, Chicken & Chicken Sausage, and Smokey’s Red Beans & Rice. How successful this venture was I don’t know, but they’re no longer available. Anyway, I’ve digressed because this new venture, where advertising proclaims he is the personification of the mantra “black don’t crack” (a phrase, by the way, Martha Reeves imparted to me years ago and I’ve always remembered it), has been launched Skinphonic, a company born when Smokey and his wife Frances were disappointed in the quality of skincare products available. It appears they sought out the help of some of America’s top skincare formulators to find a solution, whereupon a team of interested parties took up the challenge and after over two years of research developed a product the couple tested and later approved. Maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle were instilled into him as a child, Smokey told journalists, which has led to him pursing his love of music by touring at the age of 76 years. “I used to run marathons” he told Nicole Evatt of The Associated Press. “Do things that I thought were going to be beneficial for me at this time in my life. When I got to this point in my life I didn’t realise how beneficial it was going to be because I feel great.” As well as practising yoga for 35 years plus, Smokey has also been a vegetarian for longer. “I’m only going to get this one body so I want to be healthy as long as possible.”

Touring these days is, of course, hectic, tiring and often draining, physically and mentally. It also includes lots of rest, he further explained to Nicole Evatt. “Someone will be like ‘OK Smokey, where’s the party?’ I just had a party for two-and-a-half hours. I was onstage, that was the party for me.” Once off stage, he invariably headed for his hotel room, to watch television until he fell asleep. No partying for this guy! Anyway, Mr and Mrs Robinson have launched two products: the twice daily cleanser “My Girl” at nearly $30 for the ladies, and “Get Ready – Cause Here I Come” for the gents. This comprises the twice daily cleanser, AM Hydration and PM Treatment Complex (whatever that means) at around $90. I can’t actually believe I’m writing this but, hey ho, that’s Smokey for you! Back to the music…

It can’t have escaped your notice that there’s another Motown-related law suit simmering away that involves Ed Sheeran, echoing the recent one where Marvin Gaye’s estate successfully sued Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams over their “Blurred Lines” runaway hit. It was alleged the song borrowed some of Marvin’s “Got To Give It Up” (and other influences from Funkadelic’s “Sexy Ways”) although the couple insisted they didn’t deliberately infringe any of the material. In a lot of cases where this happens, the cases are either settled out of court or dropped entirely, with no case to answer. However, this time Marvin’s estate wouldn’t back down, and once a Californian judge decreed he found the songs similar enough, the trial got underway. It’s interesting to know that as Marvin’s estate doesn’t own his music rights, only that of the sheet music, the jury only heard a stripped-down version of the questionable piece, but it was obviously sufficient to pass judgement that a $7.4 million pay out was in order. In the court documents, Robin Thicke said Pharrell Williams had written almost every part of the song, and that, at the time, he (Robin) was high on alcohol and the pain killer Vicodin. And – here’s a thing – the single earned them $16.7 million, with $5.7 million to Thicke, $5.2 million to Pharrell, leaving $704,774 to other relevant companies. I don’t know whether they paid the amount the judge decreed, because I can find no reference to it across the internet.

Anyway, is this then what’s in store for our Mr Ed Sheeran who has been sued by the estate of Ed Townsend, co-writer of “Let’s Get It On” in a court action that indicates he lifted fundamental elements from the composition, in his “Thinking Out Loud” single. Part of the suit included: “The melodic, harmonic and rhythmic compositions of ‘Thinking’ are substantially and/or strikingly similar to the drum composition of ‘Let’s’. The Defendants copied the ‘heart’ of ‘Let’s’ and repeated it continuously throughout ‘Thinking’.” Ed Townsend’s family who filed the complaint in the Southern District of New York’s federal court, have requested the suit goes to trial. This will be the second time this year Ed Sheeran has been involved in a court action like this. Martin Harrington and Thomas Leonard sued him for $20 million claiming his song “Photograph” lifted major elements from their composition “Amazing”, recorded and released by Matt Cardle. Oh dear, all I can say is – watch this space.

And finally, I’m ending on a very sad note because quite out of the blue I received an email from my pal Larry Kimpel, GVR Records boss, which began – “I regret to be the bearer of bad news, but I have just received word that our mutual friend and colleague, Jimmy Levine has passed on. He apparently had been secretly battling pancreatic cancer.” To say I was devastated was an understatement. I shall so miss the dear, sweet, lovely man, with a heart of gold and, who, among other things, introduced me to Anna Gordy. Next month, I’d like to add my comments to his memory. Meantime, Jimmy, have a safe journey into your next life. And on behalf of David, Michael and myself, our heartfelt condolences go to Jimmy’s family, friends and fans across the world. He was quite a guy!