Wonderful! Just wonderful! Those simple words came into my head after listening to the first disc in this CD package, another in the super anthology series. Culling tracks from her four album tenure ( “Jean Carn”, “Happy To Be With You”, “When I Find You Love”, “Sweet And Wonderful”) at Philadelphia International Records, SoulMusicRecords’ David Nathan has selected some absolute gems, particularly for the first CD.  With her five octave vocal range, the Georgia-born singer’s career began when she met and married Doug Carn while studying at the Julliard School of Music in New York.  Relocating to Los Angeles, Jean recorded at least three albums with her husband and worked with Earth, Wind And Fire, before hooking a deal with Gamble and Huff’s Philly operation.

Her debut eponymous album in 1976 merged the finest seventies’ jazz and soul music with Instant Funk and MFSB providing support music and voices. The lazy, yet chugging rhythm on “Free Love” kicks off this package; enthusiastically full of Philly magic, while the next, “No Laughing Matter” instantly catches, before moving to a lower level only to rise again, completely rounding off this compulsive track. Her dancers are here, like “Was That All It Was” and “What’s On Your Mind”, the latter making its debut on CD. Then the relaxed ballad “When I Find You Love” breaks up the mood; so stylish with the sympathetic orchestra adding to the beauty of the song, it shows Jean’s innate ability to successfully tackle any tempo with confidence. Dipping into Motown’s catalogue, she performs a crisper vocalled “Love Makes Me Do Foolish Things”, following Martha Reeves’ lead by giving the song that essential raw edge, resulting in a real sixties’ feel and mood. And then the gem of gems, the totally outstanding “If You Should Know Me By Now” with the instantly recognizable Temptations on support vocals.  Total class!

From Philadelphia International  Jean had switched to Motown to record the solitary “Trust Me” album which included the before mentioned title, released as a single.  The album struggled, but the single garnered huge R&B sales. A scheduled follow-up album was canned; more’s the pity.  “If You Wanna Go Back” holds a compelling chorus and rousing feel, while “Happy To Be With You”, a little J5 to start off with, strides into a bop, until the song takes off with a regular beat.  Of the duets, there’s “Sweet And Wonderful” with Glenn Jones, and a trio of Norman Connors’ titles featuring Jean; one duetting with Michael Henderson.  She’s a featured vocalist on Al Johnson’s “I’m Back For More”; on a couple from Grover Washington Jr, including the coolest of cool versions of “The Look Of Love”. Jean further adds her voice to Roy Ayers, Dexter Wansel, and Universe titles.  As the promotional note says – this anthology is a remarkable testament to the timeless artistry of this soulful supernova.  I’ll say no more.
Rating: 9

Three albums across two CDs is what you call real value for money from a group best known for their dance tracks during the eighties. With these releases, they lay the foundation of what was to come and it’s easy to see how The Whispers grew to oak trees from these acorns. Released in 1976, “One For The Money” was their debut on Don Cornelius’s Soul Train Records. Taking a leaf from the growing Philadelphia Sound’s songbook, with the sweeping sumptuous strings and tight vocals, the group didn’t quite make it because the material let them down. “Sounds Like A Love Song”, for instance, a beautiful ballad is grossly hampered by the non-impacting chorus lines. David Gates’ “Make It With You” from the “Open Up Your Love” album left me squirming, while “I’m Gonna Make You My Wife” (featured in “Waiting To Exhale”) left me begging for more. Released in 1977, this album was their last for Soul Train.“Headlights”, a year later, on Solar Records rounds off this trio of albums. “Disco Melody” is so-so, at a steady pace, but largely nondescript. An exchange of comments open the album’s title (also the first track), to introduce a get-down funk, sprightly horn section with a mid tempo groove. Then there’s the slowie, “(Olivia) Lost And Turned Out”, lamenting a young lady’s life on the streets, but by staying on an even level, the full meaning of the song is lost. However, was there a surprise waiting? You bet. “The Planets Of Life” suddenly did pump life into disc two. Against a pulsating rhythm, with bags of atmosphere, this really touched the spot, and was a re-recording of their first official album on Dore. Loosely speaking, The Whispers were formed during 1963 in Watts, California by twin brothers Wallace and Walter Scott. After being invited to San Francisco by Sly Stone, they eventually relocated there, building up a solid fan base via their live performances. Global success, however, was on the horizon when, during the eighties, “And The Beat Goes On” launched them into a different league altogether, proving their professional relationship with Solar really did the trick. The hits just kept on comin’. Rating: 6

Well, this is a turn up. I just remember the group’s “2nd Time Around” album in 1970, capitalising on the single “It’s A Shame” penned by Stevie Wonder, Syreeta and Lee Garrett, which was a UK top twenty hit. However, alongside “2nd Time Around”, there’s thirteen bonus tracks including ten unissued items spanning 1967 to 1970. Containing most of the group’s singles, with the exception of “Message From A Blackman” and their second hit “We’ll Have It Made”; the first a powerful, thoughtful song, and the second, a commercially slanted item directed at the mainstream market. Although the guys were regular visitors to the recording studio, resulting in over one hundred songs being logged, their released output was twenty-six tracks, covering two albums and a rack of singles. Not only were they competing in the market place but also in-house with other acts, who, it was felt, were more viable money makers. This state of frustration eventually led to them switching companies to Atlantic Records, where, with a name change, they received the accolade they’d worked for and deserved.

Anyway, spread across this release is a mouth watering list of writers and producers – Edwin Starr, Smokey Robinson, Johnny Bristol, among them – with the outcome being a super collection of solid, tip top tracks. Moving from The Five Stairsteps’ “O-o-h Baby” which is divine, there’s “Together We Can Make Such Sweet Music”, also recorded by The Supremes, and a highly credible, stylish “My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me)”, with which David Ruffin scored an international hit. I’m thinking, maybe this album wouldn’t have attracted re-issue status by itself, so the bonus tracks are such a massive buying magnet. Please don’t overlook “Satisfaction Guaranteed”, “Gonna Keep On Tryin’ Till I Win Your Love” or “When It Starts To Rain It Pours”. Magic! Personally speaking, The Spinners really deserved more support while at Motown; their combined talent equalled that of other male groups, so where did it all go wrong? Thankfully, Stevie took up the challenge and elevated them to the position they deserved. Incidentally, the CD’s title “While The City Sleeps” was recorded in 1965 on the West Coast, while the album is G.C.Cameron’s last as a Spinner, and by the time Philippe Wynne replaced him, they were signed to Atlantic. An excellent release and goes a long way to reminding us that success is possible the second time around. No pun intended. Rating: 9

This lady tries to live up to the CD’s title on some of the tracks here, her first solo album released in 1977, but all too often, sells herself short. Cutting her teeth with the seventies’ soul/funk groups Love Craft and High Voltage, Lalomie was also a support vocalist for Ike & Tina Turner, Chaka Khan and Ray Charles, among others. She also worked with composers for Aretha Franklin and The Brothers Johnson. So, huge pedigree here for the Memphis-born singer who, I guess, ranks as one of the industry’s unsung names. At least she was to me but, thankfully, with this re-issue that’s been corrected. With all the tracks on her first album included here, together with flipsides and – as appears to be the norm these days – alternate mixes of her early releases, this presents a well-rounded collection of material highlighted by her often deep, rich vocals delivered from the heart. “Give Me Love With The Music” opens the CD, with luscious harmonising vocals and rising chords, leading the way for a quartet of singles – “Double Funkin’”, a loose brassy, jazzy beat which, according to the CD booklet, is a celebration of sexuality without shame; the mid-paced “My Love Is Hot” chugging across the beat with a repetitive chorus; the dancer “Man Power (Can You Do It)” leaning towards tender funk on a conveyor belt; “Two Sides”, a surprising addition by comparison, as it’s a take on The Carpenters’ original version. Not to be dismissed because Lalomie’s take is ultra cool and smooth in delivery. A non-album single that’s included here in both mono and stereo form. From the CD’s pictures, Lalomie looked to be one feisty lady who strutted along the fast lane, with her heart on her sleeve, but that’s sadly not reflected here. However, if this was the taster for her future career, her next releases surely gave her more latitude and freedom to express a sassy, funky side, as I suspect she took no prisoners! Rating: 6

Another in this top selling series, this re-issue is drawn from the singer’s two Columbia albums and his 2001 Arista release, clocking up a 2 CD-package holding a massive thirty tracks. While presenting his own style, which is easy and welcoming, the Washington DC-born Kenny pulls influence from the likes of Marvin Gaye, adding the polished touch we’ve come to expect from singers raised on soul music. His debut eponymous album in 1996 spawned a pair of top twenty singles: the mellow “Never Too Busy” and the Grammy-nominated ballad “For You”. So successful was this release, thanks to the singles, that sales tipped gold status. Also here are two commercially-slanted duets with Chante Moore – “Figure It Out” and “Tonight (2 Step)” – the latter earning them a place in the lucrative gospel market. Kenny’s professional career started during the eighties in the group Maniquin where he took lead vocals on their self-titled album on Epic Records.

Relocating to New York, he signed with Columbia where his solo career kicked off with the before mentioned “For You”. His next classically styled soul project, “From The Soul Of Man” in 1998 gave birth to a couple of hit singles, “Days Like This” and “If I Lose My Woman”, further cementing his presence as a money making artist. Although Kenny easily slips into the soul ballad singer box, and that’s no mean tag to have, he brings with him an often cautious approach to his music, although never stilted, cultivating a seamless move from soul/R&B ballad to uptempo. with a full-blooded, gloriously encompassing musical backdrop. His warm, emotive voice mixes resilience and vulnerability and probably sums up his ability to inject believability into the lyrics. And that’s what makes him stand out from the rest! Rating: 9

Listening to this reminded me of sitting in front of the fire, wearing a pair of worn out slippers and sipping a mug of hot chocolate. Every thing about this country soul material here is relaxing, laid-back and non-fussy, and so easy to listen to. I’m reminded of Sam Cooke too but that’s hardly surprising as he was one of Willie’s musical influences. So the deal is, 77 year old Willie Hightower hooks up with 95 year old Memphis producer, Quinton Claunch in the legendary Memphis Shoals, Alabama, to record this album, and as the CD’s blurb so succinctly puts it – “it’s like turning back the hands of time to soul music’s heyday in the 1960s. Not only is this a completely new recording but there are real musicians playing real instruments with real songs.” From the opening track “I Found You”, the mood is set as we meander through unobtrusive melodies, full-padded music supporting Willie’s lifetime of stylish vocal expertise. Gravitating to “Rock Me Gently” because it’s a song I readily recognised, I stepped out to “Tired Of Losing You” and “Everybody Wants My Girl.” Hotly followed by “Raining all The Time” and “No Gettin’ Over Me”. The weather outside my window might be grey and miserable, but these few minutes spent in the company of Mr Hightower has undoubtedly lifted my spirits into a tension-free zone. These guys may be in their twilight years but the music has never sounded so satisfying. Rating: 9

Following the great response to the first release, this compilation is the last from Jack’s independent soul productions, covering 1967 into the mid-1970s. Of course, Mr Ashford is no stranger to us, being a vital member of The Funk Brothers with whom he laid down the defining Motown sound, and he’s a guy I had the pleasure to meet following a London performance by the group. Here we have a melting pot of tracks recorded under his Just Productions company where, on occasion you can hear strains of Motown, but, on the whole, it’s a much harder, funkier style throughout. Interestingly, Jack sings on a couple of tracks – the ballad “Let Me Take Care Of Your Heart” and a brassy “This Ain’t Just Another Dance Song” – and, while he preferred to let others take this role, his voice is warmly inviting. The Perfections take on The Temptations’ “Since I Lost My Baby”, while Softtouch, who recorded on Motown’s Prodigal label, are featured here with a snappy “Say That You Love Me Boy”. Check out a Northern Soul gem “There Can Be A Better Way” from The Sound Of New Detroit, or the sweeping ballad “How Long Has It Been Since You Had A Love Affair” courtesy of Cecil Norman Jr. There’s loads of goodies on offer here but just don’t take my word for it, hear them for yourself. Rating: 8

Actually, for a ‘live’ CD this isn’t bad and Gwen Dickey’s voice has a lot to do with that comment. My, that lady can sing: she soars and dips the scales, holding notes as she gets down with the music. Pure soulful magic! As you know, Norman Whitfield’s group, Rose Royce, was elevated into stardom with “Car Wash” in 1976, and in the wake of that film’s runaway success, the group could do little wrong. The movie’s title gave them their debut UK top ten hit, and during 1977, two further singles hit the listing big time – “I Wanna Get Next To You” and “Do Your Dance”. Their star was rising fast. However, the biggest selling titles were waiting around the corner, namely, “Wishing On A Star”, “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore” and “Is It Love You’re After”. All carrying the Rose Royce brand: strong hooklines, chunky melodies that either swept along in a ballad, or strutted in a funky mid-tempo tune. And, they’re all included here, recorded during one of the group’s 1993 performances, where the musicians are tight, full-blooded, with masses of natural on-stage interaction. Also, as with most live performances there’s a dose of audience participation. Here it takes place during an over-long “The Magic Touch”, where it’s often difficult to hear whether there’s an actual response. However, all in all, this is an above average ‘live’ set but, I’d have thought, only attractive to Rose Royce fans. Rating: 7

This appears to be a mish-mash of previous releases under this name, which themselves were a haphazard reflection of the career of one of the most volatile, exciting, hard-driving hybrid of soul and rock acts. And, of course, there was Tina, a ferocious whirlwind of energy, power and voice. This twenty-two song compilation skips all over the place with titles spanning albums released during their career as a professional couple. The monster hits are here – “”Proud Mary”, “Nutbush City Limits”, “River Deep, Mountain High”, and “I Want To Take You Higher” – but what is particularly outstanding, if you like, is their version of Stevie Wonder’s “Living For The City” which I’ve not heard previously. Making up for it now! Some of the tracks are sketchy, raw in the extreme, making listening a bit edgy which I found disconcerting. However, there’s no letting up of the pure electricity between Ike and Tina; the blending of voice with his distinctive guitar plucking, working in unison with the trill support vocals. “The Locomotion” is interesting; “Come Together” is exactly what it says on the tin, and “It’s Your Thing” grabs attention. To be honest, I’ve heard better and the fact that there’s little information in the CD packaging is frustrating. Rating: 5