Being a voracious collector of Soul and Funk music on CD for over 20 years now, I'd initially resisted buying this series of themed compilations because glancing at the track lists, I realised that I'd at least 60 to 70% of the songs on each CD already - so why buy them again? Well - this is Bear Family to start with - uncompromising in their quest for quality presented in the very best way. But the truth is simpler - you buy just one of these peaches and you're screwed - they're so good, you'll need the lot!
Compilations like this live or die based on a few ingredients - great track choices, properly remastered sound and all of it wrapped up in knowledgeable and (sometimes) sumptuous presentation. Well "Sweet Soul Music" wins on all counts - it really does.
Released September 2009 in Germany, "Sweet Soul Music - 24 Scorching Classics From 1970" is on Bear Family BCD 16975 AS and is part of a 10-volume series stretching from 1961 to 1970. Each US-based yearly compilation comes in a 3-way foldout card digipak sleeve. The left flap pictures a 7" single in its label bag relevant to the year, the centre flap holds a 60 to 80 page oversized booklet that slips out so you can read it separately and the right flap a colour-themed CD that matches the outer packaging. As with the 31 titles in their award-winning "Blowin' The Fuse" CDs from 1945 to 1960, each spine in the "Sweet Soul Music" series also makes up a whole photo when placed alongside each other (a live shot of Otis Redding leaning into an audience to make a handshake). This 1970 issue has 76 pages in its booklet, pictures the Chairman Of The Board on the front sleeve with Ann Peebles inside and runs to a whopping 82:38 minutes.
It's not surprising, given the turmoil in American cities and the horror of the Vietnam War lingering behind everything, that Edwin Starr's "War" is the single which graces the flap of 1970. But therein lies a point... When Track 12 comes up - the equally amazing "Ball Of Confusion" by The Temptations (whose lyrics are still scarily relevant), a lazier compiler would have followed it with the obvious "War" - but not Dave "Daddy Cool" Booth. Instead he gives you the lesser known but still apt Paul Kelly track about dodgy preachers called "Stealing In The Name Of the Lord" - and it absolutely 'so' works. A stunningly remastered "Get Up (I Feel Like Being A Sex Machine)" then follows that - and then you finally get "War" blasting its way out of your speakers with a ferocity that hasn't diminished in four decades (with regard to the "Stealin'..." track - it was covered to great effect on David Clayton-Thomas's 1972 self-titled debut LP - he was the lead singer with Blood, Sweat & Tears - see separate review).
Why hanker on about track placing and choices? Because as a long-time maker of CD compilations, I know there's a real art to it. Whoever made these sets took their time with them - working out what would follow what. They actually played these things through - mixed the famous with the obscure in a new order - and the result is a truly satisfying listen rather than a patchy one. Also, because of the extended playing time, there's usually only a one second space between each track, so it feels like you're listening to a jukebox of the time - or a good DJ cueing up song after song - seamlessly segueing one cool tune after another. And even the way-too-familiar tracks on here like Freda Payne's "Band Of Gold" and Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed & Delivered" (brill as they are) - even they're sorted out by the next big plus...
Bear Family have gotten all the ORIGINAL master tapes from each record company (good Stereo preferred over Mono) and their resident expert JURGEN CRASSER has mastered them with care - the sound is GLORIOUS. I often found that Rhino sets (good as they were) trebled up everything - here it's a much warmer feel and the clarity is fab. Yes - there is hiss on some tracks, but the one-two sucker punches of "Love Bones" by Johnnie Taylor and "Rainy Night in Georgia" by Brook Benton that open the disc - knock you out for sound quality - and it stays that way throughout. The socially conscious funk of Sly Stone's "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again)" then sits sweetly alongside the mellow girl-boy soul of The Spinners "It's A Shame". The beautiful ache of Luther Ingram's "Ain't That Lovin' You" is soul music at its moving gorgeous best. And so on...
The booklet is to die for. The text for the songs begins on Page 4 and ends on Page 72, so there's very little wasted space. Each artist is pictured, the 7" single beside it and even the album it came off (most of it in colour). The titles are done like a paper nametag inside a jukebox complete with catalogue number beneath - a nice touch. Noted writer and soul lover BILL DAHL handles the liner notes (with contributions from good names like Colin Escott and Martin Koppel) and because the booklet allows him to spread out on each song, the details come thick and fast - it's a fabulously entertaining and informative read. Droolsome...
To sum up - I know as imports, they're expensive, but I think once long-time collectors actually get their hands on even one - they'll be hooked. For the casual buyer just looking for a great one-stop account of Soul Music for a given year - this is the place to start.
Bear Family does it again folks. Fabulous stuff - and wholeheartedly recommended.
Track List for 1970
(Label & Catalogue Number For The US 7" Single Follow The Title)
1. Love Bones - JOHNNIE TAYLOR (Stax STA-0055)
2. Rainy Night In Georgia - BROOK BENTON (Cotillion 44057)
3. Gotta Hold On To This Feeling - JR. WALKER & THE ALL STARS (Soul S-35070)
4. Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin) - SLY & THE FAMILY STONE (Epic 5-10555)
5. Give Me Just A Little More Time - CHAIRMEN OF THE BOARD (Invictus IS-9074)
6. Didn't I (Blow Your Mind This Time) - THE DELFONICS (Philly Groove 161)
7. Cryin' In The Streets Part 1 - GEORGE PERKINS & THE SILVER STARS (Golden 110)
[Re-issued on Silver Fox SF 18]
8. Turn Back The Hands Of Time - TYRONE DAVIS (Dakar 616)
9. You're The One - Part 1 - LITTLE SISTER (Stone Flower S-9000)
10. Love On A Two-Way Street - THE MOMENTS (Stang ST-5012)
11. Band Of Gold - FREDA PAYNE (Invictus IS-9075)
12. Ball Of Confusion (That's What The World Is Today) - THE TEMPTATIONS (Gordy G-7099)
13. Stealing In The Name Of The Lord - PAUL KELLY (Happy Tiger HT-541)
14. Get Up (I Feel Like Being A Sex Machine) Part 1 - JAMES BROWN (King 6318)
15. War - EDWIN STARR (Gordy G 7101)
16. Ain't That Lovin' You (For More Reasons Than One) - LUTHER INGRAM (Koko KDA-2105)
17. Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours - STEVIE WONDER (Tamla T 54196)
18. Express Yourself - CHARLES WRIGHT AND THE WATTS 103rd STREET RHYTHM BAND (Warner Bros. 7417)
19. Part Time Love - ANN PEEBLES (Hi 2178)
20. It's A Shame - THE SPINNERS (V.I.P. Records V.I.P. 25057)
21. Love Uprising - OTIS LEAVILL (Dakar 620)
[Written by Eugene Record of The Chi-Lites, later covered by Jackie Wilson on Brunswick]
22. Somebody's Been Sleeping - 100 PROOF AGED IN SOUL (Hot Wax HS 7004)
23. Groove Me - KING FLOYD (Chimneyville CH-435)
24. The Tears Of A Clown - SMOKEY ROBINSON & THE MIRACLES (Tamla T 54199)