Compilations like this live or die based on a few key ingredients - great track choices, properly remastered sound and all of it wrapped up in knowledgeable and (if you're lucky) sumptuous presentation. Well "Sweet Soul Music" wins on all counts - it really does. The entire series is gorgeous to look at and especially to listen to.
Released September 2009 in Germany, "Sweet Soul Music - 29 Scorching Classics From 1966" is on Bear Family BCD 16971 AS and is part of a 10-volume series stretching from 1961 to 1970 (I've reviewed 1967, 1968, 1969 and 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 (1966 has "Knock On Wood" by Eddie Floyd), the centre flap holds a 60 to 90 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 16 titles in Bear Family’s award-winning "Blowing 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 a singer leaning into an audience to make a handshake - I think it's Otis Redding). This 1966 issue has 88 pages in its booklet (yes 88!), The Supremes pictured on the front sleeve with the Stax Soulsville U.S.A. Studios on the inside flap and it runs to a generous 79:08 minutes.
I raved about Dave "Daddy Cool" Booth's sequencing on the other editions - it's the same here – and possibly even better. Proceedings open with the oddly joyous sound of Marvin Gaye having his suspicions on “Ain’t That Peculiar” (Motown at its best) followed by Joe Tex quickly assuring us that Marvin and all stroppy men out there need to stop messing around and hold on to “…A Sweet Woman…”. Although not strictly Soul, the slinky blues shuffle of Slim Harpo’s “Baby Scratch My Back” is followed perfectly by Edwin Starr’s uptempo "S.O.S." song. Genius inclusions are the intense pleading of James Carr on “You’ve Got My Mind Messed Up” (real soul that’s thrilling to this day), the slightly sinister yet so enjoyable “Neighbor, Neighbor” by Jimmy Hughes and the rarely heard but lovely uptown vibe to Darrell Banks’ “Open The Door To Your Heart”. There’s also the rare and desirable Howard Tate track on Verve “Ain’t Nobody Home” which has a wicked organ break in it - and the drums and guitar on the lovely “I’m Gonna Miss You” by The Artistics are as clear as a bell too.
Booth took his time with this - actually playing the set through - mixing in the famous with the obscure but 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 "Uptight", “Hold On, I’m Comin’”, “When A Man Loves A Woman” and “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” are sorted out by the next big plus...the beautifully clear sound...
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. The clarity on the elegant Holland-Dozier-Holland song “Darling Baby” by The Elgins is fantastic, while “Cool Jerk” not only sounds huge on here, it’s the kind of party tune that never ceases to bring a smile to a face and an itch to the feet (lyric above). But the big one soundwise is two slow tracks - Lorraine Ellison’s “Stay” and Aaron Neville’s cover of the Allen Toussaint torch ballad “Tell It Like It Is”. Sounding absolutely incredible – and after so much relentlessly upbeat music, Ellison’s genuine vocal anguish on “Stay” comes both as a shock and a welcome change. Then there’s the clarity of all the instruments on “Tell It Like It Is” - surely the best it’s ever sounded.
Like all the other issues I’ve covered, the booklet is to die for. The text for the songs begins on Page 4 and ends on Page 83, so there's very little wasted space. Each artist is pictured using quality publicity shots, the 7" single is usually sat beside that - and even if it isn’t - the album it came off is – with most of it in colour. Each song then has a 2 to 3 page essay on its history with its title centred like a paper nametag inside a jukebox - a nice touch. Noted writer and soul lover BILL DAHL handles the liner notes with contributions from good names like Colin Escott, Martin Koppel & Bill Millar and both published sources & websites are named. And because the booklet allows Dahl to spread out on each song, the details come thick and fast - it's a fabulously entertaining and informative read.
Niggles – the Motown-followed-by-Atlantic tracks are perhaps ‘too’ familiar to many of us, but that is at least countered by the great sound – and if that’s a complaint – I’ll take it any day of the week.
To sum up - as with the 1967 and 1968 issues, this CD comes damn close to Soul perfection – it really does. And even though they're expensive as imports, I think once long-time collectors actually get their hands on even one of these - they'll be irresistibly hooked. For the casual buyer just looking for a great one-stop account of Soul Music for a given year - "1966" is 'the' place to start.
After 35 years reissuing Blues, Doo Wop, Fifties Rhythm ‘n’ Blues, Sixties Pop and huge swathes of Country Music - this is Bear Family’s first real foray into Soul Music – and personally I’m weak at the knees thinking about what they’ll tackle next.
As you can tell, I’m properly taken aback – I cannot recommend these beautiful compilations enough. Well done to all involved…
Track List for 1966
(Label & Catalogue Number For The US 7" Single Follow The Title)
1. Ain't That Peculiar – MARVIN GAYE (Tamla T-54122)
2. A Sweet Woman Like You – JOE TEX (Dial 4022)
3. Baby Scratch My Back – SLIM HARPO (Excello EX 2273)
4. Stop Her On Sight (S.O.S.) – EDWIN STARR (Ric-Tic RT-109)
5. Darling Baby – THE ELGINS (V.I.P. Records V.I.P. 25029)
[Written by Holland-Dozier-Holland]
6. Get Out Of My Life, Woman – LEE DORSEY (Amy 945)
[Written by Allen Toussaint]
7. Uptight (Everything's Alright) – STEVIE WONDER (Tamla T-54124)
8. Searching For My Love – BOBBY MOORE & THE RHYTHM ACES (Checker 1129)
9. 634-5789 (Soulsville U.S.A.) – WILSON PICKETT (Atlantic 2320)
[Written by Eddie Floyd & Steve Cropper]
10. This Old Heart Of Mine (Is Weak For You) – THE ISLEY BROTHERS (Tamla T-54128)
[Written by Holland-Dozier-Holland]
11. You've Got My Mind Messed Up – JAMES CARR (Goldwax 302) [Rare]
12. She Blew A Good Thing – THE POETS (Symbol 214)
13. Hold On, I'm Comin' – SAM & DAVE (Stax S-189)
[Sam & Dave are Sam Moore & Dave Prater; written by Isaac Hayes and David Porter]
14. Cool Jerk – THE CAPITOLS (Karen 1524)
15. When A Man Loves A Woman – PERCY SLEDGE (Atlantic 2326)
16. Barefootin' – ROBERT PARKER (Nola 721)
17. Neighbor, Neighbor – JIMMY HUGHES (Fame 1003)
18. Open The Door To Your Heart – DARRELL BANKS (Revilot RV-201)
19. Ain't Too Proud To Beg – THE TEMPTATIONS (Gordy G-7054)
[Written by Eddie Holland and Norman Whitfield]
20. Stay With Me – LORRAINE ELLISON (Warner Bros. 5850)
21. Ain't Nobody Home – HOWARD TATE (Verve VK-10420)
22. I'm Your Puppet - JAMES & BOBBY PURIFY (Bell Records BELL 648)
23. B-A-B-Y – CARLA THOMAS (Stax 195)
[Written by Isaac Hayes and David Porter]
24. Reach Out I'll Be There – THE FOUR TOPS (Motown M 1098)
[Written by Holland-Dozier-Holland]
25. Knock On Wood – EDDIE FLOYD (Stax 194)
[Written by Steve Cropper and Eddie Floyd]
26. I'm Gonna Miss You – THE ARTISTICS (Brunswick 55301)
27. But It's Alright - J.J. JACKSON (Calla 119)
28. Tell It Like It Is – AARON NEVILLE (Par Lo 101)
29. You Keep Me Hangin' On – THE SUPREMES (Motown M-1101)