Thursday, 25 November 2010

“The Solo Albums: Volume 1 - Smokey and Pure Smokey” by SMOKEY ROBINSON (2010 Hip-O Select/Motown CD Reissue and Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...




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"…It's Just My Soul Responding…"

In truth Smokey Robinson Solo albums have a mixed rep amongst collectors – moments of genius – filled out with syrupy padding. And certainly as this series progresses into the mid to late Seventies that appraisal is uncomfortably true. 

But re-listening to this pairing of his first two platters from 1973 and 1974 on Motown – there’s so much to enjoy and frankly rediscover – there really is. Here are the Soul Responding details…

Released September 2010 - "The Solo Albums: Volume 1 - Smokey (1973) and Pure Smokey (1974)" by SMOKEY ROBINSON is the 1st of 6 volumes chronicling Smokey Robinson's solo albums for Motown - and Hip-O Select/Motown B0014415-02 (Barcode 602527409856) breaks down as follows (74:55 minutes):

1. Holly
2. Medley: Never My Love/Never Can Say Goodbye
3. A Silent Partner In A Three-Way Love Affair
4. Just My Soul Responding
5. Sweet Harmony
6. Will You Love Me Tomorrow?
7. Wanna Know My Mind
8. The Family Song
9. Baby Come Close
Tracks 1 to 9 are his debut solo album "Smokey", released June 1973 in the USA on Tamla T-328L and in November 1973 in the UK on Tamla Motown STMA 8012

10. It’s Her Turn To Love
11. The Love Between Me And My Kids
12. Asleep On My Love
13. I Am I Am
14. Just Passing Through
15. Virgin Man
16. She’s Only A Baby Herself
17. Fulfill Your Head
18. A Tattoo
Tracks 10 to 18 are his 2nd solo album "Pure Smokey", released March 1974 in the USA on Tamla T-331V1 and June 1974 in the UK on Tamla Motown STML 11265

The gatefold card digipak houses a 24-page colour booklet containing entertaining and knowledgeable liner notes by PETER DOGGETT (formerly of Record Collector magazine and author of "There's A Riot Going On"). It also reproduces the American artwork for each album (even though in truth their impossible to read), lyrics and detailed recording and release credits. But the big news for fans is the improved Audio…

Remastered by ELLEN FITTON from the original Stereo tapes - the sound quality is just gorgeous - really beautifully done. I've bought CDs by Hip-O Select before where I've noticed her name in the credits - she's one of Universal's top engineers (like Erick Labson, Suha Gur, Gavin Lurssen, Gary Moore and Kevin Reeves). She did the truly superlative "Complete Motown Singles" Book Sets - all 13 volumes of them. On top of that is "Forever: The Complete Motown Albums Vol.1" 2CD set by The Marvelettes, the David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks "Motown Solo Albums" multiple CD sets, "1990" by The Temptations and "This Is The Story: The 70's Albums Volume 1" by The Supremes (excluding the Singles books, I've reviewed nearly all of the other titles).

I wish I could say that the material is all killer and no filler, but that's just not true. Smokey LPs in a second-hand record shop such as ours are always a hard sell. The cover of The Shirelles "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?" is awful. Having said that, the reason I bought the disc is for those gems that are 'so' worth it - "Just My Soul Responding" is one of them (lyrics above) - a rare social-commentary that rumbles on like a Norman Whitfield gem - five-minutes plus of words about the plight of Blacks and Hispanics in the cities of Seventies USA (“too many roaches and not enough heat to keep my babies warm…”). It's absolutely stunning.

The popular "Baby Come Close" is more familiar smoocher territory - what a gem - and it's so good to hear the full album version here after all these years of living with the single edit of 3:24 minutes. The second album has "I Am I Am" which is a lovely soul song featuring the rhythm section of L.T.D., while "Virgin Man" touches on a subject matter not too often discussed. The synth funk of "A Tattoo" is good too. But mostly "Pure Smokey" was a loverman lead-in to the far better "Quiet Storm" album in 1975 - which is on the Volume 2 set.

What’s missing? The two LPs produced 5 singles Stateside and a couple in the UK - most had edited versions of their longer album tracks while the USA promos 7" singles often came with a promo-only MONO mix - none of those are on here - which is a shame. But at less than a fiver per album this is great value for money - and even if the material doesn't always rise to genius - the tracks that have stood the test of time are now in that superb sound quality - and that's been worth it for me...
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