Sunday, 15 August 2010

“Sweet Soul Music – 31 Scorching Classics From 1961” by VARIOUS ARTISTS [Volume 1 of 15] (2008 Bear Family CD Remasters) - A Review by Mary Barry...

"…I Don't Know Why I Love You...But I Do…" 

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.

Originally released July 2008 in Germany - “Sweet Soul Music - 31 Scorching Classics From 1961" by VARIOUS ARTISTS on Bear Family BCD 16867 AS (Barcode 4000127168672) was Volume 1 in a 15-set series stretching from 1961 to 1975 – one CD to each year (I've reviewed all of them in depth).

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 (1961 has the instrumental "Hide Away" by Freddy King), 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 Jackie Wilson leaning into an audience to make a handshake – it’s in the 1963 set). This 1961 issue has 80-pages in its booklet (yes 80!) with a live shot of Solomon Burke on the front sleeve and Berry Gordy standing by his first million-seller gold disc award on the inner flap (“Shop Around” by The Miracles – Track 2) - and it runs to a generous 79:23 minutes.

I raved about Dave "Daddy Cool" Booth's sequencing on the other editions - it's the same here. Proceedings open with the crystal clear guitar intro to "The Watusi" by The Vibrations – as infectious a dance number as the breakthrough Tamla establisher “Shop Around” by The Miracles. I’ve never heard the melodrama of either “Gee Whiz” by Carla Thomas or “All In My Mind” by Maxine Brown sound so clear (even if both aren’t exactly audiophile recordings). Genius choices include the Doo Wop of “Daddy’s Home” by Shep And The Limelites which is soulful in it’s own lovely slow-paced way and the New Orleans shuffle of "Let The Four Winds Blow" by Fats Domino (stupendous Stereo sound quality).

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. The compilation begins in January and in rough chronological order ends in December. 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 "Blue Moon", "Stand By Me" and "Last Night" 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 brass and drums of “(I Don’t Know Why) But I Do" by Clarence ‘Frogman’ Henry is so clear you’ll probably have to turn the volume down, while Dee Clark’s “Raindrops” opens with just that – an explosion of falling rain before the song kicks in – it’s so sweetly remastered that it may make you double-take on the weather outside…

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 77, 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 knowledgeable contributions from Colin Escott, Rudigar Ladwig & Bill Millar. 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 - purists might say that as many as a third of the tracks on here have little to do with "Soul" and more to do with R&B, Doo Wop and even Blues - but personally I like the way Booth blurs the lines. And I can't emphasize this enough - 95% of the heard-too-often tracks are at least countered by their great sound - and if that's a complaint, I'll take it any day of the week. 

To sum up - even though they're expensive as imports, I think once long-time collectors actually get their hands on even one of these compilations (no matter what the date) - they'll be irresistibly hooked. For the casual buyer just looking for a great one-stop account of Soul Music for a given year - "1961" 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. I’m now going to have to frighten the bank manager as I acquire the preceding 16 Volumes in the “Blowing The Fuse” series from 1945 to 1960 – I’m just going to have to own them.

As you can tell, I'm properly taken aback - I cannot recommend these beautiful compilations enough.  Well done to all involved...

Track List for 1961
(Label & Catalogue Number For The US 7" Single Follow The Title)

1. The Watusi – THE VIBRATIONS (Checker 969)
2. Shop Around – THE MIRACLES (Tamla T 54034)
[Featuring Smokey Robinson and co-written with Berry Gordy]
3. All In My Mind – MAXINE BROWN (Nomar N45-103)
4. Will You Love Me Tomorrow? – THE SHIRELLES (Scepter 1211)
[Written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin]
5. (I Don't Know Why) But I Do – CLARENCE ‘FROGMAN’ HENRY (Argo 5378)
[Written by Robert Guidry [aka Bobby Charles] and Paul Gayten]
6. You Can Have Her – ROY HAMILTON (Epic 9434)
7. Rainin' In My Heart – SLIM HARPO (Excello 2194)
8. I Don't Want To Cry - CHUCK JACKSON (Wand 106)
9. Hide Away – FREDDY KING (Federal 12401)
[An Instrumental]
10. Gee Whiz (Look at His Eyes) – CARLA THOMAS (Satellite 104/Atlantic 2086)
11. Some Kind Of Wonderful – THE DRIFTERS (Atlantic 2096)
12. Big Boss Man – JIMMY REED (Vee Jay VJ 380)
13. Blue Moon – THE MARCELS (Colpix 186)
14. Daddy's Home – SHEP AND THE LIMELITES (Hull H-740)
15. Mother-In-Law – ERNIE K-DOE (Minit 623)
16. Driving Wheel – LITTLE JUNIOR PARKER (Duke 335)
17. Tossin' And Turnin' – BOBBY LEWIS with Joe Rene Orchestra (Beltone 1002)
18. Every Beat Of My Heart – THE PIPS (Vee Jay VJ 386)
[Featuring Gladys Knight on lead vocals]
19. Stand By Me – BEN E. KING (Atco 6194)
20. Raindrops – DEE CLARK (Vee Jay VJ-383)
21. My True Story – THE JIVE FIVE with Joe Rene And Orchestra (Beltone 1006)
22. It's Gonna Work Out Fine – IKE and TINA TURNER (Sue 749)
23. Last Night – THE MAR-KEYS (Satellite 107)
24. I Like It Like That, PART 1 – CHRIS KENNER (Valiant/Instant 3229)
25. A Little Bit Of Soap – THE JARMELS (Laurie 3098)
26. Let The Four Winds Blow – FATS DOMINO (Imperial 5764)
27. Just Out Of Reach (Of My Two Open Arms) – SOLOMON BURKE (Atlantic 2114)
28. Ya Ya – LEE DORSEY (Fury 1053)
29. Please Mr. Postman – THE MARVELETTES (Tamla 54046)
30. Gypsy Woman – THE IMPRESSIONS (ABC-Paramount 10241)
[Written by and featuring Curtis Mayfield]
31. Turn On Your Love Light – BOBBY BLAND (Duke 344)

This review is part of my SOUNDS GOOD Music Book Series. One of those titles is SOUL, FUNK and JAZZ FUSION - Exceptional CD Remasters - an E-Book with over 245 entries and 2100 e-Pages - purchase on Amazon and search any artist or song (click the link below). Huge amounts of info taken directly from the discs (no cut and paste crap). 

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Spines of Exceptional CD Remasters

Spines of Exceptional CD Remasters

INDEX - Artists, Albums, Record Labels, CD Remaster Engineers, Liner Notes Authors, Links etc