Sunday, 30 January 2011

"Sweet Inspiration – The Songs Of Dan Penn And Spooner Oldham" by VARIOUS ARTISTS. A Review Of The 2011 Ace Records CD Compilation.

"…I’m Yours…To Have And To Hold…"

You know you’re in the presence of a great compilation when the compilers put Dionne Warwick and Charlie Rich on a 'soul' CD – clever choices and class acts. And this latest issue in Ace’s 'Songwriters' series is a real class act - a bit of a masterpiece frankly.
But to the details first…

Released Monday 31 January 2011 in the UK (15 February 2011 in the USA), Ace Records CDCHD 1284 breaks down as follows (66:52 minutes):

1. Out Of Left Field by PERCY SLEDGE (1967, Atlantic 2396)
2. I’m Your Puppet by DIONNE WARWICK (1968, Scepter 12352)
3. Sweet Inspiration by THE SWEET INSPIRATIONS
(1968, Atlantic 2476)
4. A Woman Left Lonely by CHARLIE RICH (1971, Epic 10745)
5. I Worship The Ground You Walk On by ETTA JAMES
(1968, Cadet 5606)
6. I’m Living Good by THE OVATIONS (1969, Goldwax 342)
7. Take Me (Just As I Am) by SOLOMON BURKE (1967, Atlantic 2416)
8. Cry Like A Baby by ARTHUR ALEXANDER (1969, Sound Stage 7 2652)
9. It Tears Me Up by JEANNE NEWMAN
(Previously Unreleased Goldwax Recording From 1966)
10. Slippin’ Around With You by ART FREEMAN (1966, Fame 1008)
11. I Met Her In Church by TONY BORDERS (1969, Revue 11040)
12. Are You Never Coming Home by SANDY POSEY (1967, MGM 13824)
13. Let It Happen by JAMES CARR
(Previously Unissued Alternate Version of Goldwax 323)
14. Everything I Am by THE BOX TOPS (1967, Mala 580)
15. Feed The Flame by TED TAYLOR (1967, Atco 6481)
16. Watching The Trains Go by TONY JOE WHITE
(1968, Monument 1053)
17. In The Same Old Way by ARTHUR CONLEY (1966, Fame 1007)
18. Denver by RONNIE MILSAP (1969, Scepter 12246)
(1967, Atlantic 2408)
20. Good Things Don’t Come Easy by IRMA THOMAS
(Originally Unissued Chess Recording From 1967 Put Out In 1988)
21. I Need Someone by THE WALLACE BROTHERS (1968, Jewel 792)
22. He Ain’t Gonna Do Right by BARBARA LYNN (1968, Atlantic 2585)
23. Wish You Didn’t Have To Go by TOMMY ROE (1965, ABC 10706)
24. Let’s Do It Over by JOE SIMON (1965, Vee-Jay 694)

The mastering has been done by NICK ROBBINS at Sound Mastering in London and the extensive 28-page booklet features a 10,000-word exploration of every track by noted soul aficionados TONY ROUNCE and BOB DUNHAM. I’ve raved about the Bear Family CD compilations “Sweet Soul Music” from 1961 to 1970 (reviewed all 10) and their great sound and packaging (regularly hitting 70 pages and beyond in each booklet) – well Ace are on the same tip here because their booklet is a truly fabulous read – and beautifully laid out. There isn’t a wasted page – photos of the artists, 7” US singles in their label bags (some demos), trade adverts – it’s just a feast of informative and enthusiastic detail that enhances your enjoyment of these deeply Southern Soul sides. Even the inlay under the see-through plastic tray advertises other Ace releases with Penn/Oldham songs on them – and after hearing this peach - imminent purchase of all seven advertised CDs may become a priority – credit-crunch or no…

The sound quality varies from the merely good (“Out Of Left Field”) to the stupendous (“Take Me (Just As I Am)”, “Dreamer” and “I Need Someone” - and back again. Mostly it just sounds great throughout. These are big American labels and rarely does the quality dip. But what overrides all of that is the awesome material itself and how it’s been sequenced…

Take “I’m Your Puppet” (lyrics above) – the version everyone knows and loves is by James And Bobby Purify – Ace has craftily chosen a lesser-heard but equally sweet Dionne Warwick version from her 1969 US album “Soulful”. When I put this CD in our shop play shuffle on Saturday, this track immediately brought soul customers to the counter asking after it. The intense Percy Sledge version of “It Tears Me Up” is another – the compilers know that as good as it may be, Percy’s version has been heard one too many times – so it’s been replaced with a countrified-soul version by Bobby Gentry soundalike Jeanne Newman – and it’s just brilliant. And a major previously unreleased coup occurs with the James Carr track – Ace have uncovered an alternate take of the slow and majestic “Let It Happen” where the background vocals are removed - it even features him talking a little as the track plays out – wow!

Then there’s the picture on Page 17 of the ultra-rare Tony Borders Fame 7” single “I Met Her In Church” – it’s a Northern Soul monster and will have NS fans weak at the knees and stroking their debit cards with an evil glint in their eye - already forming a great excuse for the wife when she gets to see the bank statements at the end of the month. It all ends of a lethal triple-whammy – Barbara Lynn and Joe Simon versions to die for - even the “Dizzy” Tommy Roe gets a moment to shine on “Wish You Didn’t Have To Go”.

Niggles - I suppose looking at the 66 minute plus playing time - you could argue that more tracks should have been included, but actually I think the lack of overkill is perfect – quality and not quantity.

To sum up - both Penn and Oldham have been underground white-boy songwriters for Black Soul music for decades – and finally this disc does them justice. I’m more than impressed – easily one the hippest and best reissues to date in 2011. Well-done boys and roll on Volume 2…

PS: if you want to hear Dan Penn cover his own huge hits – check out his own solo outing on CD from 1991 called “Do Right Man” – it’s brilliant and he’s possessed of the loveliest Tony Joe White type voice and warmth.

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Spines of Exceptional CD Remasters

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