Thursday, 9 July 2015

"The Lost Motown Album" by THE FANTASTIC FOUR (2015 Ace/Kent Soul CD Remasters) - A Review for Mark Barry...

"...How Sweet He Is..."

Motown lovers/aficionados will be licking their lips in glee on this one – and with damn good reason. Supposed to have been issued on the Motown subsidiary label Soul SS-722 in early 1971 – the vinyl album "How Sweet He Is" by THE FANTASTIC FOUR was cancelled at the last minute and unceremoniously pulled from the schedules – thereafter remaining a sought-after holy grail for label collectors and lovers of quality Soul.

Five of the 12 cuts made it onto American 7" singles and a further three tracks later turned up on various European CD compilations in the Nineties and Naughties (see lists below). But what's so exciting about this 2015 CD reissue is that researchers for Ace Records of the UK went back into the vaults looking for the album and its associated B-sides and found 'dozens' of outtakes of an extremely high quality. Hence this Expanded CD Remaster gives you the whole 12-track album intact at last and in gorgeous remastered audio – along with a whopping 13 Bonus Tracks - 10 of which are Previously Unreleased. It’s a bit of a reissue sensation really. Here are the vaulted details...

UK released June 2015 (July 2015 in the USA) – "The Lost Motown Album" by THE FANTASTIC FOUR on Ace/Kent Soul CDTOP 434 (Barcode 029667243421) is a 25-track CD compilation and breaks down as follows (77:28 minutes):

1. Take Him Back If It Makes You Happy
2. Just Another Lonely Night
3. If This World Were Mine
4. A Little Too Much
5. We Can Work It Out
6. Keep On Tryin' ('Til You Find Love)
7. On The Brighter Side Of A Blue World
8. Don't Care Why You Want Me (Long As You Want Me)
9. I'm Gonna Carry On
10. I Feel Like I’m Falling In Love Again
11. You Turn Me Around
12. I Just Can't Forget About You Baby
Tracks 1 to 12 are the LP "How Sweet He Is" by The Fantastic Four - reputedly scheduled for American release in early 1971 on Soul SS-722 but cancelled...

"Take Him Back If It Makes You Happy" and "Keep On Tryin' ('Til You Find Love)" were first released in August 2010 on the CD compilation "A Cellarful Of Motown! Volume 4" (Motown 882 4009). The cover version of Marvin Gaye's "If This World Were Mine" first appeared on the September 1998 CD compilation "Motown Sings Motown Treasures" (Motown 530 960 2).

Three US 7" singles on the Soul Label were issued around the aborted album as follows:
1. I Feel Like I'm Falling In Love Again b/w Pin Point It Down
Released 13 March 1969 in the USA on Soul 35058 (No UK equivalent)
The version of "I Feel Like I'm Falling In Love" on the album is Stereo at 3:09 minutes – the Mono Single edit at 2:48 minutes can be found on the 2007 Book Set "The Complete Motown Singles Volume 9: 1969". The B-side was non-album and is track 15 on this CD compilation.

2. Just Another Lonely Night b/w Don't Care Why You Want Me (Long As You Want Me)
Released 23 September 1969 in the USA on Soul 35065 (No UK equivalent)
The versions on the album are Stereo at 3:04 and 3:01 minutes respectively. The Mono single mixes at 2:54 and 3:12 minutes can be found on the 2007 Book Set "The Complete Motown Singles Volume 9: 1969".

3. On The Brighter Side Of A Blue World b/w I'm Gonna Carry On
Released 23 April 1970 in the USA on Soul 35072 (No UK Equivalent)
The versions on the album are Stereo at 3:57 and 2:56 minutes respectively. The Mono single edits at 2:48 and 2:45 minutes respectively are available on the 2008 Book Set "The Complete Motown Singles Volume 10: 1970"

13. How Big Is Your Heart
14. It Keeps Raining Down Tears
15. Pin Point It Down
16. Loving You (Is Hurting Me)
17. I've Found My Goal
18. Don't Tell Me I'm Crazy
19. Fan The Flame
20. In A Bad Way
21. I Hate Myself For Loving You
22. I'm Still A Struggling Man
23. Forgive My Jealousy
24. I Shall Not Be Moved
25. The Double Cross

"Loving You (Is Hurting Me)" first appeared on the October 2007 CD compilation "A Cellarful Of Motown! Volume 3" (Motown 530 3228 2). "Don't Tell Me I'm Crazy" first appeared June 2003 on the CD compilation "Tamla Motown Connoisseurs, Volume 2" (Spectrum 067 016 2).

The booklet firstly has 4-pages of detailed track-by-track breakdowns – Producers, Recording Dates, Overdubs etc – followed by 8-pages of new liner notes from Soul Expert and long-time Ace associate TONY ROUNCE (a name that’s graced probably hundreds of reissues). The text is peppered with repros of those rare Soul labels (American white label promos too) along with a few publicity shots of the four lads – (Brothers) Joe and Ralph Pruitt, Toby Childs and lead Vocalist "Sweet" James Epps.

Hailing out of Michigan's Detroit - this Soul Group's history with Motown was a frustrating one. Moving on from the small-time independent of Ric Tic to the now mighty Motown must have seemed like a logical step but it turned out to be one of missed opportunities and a career staler (they had further hits in the mid to late Seventies with Westbound Records). Of the 11 singles The Fantastic Four released on Ric Tic Records between 1966 and 1968 – they charted an impressive five (with "The Whole World Is A Stage" going as high as Number 6). But newly signed to Motown - apart from "I Love You Madly" on Soul 35052 which managed Number 10 on the American R&B charts in May 1969 – the band couldn’t get arrested on Berry Gordy's Mothership. And it wasn’t because they lacked the vocals – out front was one of Soul Music’s truly great (unheralded) voices – "Sweet" JAMES EPPS (he's on the far right of the photo). Weighing in at a sizeable poundage – he looks like Solomon Burke but has the sweet pipes of Eddie Ruffin crossed with Ben E. King. This guy has 'SWEET SOUL' in his vocal chords like James Brown has 'HEAVY FUNK' hotwired into his very DNA. It’s now fairly clear that the album title was going to centre around Epps’ name – How "Sweet" He Is – but compiler TONY ROUNCE speculates that perhaps Motown had intended for him to go Solo. Whatever happened – we’re left with the musical let’s get to that...

You’re hit with two pleasing elements on first hearing the Side 1 opener "Take Him Back If It Makes You Happy" – the quality of the NICK ROBBINS Remaster and the gruff edge of Epps fantastic voice. This is classy sophisticated late Sixties Soul (the song traces back as far as April 1967 for its backing track with overdub vocals added in 1969). By the time you get to the warm and lovely strings of "This World Is Mine" (Stereo Version) – the vocals are as touching as Soul singing gets. Heartache and drinking pour out of "A Little Too Much" – once again his voice backed up by "too much" chants from the boys. The cover of The Beatles' "We Can Work It Out" is good rather than great for me but far better is "On The Brighter Side Of A Blue World" which is a typically grieving Motown mid-tempo tune with clever use of a harpsichord. You also notice the omnipresent talents of Producers Al Kent and Bobby Taylor – each of their Productions reeking of that suave Soul sophistication that seemed effortless to the label in the late Sixties. The whole album holds up very well and leaves you wondering why pull such a classy collection...

Of the bonuses there’s a non-album B-side in "Pin Point It Down" – two CD compilation exposures for "Loving You (Is Hurting Me)" and "Don't Tell Me I'm Crazy" in 2003 and 2007 respectively – and the rest are new for 2015. Things get off to a very promising start with "How Big Is Your Heart" – a shoe in surely for some Northern Soul compilation to come – where Epps sounds so like Eddie Kendricks letting rip. But genuinely gorgeous comes in the form of "It Keeps Raining Down Tears" – a smoocher about walking in the park before his baby says goodbye. The B-side is fab too as are so many of the others...

In their 40th Anniversary Year of reissues – "The Lost Motown Album" by The Fantastic Four is a wonderful release from Ace's 'Kent Soul' label imprint – the kind of CD that only reaffirms why this brilliant reissue company  has been beloved by collectors for four solid decades. Way to go boys and a 'reissue of the year' for 2015...

CD Reissues (to July 2015) by ACE RECORDS covering the MOTOWN label:
1. Dance With The Contours – THE CONTOURS (March 2011, Ace/Kent Soul CDTOP 350)
2. Just A Little Misunderstanding: Rare And Unissued Motown 1965-68 - THE CONTOURS and DENNIS EDWARDS (June 2014, Ace/Kent Soul CDTOP 419)
3. The Lost Motown Album – THE FANTASTIC FOUR (June 2015, Ace/Kent Soul CDTOP 434)
4. It Moves Me: The Complete Recordings 1958-1964 - EDDIE HOLLAND (January 2012 2CD Set, Ace CDTOP2 1331)
5. The Artistry Of Brenda Holloway with Bonus Tracks from The Motown Vaults - BRENDA HOLLOWAY (November 2013, Ace/Kent Soul CDTOP 406)
6. Love & Desire: The Patrice Holloway Anthology  – PATRICE HOLLOWAY (June 2011, Ace/Kent Soul CDKEND 354)
7. I’ll Pick A Rose For My Rose: The Complete Motown Recordings 1964-1971 - MARV JOHNSON (April 2011, Ace/Kent Soul CDTOP 351)
8. Here Comes...The Complete Motown Stereo Masters - SHORTY LONG (March 2012, Ace/Kent Soul CDTOP 369)
9. Say You! The Motown Anthology 1963-1968 - THE MONITORS (June 2011, Ace/Kent Soul CDTOP 355)
10. The Complete Motown and Tamla Singles Plus – THE SATINTONES (April 2010, Ace Deluxe CDLUX 002)
11. Truly Yours: Their First Motown Album With Bonus Tracks 1963-1967 - THE SPINNERS (June 2012, Ace/Kent Soul CDTOP 371)
12. Finders Keepers: Motown Girls 1961-1967 – VARIOUS ARTISTS (March 2013, Ace CDTOP 1364)
13. Satisfaction Guaranteed: Motown Guys 1961-69 – VARIOUS ARTISTS (October 2014, Ace/Kent Soul CDTOP 424)
14. The One Who Really Loves You/Two Lovers: Two Classic Motown Albums - MARY WELLS (December 2012, Ace/Kent Soul CDTOP 387)

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