Sunday, January 28, 2007

Archival Detroit Soul Singles and My Weak Comparisons to Better-Known Motown Acts...

I’d like to fake that I know a thing or two about soul music, but in this town that could get me killed. Here’s a handful of archival release 7”s of rare Detroit soul. The stuff on Soul King was originally recorded under the auspices of the Gold Soul label in the late 60’s and early 70’s. Ron Murphy was the brains behind that operation and finally released them on his Soul King imprint in 1991 before quickly going out of print. (Full disclosure: Ron Murphy cuts vinyl masters for Cass Records. He’s a badass. He’s forgotten more about Detroit soul music than any one else will ever know). Coupled with the two Detroit Stars discs (which might be illegit, but I’m sure no one’s checking) I stumbled upon this batch of wax for review. Weirdly enough, you can’t find these in Detroit, or as far as I can tell, North America. The only distros I’ve seen carrying any of these are all in the UK, where appreciation for this stuff is rampant. So if yer so inclined, there maybe some searching involved. But that never hurt anyone.

My deal with soul is (in-brief) like this: Before the Dirtbombs recorded “Ultraglide…” I knew next to nothing about the genre. My education was Detroit oldies radio. The standards really. So for anything to get to me, move me, elicit a reaction, I think it needs to have some sort of connection or relation to those hits instilled in me at a young age. Tricky thing is, while Motown was busy becoming the multi-million dollar leader in independent black record production in the mix-Sixties, there were hundreds of others in Detroit hoping just to grab the teensiest slice of Gordy’s pie. So EVERYONE was trying to replicate the Motown sound and what results is a cottage industry of unimaginable magnitude. There is so much rare, unreleased, unheralded soul to be mined (and already mined) from this city that it’s breathtaking. Personally, I prefer the ends of the spectrum…gimme a scorching-fast barn-burning tempo or deathly slow tear-jerking ballad. I don’t want no in-between. Or gimme the top-of-the-line Studio A production with bells and whistles and back-up singers and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra overdubbed or gimme the crude two-track live recoding done in a living room on the Northwest side. No room for in-betweens.
So below, my reference points (as I would assume most everyone else’s) are the bigger, well-known Motown hitmakers. I haven’t written so much about soul, so maybe this is just more of an exercise than anything.

The Metros “What’s Wrong With Your Love” b/w “She’s Just Not Everybodys Girl” Soul King-401
Reminiscent of the mid-sixties Four Tops, these tracks were recorded in 1971. A-side produced/co-written by Fiery Bursey who had done previous time at Golden World and Motown. “What’s Wrong With Your Love” sizzles with Northern floor-filling aplomb while the flip is a midtempo swooning ballad produced by La Beat cohort Bill Smith, who shares writing credits on both tracks. Not bad, not killer.

Nelson Sanders “I Hold the Key” b/w “It’s Real” Soul King-402
Having done two records with La Beat, Sanders was paired with Onie Griner, Bill Smith and Eddie Robinson for these sides in 1969. Both of these songs are considered unfinished and it shows. “Key” is a slow piano-driven cut with pleading vocals a la Al Green with less refinement. “It’s Real” is another showcase for Sanders vocals and someone on some shit-hot bongo riffs. But there is definite questionable drumming on “Real” that takes away from the coulda-been-a-buried-album-track-of-a-Motown-one-hit-wonder vibe of the entire thing. This would not have gotten past Quality Control.

Doni Burdick “Candle” b/w “Whatcha Gonna Do” Soul King-403
Now THIS could’ve gone somewhere. “Candle” is an uptempo foot-stomping mover propelled by knockout horn stabs that vaguely hint at Stevie’s “Uptight”. The flip is more juice…them horns and drums so in-the-pocket they’re covered in lint and then, some tricky-smooth tambourine tomfoolery. Wow. Recorded in 1971 but could easily fool someone it was six years earlier. This one is worth searching for and paying the exorbitant import price.

Pat Lewis “Geni” b/w “Loves Creeping Up on Me” Detroit Stars-701
Lewis is highly regarded in Northern Soul circles and can command a good $2k for her most desirable stuff. “Geni” is dynamic and properly produced with horns, strings, tympani and the whole shebang, but is a bit airy and just doesn’t hit me. But “Loves Creeping Up on Me” is killer. While originally released (with the same backing track) by the Holidays on Revilot, this is supposedly the demo version the Holidays worked from. Lewis’ vocals do it silky justice. The bass/guitar interplay is reminiscent of a Hitsville smash a la HDH via the Supremes. The trebly git hook wrapped up in Jamerson-esque low-end movements is sublime. Dig it hard.

Margaret Little “Love Finds a Way” b/w “I Need Some Loving” Detroit Stars-702
A-side is predictable. Little’s voice doesn’t stand out in the least. Sax break is such a Funk Brothers lift that I feel like a witness to a crime. Flip carries more ambience but fails to deliver any interest. Unreleased for a reason?

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