AOR is a gen­re that is explored often at Schlockmania but it’s usu­al­ly done in the more are­na-rock­ing con­text of this style (i.e. stuff along the lines of Styx, Journey, Foreigner, etc.).  However, there is anoth­er side to AOR that down­plays the bom­bast in favor of smooth melod­i­cism defined by light under­tones of jazz and soul.  It’s usu­al­ly referred to in the U.S. as “soft rock” or “adult con­tem­po­rary,” as it is usu­al­ly aimed at the adult lis­ten­er and seeks to tran­quil­ize rather than ener­gize its lis­ten­ers.

Like any sub­gen­re of pop music, the lite-F.M. side of AOR music breeds a small cult of obses­sive fans — and Americana: Rock Your Soul is a good way to get an exam­ple of what mel­low AOR cultists are into.  This com­pi­la­tion was assem­bled by two friends/collectors, Zafar Chowdhry and Mark Taylor, who have spent decades col­lect­ing this style of music.  Each man select­ed eight top rar­i­ties from his respec­tive per­son­al stash to cre­ate this set and, despite its sin­gu­lar sub­gen­re focus, it offers a var­ied set of approach­es to easy lis­ten­ing.

Those who fear hear­ing a bunch of Top-40 schmaltz need not wor­ry: the focus here is obscure labels and a few per­son­al-label press­ings rather than music from fami­lar artists.  Indeed, Americana: Rock Your Soul is a col­lec­tion that is gov­erned by style rather than stars: the con­sis­tent ele­ments here are a high lev­el of musi­cian­ship, slick pro­duc­tion val­ues and acces­si­ble pop melodies (always with a strong cho­rus) sup­port­ed by plush instru­men­ta­tion.

However, Chowdhry and Taylor keep the playlist fresh by choos­ing mate­ri­al that adds some inter­est­ing ele­ment to off­set the expect­ed sleek-sounds for­mu­la.  For instance, “Just For You” by the amus­ing­ly named 1619 Bad Ass Band off­sets its yearn­ing string orches­tra­tions and gen­tle elec­tric piano with a tight funk-band rhythm sec­tion and “Slow Dancer” by Life Force has vague­ly Spanish horns that make it sound like War or Santana try­ing to do a A.M. radio-friend­ly bal­lad.

Another dis­tinc­tive ele­ment here is the inclu­sion of sev­er­al cuts by Hawaiian musi­cians, the kind of obscure but fan­tas­tic stuff that nev­er crossed over to American main­land.  Highlights include Society Of Seven’s “Between Hello And Goodbye,” a string-sweet­ened soul bal­lad with a to-die-for “la la la” hook sup­port­ing its cho­rus, and Tender Leaf’s “Coast To Coast,” an unex­pect­ed­ly psy­che­delic track that car­ries its acoustic-dri­ven jazz stylings off into a bliss­ful­ly spaced-out dimen­sion.  However, the killer in the Hawaiian track depart­ment has to be Lil’ Albert’s “My Girl Friday,” a gem that adds gor­geous string and horn arrange­ments to a gen­tly swing­ing melody that builds to a glo­ri­ous­ly mas­sive (yet deeply lounge-y) cho­rus.

The afore­men­tioned high­lights are just a small selec­tion of the good stuff here: oth­er faves include Midnight Flyer’s “I Just Want To Love You,” a killer slab of lite-dis­co, and a sur­pris­ing­ly slinky take on Earth Wind & Fire’s “Can’t Hide Love” by Jaye P. Morgan (of The Gong Show fame!).  The clos­est this col­lec­tion comes to break­ing its own stride is Ian Willson’s “Four In The Morning,” a track that is odd­ly min­i­mal­ist and elec­tro in this com­pa­ny, but its hyp­notic cho­rus and slick style pull it through.  The pack­age is round­ed out by a qual­i­ty lin­er notes book­let is also includ­ed that explains the cri­te­ria behind the choic­es and also tells some inter­est­ing sto­ries about the musi­cians (the tale about Tender Leaf is the most intrigu­ing).

In short, Americana: Rock Your Soul pro­vides a great way to sat­is­fy one’s mel­low melod­ic sweet-tooth.  You might not feel com­fort­able lis­ten­ing to it in the com­pa­ny of your hip­per, edgier friends but it pro­vides the kind of sweet sat­is­fac­tion that only lite AOR can bring.