The site’s introductory Backbeats review takes a look at two sets aimed at different audiences: Soul Time is designed for the old-school soul music fan while Jazzy Vibes aims at the groove-conscious listener who appreciates the crossover, soul-flavored jazz of the 1970’s. That said, either set gives the listener a good feel for the series’ approach to curating and structuring compilations.
Soul Time manages to be simple and expansive all at once. Nominally, it’s a vintage soul set that draws its brew of sounds from multiple record labels (Brunswick, Hi, Carla, Crazy Cajun are just a few of the catalogs raided here). However, it manages to encompass multiple flavors of soul under its roof, weaving a decent amount of familiar songs into the mix to give the listener an anchor as it cuts across subgenres with style.
The disc begins effectively with Bob & Earl’s classic “Harlem Shuffle,” leading into a lengthy string of tracks that capture that bright, energetic style of 1960’s R&B beloved to Northern Soul enthusiasts. Familiar tracks include the late-period doo-wop of “Cool Jerk” by the Capitols and the light proto-jazz-funk instrumental classic “Soulful Strut” by Young-Holt Unlimited. There are also some choice tunes that allowed the artists to become crossover one-hit wonders on the pop charts, like Barbara Acklin’s swinging soul fave “Love Makes A Woman” and Jackie Lee’s taut excursion into dance-craze novelty music, “The Duck.”
However, much more of this set is devoted to lesser-known material. Highlights include Billy Watkins’ “The Ice Man,” a saucy uptempo number with a great sing-along hook at chorus time, and The Lost Generation’s “You’re So Young But You’re So True,” an umtempo love song that offsets bright, Motown-ish orchestrations and vocal harmonies over a rock-solid funk bassline. Another killer you aren’t likely to hear on your local classic oldies station is Willie Mitchell’s “That Driving Beat,” a tough sax-driven dance track that gives Jr. Walker And The All Stars a run for the money.
A few 1970’s-era tracks are snuck into the latter part of the set as well: Al Green’s intense ballad “Take Me To The River” is the most familiar but Your Humble Reviewer gravitated towards “Put It Where You Want It” by the Average White Band, which finds this Scottish outfit doing a damned effective approximation of a Southern Soul groove. All in all, Soul Time is like listening to an R&B oldies station where the deejay has thrown out the hits playlist in favor of playing what he likes.
Jazzy Vibes is a whole different kettle of grooves – but a pleasing one. This set was curated by Dean Rudland, an old-school veteran at the compilation game, and consists of a series of jazz records with a crossover bent that aimed for soul music fans. It draws its tunes from a quartet of labels: Philadelphia-International, Brunswick, Groove Merchant and Fantasy. The results are a savvy mix of jazzed-up instrumental covers and originals that mix soulful hooks into exploratory jazz arrangements.
On the covers tip, big highlights include a slinky take on War’s “Cisco Kid” by Reuben Wilson that rebuilds the tune as a call-and-response duet between organ and brass and Lionel Hampton’s version of “Them Changes,” which allows Hampton to highlight his nimble skills on the vibes against a stomping, wah-wah-accented funk backing. In terms of originals, the biggest grabber is “Killing Time,” a vocals-oriented tune by Natural Essence, a group formed by Nat Adderly Jr. It sets a social consciousness lyric that takes aim at street hustlers who fleece their own communities against a mellow but insistent backing highlighted by stately horn work.
However, the stuff your humble reviewer responded to the most on this set are several elegant numbers drawn from the Philadelphia-International library. Norman Harris’s “In Good Faith” offsets its orchestrated groove with some ghostly-sounding slide guitar work and label co-founder Leon Huff’s “Latin Spirit,” which layers exploratory jazz piano work over a taut, percolating rhythm track that includes plenty of Latin-ized percussion. Dexter Wansel gets two solo cuts on the disc and they are both jazz-funk gems: “Latin Love” pairs effects-heavy electric guitar work a la Ernie Isley with spacey, ethereal synth work while “What The World Is Coming To” starts with a delicate, proggish tapestry of keyboards before flowering into an elegantly orchestrated mellow-jazz track.
In short, both sets offer a ton of great music (each clocks in at over 70 minutes) and include a lot of interesting rarities chosen with the love of a true music fan. If you dig vintage soul or jazz, Soul Time and Jazzy Vibes offer a guaranteed good time for their respective audiences and each is a steal at the cheap retail price.