You might not think of the British hin­ter­lands of the 1970’s as a hotbed of soul and jazz… but you’d be wrong.  There was a thriv­ing cir­cuit of work­ing man’s clubs dur­ing this time, all ready to host bands that could play music with a soul­ful, dance­able edge.  Many groups rose to answer this call­ing and sev­er­al record­ed pri­vate-press­ing albums of their reper­toires to sell at gigs and send to radio sta­tions.  Most of the­se albums have dis­ap­peared into attics and thrift shops but the folks at Licorice Soul Records have done a hero­ic job of exhum­ing this sub­gen­re with Working Man’s Soul.

As the title indi­cates, this CD offers a col­lec­tion of dance­floor fillers record­ed by work­ing man’s club bands dur­ing its gold­en era.  Each has been tak­en from the orig­i­nal vinyl and cleaned up as much as pos­si­ble (there are some stray crack­les but the over­all sound is sur­pris­ing­ly good).  It’s also a daz­zling­ly anno­tat­ed set, with a book­let that offers an essay to set the con­text for the music and song-speci­fic lin­ers for every band includ­ed.

But what about the music?  Your Humble Reviewer can assure that if you enjoy British sound library mate­ri­al from this era then you will love what you hear here.  Working Man’s Soul has been care­ful­ly curat­ed to deliv­er the ‘crème de la cabaret’ and most every cut is per­formed and arranged with a pro’s sense of pol­ish.  Good exam­ples of this classy musi­cian­ship are Alan Randall’s ren­di­tion of “The Work Song,” which offers a classy, gen­tly funky take on this Cannonball Adderly favorite anchored by Randall’s skill­ful vibes play­ing, and “Meadowbank,” an orig­i­nal from Sounds Bob Rogers, which is a mod-inflect­ed midtem­po groover with some daz­zling organ work.

Most of Working Man’s Soul is instru­men­tal but cer­tain cuts use vocals to skill­ful effect: John O’Hara’s ren­di­tion of “Funky Nassau” off­sets its relent­less funk dri­ve with a cool, soul­ful lead vocal and Carol Lee’s “Little Bit Of Love” is a fun bit of Vegas-style cabaret soul held togeth­er by Lee’s author­i­ta­tive per­for­mance at the mic.  The com­pil­ers gen­er­al­ly avoid pure kitsch cuts but when they drop one in, it’s a doozy: the king of kitsch-cabaret on this set is Brian Sharp, who offers a delight­ful­ly tacky base­ball-sta­di­um organ take on “Aquarius” and a dis­co-ish ver­sion on “Light My Fire” that weaves in wild, honk­ing analog syn­th leads alongside the expect­ed organ riff­ing.

And that’s not all this disc has to offer:  addi­tion­al high­lights include Northern Jazz Orchestra’s “Hip Flask,” which sounds like the Best Cop Show Theme Music You Never Heard, and a slick pair of tunes from The Peter Coe Big Band that offer a cos­mopoli­tan yet ener­get­ic take on the jazz-pop instru­men­tal.  In short, Working Man’s Soul offers 1970’s R&B fans a fresh way to get their soul­ful fuel.  Fresh, funky pas­tures like across the Pacific and this disc can act as your gate­way.

Track list­ing, sound clips & more info at the Licorice Soul web­site: http://www.licoricesoul.co.uk/index.php