Dave Godin, late-lamented music journalist and sometime Ace/Kent consultant, wrote long and often about the nature of soul music. Like most people who really know soul, Dave realized that there could be no trite or easy definition of the genre. It’s simpler, he’d say, to let the music itself do the defining. Dave also spent a lifetime championing what he called “Deep Soul” and indeed Kent issued four mighty Godin compilations illustrating just what he meant by the term. Listening, it’s clear that “Deep Soul” is an adult, tortured music that speaks of pain, heartache, misplaced passion and unrequited love. It’s not always an easy listen and the irony is that this often depressing music possesses a stark beauty all of its own. The obvious question is how can something so overtly painful be so inherently and sweetly addictive. In 1973 Millie Jackson summed up this irony much more succinctly with her hit It Hurts So Good. The song explained that love isn’t always easy, but the occasional pain is compensated by the huge highs. Real soul’s the same. It can and often does hurt – but, to paraphrase Ms. Jackson, it’s a good kind of hurting.
It Hurts So Good formed the centrepiece of Millie Jackson’s second Spring long player and indeed it gave the album its focus and title. The original LP’s now being re-issued on Ace’s Southbound imprint and collectors need to know that there’s a generous selection of bonus cuts. Amongst those bonuses is a previously unreleased mix of the title track. Here the bitterness of the Leroy (Philip) Mitchell-penned song is sweetened by added strings and it’s a toss up as to which of the versions is the more soulful. Amongst the other cuts seeing the light of day for the first time is an incomplete demo of a song called That’s My Style. It’s a remarkable piece, showing an artist at work on a song’s development. Unpolished and unadorned it may be, but it’s still a consummate example of the soul singer’s art.
Indeed any of the album’s original 12 tracks or any of the remaining extras will do just that too. Whether it’s the upbeat and bouncy, almost Invictus-sounding Close My Eyes or the down and dirty, blues-tinted I Cry you’ll hear real soul emotion. Why, Millie even wrings genuine passion out of John and Johanna Hall’s rock song, Two-Faced World. It’s proof, if ever it were needed, that the lady from Thompson, Georgia is right up there with all-time soul greats. Like Gladys Knight (whom she greatly admires), Aretha Franklin, Candi Staton and Patti Labelle, Millie Jackson has the ability to inhabit and possess any song. In many ways here work can provide the elusive aural definition of soul and the paradoxical catharsis that it inevitably involves. When you need to remind yourself what soul’s all about, remember Millie’s wise words. “It hurts so bad, but it’s worth the misery… it hurts so good.”
BILL BUCKLEY Blues And Soul Magazine