75 Southern soul masterpieces, told from three different perspectives.
When, nearly a decade ago, Tony Rounce and I began putting together a box set looking at the world of southern soul, it was done out of a deep abiding love of the music. We thought it would be an easy project that would sell a few thousand copies. Instead it was a mammoth operation that took three years to complete and when finished helped define the music we love for a mainstream audience. Its mixture of the well-known, the obscure and the previously unreleased flew out the door and led to one of my proudest moments: standing on stage with Tony and William Bell as “Take Me To The River: A Southern Soul Story” snaffled a Mojo award.
We followed up – in a way – in 2011 with “The Fame Studios Story”, but it is only now that we bring you a fully fledged sequel. “Back To The River” takes its cue from something Tony said back then: “Take Me To The River” was only ever “A” southern soul story, and that many others could be told from a variety of perspectives. Here we tell three of them.
Disc One brings another view on the recordings of Muscle Shoals and Memphis. This time we focus more on artists who weren’t native to those areas: Solomon Burke recording at American, Mary Wells at Fame or Betty LaVette at Sounds Of Memphis. These studios were being used to revitalise waning careers or kickstart those that had yet to get going. The disc also features recordings by artists primarily associated with Muscle Shoals and Memphis – check the previously unreleased take of Otis’ ‘Free Me’ – and overall gives further evidence of the musical vibrancy of those two great recording centres.
Disc Two covers the wider region of the south. Taking in Miami, Texas, New Orleans and several other stops, it reveals how the regional music of the time was connected but at the same time distinct and allows us to find out what Jerry Wexler did when he fell out with the studios in Memphis and Muscle Shoals. The disc also shines a spotlight on the small scene in Mobile, Alabama and the super-rare Steve Dixon 45 that emerged from there.
Disc Three focuses on the influence southern soul had in the northern cities – a story not just of displaced southerners creating the sound of their homes states, but of the music industry’s tendency to follow big-selling trends wherever they come from. It’s possible to trace a timeline through this story that shows you when Otis and then Al Green were topping the charts. It also shows Aretha at her finest refusing to travel south and instead having the area’s best musicians flown in for her New York session.
Packaged in a very handsome and sturdy box, along with a 64-page booklet packed with illustrations and a 17,000-word track commentary, the 75 tracks on these three CDs provide a welcome and worthy extension of our “Southern Soul Story”.