Soul music sure does love its cult heroes and, in UK collector circles, the cult of Brooks O’Dell has persisted for more than 40 years. Most of us first encountered him on the groundbreaking 1965 Stateside compilation “An Album Full Of Soul”, where his exquisite Bell recording You Better Make Up Your Mind provided a notable highlight even in a collection that was brimming over with them. His cult status was further assured by the fact that he didn’t record very often, but when he did, there was almost always a classic involved somewhere in the session. Despite the fact that his recording career covered a ten-year-plus period, it passed by in almost total obscurity as far as interviews and artist information are concerned - which has only added to that ongoing cult status.
Hopefully the release of Kent’s new compilation “I’m Your Man” will both please Brooks’ existing fan base, and add to it. The CD covers virtually the whole of his recording career, and embraces almost every known recording that he made between 1963 and 1972. (All that’s missing are a couple of singles that he made in Italy in 1961 and the instrumental flipside of one of his Bell singles). Given that Brooks worked almost exclusively with upper echelon producers of the calibre of Luther Dixon, Larry Maxwell, Carl Davis and Jerry Williams Jr aka Swamp Dogg, the quality of the recordings here is guaranteed.
From the Big City soul of Brooks’ early Gold and Bell masterpieces – some written by Kenny Gamble and Thom Bell – to the subtle Southern sound of his final 1971 sessions, produced in Muscle Shoals by his friend Swamp Dogg and including virtually a whole album’s worth of unissued material, it’s all quite wonderful. For many the highlight may be the recently unearthed, previously unissued 1966 Columbia recording The Heartless One. When you hear this prime example of mid-60s Chicago soul you will shake your head in amazement that something so good did not make it onto a 1966 release schedule.
With a wealth of label shots, some very rare and previously unseen pix and a sleeve note that does its very best to present the Brooks O’Dell story from the scant career information that is available, either to the writer (me!) or to anyone else, this is another essential addition to anyone’s library of Kent CDs. I would have really liked to tracked Brooks down and to have heard his story from the person who knows it best, but several good leads panned out to nothing and, in the final analysis, I wasn’t even able to determine whether or not Brooks is still alive. Whether he is or he isn’t, “I’m Your Man” will ensure that his music will never go unforgotten.
By Tony Rounce