We continue to dig (in) the vaults of King, Federal, De Luxe and Hollywood and with the aid of collector and enthusiast John Ridley's records and knowledge, have come up with our second excellent volume of primarily Southern soul ballads.
The opener however comes from the northern US city of Cincinnati, the home of King, proving it is quite capable of making quality soul records itself. Junior McCants was one of its most talented performers who only got to cut one, released 45 and a subsequent single that only appeared as a promo and was pulled when his tragically early death became known. Both records featured raucous, life affirming, top-sides and the two sombre ballads that appear here. Help My Love is such an intense performance (and ironically pertinent to McCants' eventual fate), that surely there couldn't have been a dry eye in the studio at its conclusion. Hopefully they cut this one as the second of the songs at the session-.-it would have taken a phenomenal effort to bring the musicians up afterwards.
This CD then follows with an entirely sympathetic, understated piece of Southern soul from Dan Brantley, which is also a highlight, but in a totally different style. Neckbones even get a mention to establish where the singer is coming from, geographically and economically-.-the feel this time is one of regret rather than tragedy. The churchy organ and Memphis influenced horns give the whole performance an appropriate musical setting.
More high spots come quickly from James Duncan's quavering vocals and the inappropriately named (to Brits at least) Allison, whose voice sounds abrasive enough to strike matches on.
Towards the middle of the CD we get a change of pace when Johnny Soul and the aforementioned Dan Brantley and James Duncan get hot around the collar and downright unnecessary on some fine Southern movers.
Female singers make up a small percentage of the tracks but that seemed to be how things were at King in those days-.-sadly James Brown's productions on the great ladies from his revue were not up for grabs for these compilations. The ones that did make it acquit themselves well. Elaine Armstrong's vocal style is unusual and intense but works well on a great Robert Riley production from the Nashville area. Pat Lundy's approach is more sophisticated on a big Charles Chalmers' production, but she still belts it out when required. The last of the trio, Dottie Clark, tends more to the blues, in the old-fashioned jazz singer sense of the term.
LH and The Memphis Sounds and Bobby and The Expressions provide some welcome group vocals, harking back to an earlier street corner era. And in a similar early soul style there are two fine examples of Oscar Toney Jr's pre-Bell recordings, one of which has added seconds from the master tape, where he wails the song out with gusto.
We've struggled to find artist photos for these projects as King didn't seem to push non JB acts too hard, so we were very pleased to pick up on the excellent Charles Vickers' ad as featured on the front cover. Luckily the record was strong as well, so that settled that. However on the final checking of the sound quality it turned out that the recording had a slight noise problem that could not be removed and subsequent checking of the 45 showed it was on there too. We therefore decided to stick with it, as it's that or nothing. We wouldn't want to lose a fine soul song and definitely not a front cover!
The final track (and the similarly sounding 13th) is sung by Reuben Bell in that intelligent, thought provoking style, best represented by Sam Dees in the mid 1970s. A pensive ending to a seriously good CD.
By John Ridley