Ask most people what Soul music is and the chances are a lot of them will come up with the sound on this CD: traditional ‘Southern’ Soul. And here we have two Southern Soul songstresses for the price of one. What more could you want?
The contrast between the careers of Sandra Phillips - who’s sung for presidents, been received by the Pope and has appeared in a number of films - and Bette Williams, who disappeared into obscurity almost as soon as her last recording session was over, highlights the vagaries and uncertainties of the soul music world. But lack of success in this genre rarely means lack of quality. Jerry “Swamp Dogg” Williams Jr was extraordinarily prolific during the early 70s and his name alone guarantees interest from those in the know. Here are twenty one recordings that will have you all a quiver with excitement, whether you want wrist-slitting ballads, cheating heartbreak, angry revenge, or a jump round the room.
The connections between country music and soul music in both feel and emotional impact are very apparent on this CD - and the similar way life is presented in song. The titles often tell the story alone - If She’s Your Wife (Who Am I) (also recorded by Doris Duke), Please Don’t Send Him Back To Me, Another Man Took My Husband’s Place... you get the picture. The familiar structures of the music evoke memories of other songs, some better known than others and indeed a number of the handful of songs Bette/Betty Williams recorded (and two, included here, were unissued at the time) were recorded by other artists.
The CD collects together all Ms Williams known recordings, mostly ballads, but her first release, He Took My Hand from 1970, is as uptempo as the CD gets. The oddly titled (would someone please ask Jerry why?) instrumental flip side of the 45 is also included as a bonus track; both are known to the Northern Soul crowd. A Feeling (For Someone Else Has Grown) is funkier in feel. Knowing some of the songs by other artists makes the quality of Bette’s voice even more apparent. They stand up to lasting scrutiny. As for Bette herself...the trail goes cold in 1972.
Sandra Phillips’ earlier 60s recordings are Motown-esque and so found favour with the Northern Soul crowd, as did a later one for Columbia’s’ Okeh’ label. But as we’re talking Southern not Northern Soul here, we get Sandra’s version of Doris Duke’s To The Other Woman (I’m The Other Woman) and a wonderful take on She Didn’t Know (She Kept On Talking) the song Dee Dee Warwick took to the charts during the summer of 1970. The CD opener The Rescue Song is a bit of a wow. Sandra is having an affair with her best friend’s man, but its not good... sample lyric “He’s asked me to do some things I know he wouldn’t ask his wife” and unless my ears deceive me, it involves his buddy too. Strong stuff for 1970.
It would be unfair to pick one of this collection’s two wonderful singers above the other. The songs are all top drawer, the vocals are top drawer and of course the Swamp Dogg productions are impeccable, making it an album to savour, digest and enjoy.
The Metropolitan Soul Show