Jackie Lee’s vocals sounded effortless. To achieve that after 22 takes, as on his opus ‘Oh My Darlin’’, indicates not only an admirable work ethic but much skill. In the US he was best remembered for his hit ‘The Duck’ and was later inevitably pigeon-holed as a lightweight purveyor of dance music. In the UK we generally came to him later, but dug much deeper and, apart from finding and enjoying his other dance-slanted numbers, we saw his more emotional persona on ‘Would You Believe’ and the ABC released ‘Darkest Days’. This talent was confirmed when the B&C label, and later Jay Boy, issued his slow-burning duet with Delores Hall ‘Whether It’s Right Or Wrong’; as fine an example of soul singing as you could wish for.
There is no need to justify an artist’s talent with ballads; stomping uptempo songs demand different, but equally hard to achieve, skills of the vocalist and nobody’s clarity, feel and enthusiasm could better Jackie’s mastery of the art. Undoubtedly it was the coming together of the Mirwood music machine, featuring the brilliant arrangements of James Carmichael, sensuous backing vocalists directed by and featuring Sherlie Matthews, along with her, Fred Smith and Jackie’s own songs, that all added to the musical magic. It was a real team effort, but with Jackie’s name out front, so he was always going to make sure that the product was top notch.
The English kids who discovered ‘Do The Temptation Walk’ in 1969 were three years late but probably around the same age as the US teens for whom the recording had been originally aimed. But those guys had been spoiled; they could drop into Dolphin’s of Hollywood or Flash’s record stores and pick up scores of similar sounding discs for a few dimes. In soul-starved Blighty we had to hunt for months and then pay a week’s spending money to get our hands on such jewels. The benefit was that they were treasured and remained part of our musical upbringing. Cherished and collected they weren’t destined for the charity shop when the next musical trend hit town.
The rare soul clubs played so many of Jackie’s songs that his name became synonymous with Northern soul. The original 60s soul collectors had already enjoyed much of his work as the Earl half of Bob & Earl, purveyors of great soul music since 1961. Although their biggest hit was ‘Harlem Shuffle’ several of their highest-regarded tracks are deep soul ballads. It is largely re-workings of those that contribute the slower songs in this set.
Jackie/Earl’s musical history is covered in the notes with some explanations given and further mysteries revealed. By buying the Mirwood label Ace have had full and lengthy access to the masters and so have been able to provide no fewer than six alternate vocal takes and three new songs. Make that two and a half new songs as we have soul music’s equivalent of Beethoven’s unfinished symphony in Jackie’s ‘Tin Pan Alley’. It is a fine composition that is just building nicely when the song falls into an abyss after a minute and a bit. On the tape the guys can be heard to say they would finish it later, but for that track tomorrow never came. Luckily we still have 27 different Mirwood complete songs. This CD is a musical tribute to Jackie’s important and enjoyable career.
By Ady Croasdell