Various Artists

Northern Soul [Apace]

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What constitutes an "essential" collection of music is a point one could readily debate for hours on end, but it's hard to imagine that it really suits this two-disc set of lesser-known R&B tunes from the '60s. While a number of the tracks on Northern Soul: The Essential Northern Soul Album are zealously collected among U.K. soul fans, that seems to be a consequence of their rarity rather than any intrinsic excellence (a frequent problem with Northern soul collections), and while there are plenty of solid soul tunes in the Detroit and Chicago traditions featured here, it's hardly packed with what attentive listeners would consider genre classics. (Detroit Sound can name-check Motown's biggest acts all they like, but no one is going to spin "We're Gonna Party" if there's anything by Smokey Robinson or Stevie Wonder on hand.) It doesn't help that most of the tracks on this set have clearly been sourced from well-worn vinyl singles, with much audible surface noise, and for every top-notch track like "Don't Start None" by the Mayfield Singers or "Dreaming Up a World of Happiness" by the Charades, there's a clinker such as Johnny Vanelli's painfully vanilla "Seven Days of Loving You." Discriminating fans will be disappointed by the lack of liner notes, and while Apace Music has tried to make this set look hefty by releasing it on two discs, the truth is these 30 tunes would have fit on a single CD. In short, this is fun stuff for collectors and you can fill out a mix tape for your next dance party with the highlights of this set, but "essential"? Hardly.

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