Various Artists

Soulful Steppers: A Collection of Beat Ballads Volume One

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Steppin is the dominant form of dance and musical expression in Chicago's African-American nightlife culture. Its origins date back to late-'50s Chicago and the Bop -- a singularly elegant and serene dance typified by gliding, dipping, and striding -- the Bop was most distinguished by what participants called the Walk, which embraced all other elements of the dance but pushed them to new extremes of slow-motion grace and pinpoint precision. The Bop fell out of favor during the late 1960s and resurfaced in accelerated form during the disco era, but only with its evolution into Steppin during the mid-'80s did the culture achieve critical mass. The music favored by the Steppin scene's impeccably dressed dancers boasted lush, swelling arrangements and smooth-as-glass rhythms, and little has changed in the years since, with crowd-pleasing vintage and modern urban grooves notable for their heartfelt vocals, simple yet sophisticated melodies, and slinky sensuous beats. The first volume in the Soulful Steppers series homes in on the moody, mellow soul of the late 1960s, arguably the zenith of the smooth soul sound. The set boasts 23 cuts in all, and although track information is nil, the audio fidelity is solid and some of the material is making its CD debut. Highlights include Kenny & the Impacts' "Wishing Well," Tony Middleton's "Drifting," and Geraldine Hunt's "For Lovers Only."