Jackie Wilson

The Jackie Wilson Story [Sony]

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If there's anyone in the history of R&B who deserved a better hand than they were dealt when it came to making records, it was Jackie Wilson. Wilson had boundless energy, unbeatable charisma, and a frankly astounding voice; just listen to "Reet Petite" and be awestruck at the rapid-fire array of vocal effects Wilson reels off with casual ease. But while he was among the finest singers of his generation, Wilson was usually saddled with second-rate songs, dunderheaded arrangements, and lame backing vocalists whose presence is the musical equivalent of putting mayonnaise on hot pastrami. Wilson's recorded career is dotted with disasters and miscalculations, but the man was simply too talented to not strike lucky every once in a while, and part of his genius was that he could make something out of the most unlikely material; it's hard to imagine why Wilson's A&R man thought it was a good idea to cut "Danny Boy," but the artist actually finds a way to make it sound soulful. And on the rare occasions when he got the right song (such as "Lonely Teardrops," "To Be Loved," "You Don't Know What It Means," or "Your Love Keeps Lifting Me [Higher and Higher]"), he was unbeatable. Longtime fans Joe McEwin and Gregg Geller sorted through 15 years worth of Wilson's recordings to compile The Jackie Wilson Story, a superb two-record set that brings together most of Wilson's hits and adds a number of top-quality also-rans, obscurities, and oddities (including that version of "Danny Boy"). The flaws that pock-marked many of Wilson's recordings are evident throughout, but his voice shines like a diamond on every cut, and if you want to know the artist was a top draw on the R&B circuit for close to two decades, one listen to this set will show you -- no one could sing quite like Jackie Wilson.

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