Ben E. King

Anthology One: Spanish Harlem

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This is a well-intentioned but slightly flawed volume in Sequel Records' Ben E. King anthology series -- the producers were obviously attempting to follow a pattern identical to the one used for the concurrent Sequel reissue series on the Drifters, but in this instance it didn't make as much sense, mostly owing to the nature of the album around which it is built. Whereas the Drifters didn't record (or really, release) an actual album's body of songs until the mid-'60s -- all of their LPs before that were assembled from existing singles augmented with a few miscellaneous songs from chronologically related sessions -- King's Spanish Harlem was very much a thematically unified Latin soul flavored album, and it worked well in that context, as it does here. But the additional tracks dating from sessions that were unrelated to those tracks -- good as some of them are -- don't really mesh with the album, and they break up the listening experience. There are still far more fine than lesser cuts here, and it's worth owning in any case -- the production and audio quality are excellent, and at the time of its release this was a kind of revelation, as a major (and unprecedented) raid on King's library -- but it isn't as coherent, cohesive, or satisfying a listening experience as Collectables' subsequent two-on-one CD of Spanish Harlem and Don't Play That Song.