Ben E. King was no run-of-the-mill soul shouter, either in his classic sides with the Drifters or on his later solo hits, and a desire to expand his creative boundaries dominates 1962's Ben E. King Sings for Soulful Lovers and 1965's Seven Letters, two albums that have been given a tandem reissue on this disc from DBK Works. Ben E. King Sings for Soulful Lovers is a glossy set of 12 tunes that were either hits for other R&B acts or popular standards, and the album suggests King was making a bid for crossover success in upscale nightclubs, much like Sam Cooke was reaching for at the time (and Lou Rawls, the Supremes, and the Temptations would later achieve). King was certainly capable of delivering these songs with all the panache that such a gig would demand, and his rich and supple voice is in superb form here. However, while King could bring a gentle but soulful swing to numbers like "He Will Break Your Heart" and "At Last," neither King nor arranger Claus Ogerman could work the same magic with "My Foolish Heart" or "Moon River," though it's not for lack of trying on King's part. King gets to open up and get with the spirit more on Seven Letters, which is dominated by the smooth, string-driven production style of his best-known songs, though a few cuts aim for a rougher and more emotional edge (especially the broken-hearted title cut). King aims for the sounds of the islands on "Jamaica," goes for a tongue-in-cheek Latin flavor on "Si Señor," brings a gospel-tinged uptempo feel to "Let the Water Run Down," and offers a heartfelt update of "Stand by Me" on "I'm Standing By." While King favored a more eclectic style on Seven Letters, the strength of his vocal delivery unifies the 12 songs, and it's as good a set as he ever released. Together, these two albums may not represent an ideal Ben E. King collection (given that both LPs were short on hits), but this disc is certainly a superb testament to his distinctive talent. DBK's reissue has been remastered with care and sounds great, while the original liner notes for both albums have been included, along with a new essay by Greg Burgess.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming