The first volume of Ace's overview of tracks associated with producer-songwriter Bert Berns restricted itself to recordings from 1960-1964. This follow-up takes up the story to his premature death, with cuts from the years spanning 1964 and 1967. Though Berns was a notable soul-pop behind-the-scenester who had a vital hand in many excellent records, this isn't uniformly excellent, owing to Ace's usual strategy of mixing hits with rarities, and efforts by major stars with outings by relative no-names. That doesn't mean this CD isn't good, but it does mean, as is so often the case with songwriters of stature, that the gap between the best stuff and the not-the-best-stuff is considerable. The best songs tend to be the most famous, here including the McCoys' "Hang on Sloopy" (in its long, unedited version), Van Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl" (in the radio edit that eliminated what was thought to be a risqué lyric), Solomon Burke's soul classic "Everybody Needs Somebody to Love," Wilson Pickett's "Come Home Baby," Garnet Mimms' "It Was Easier to Hurt Her," the Drifters' "I Don't Want to Go on Without You," and Erma Franklin's "Piece of My Heart" (an R&B hit made more famous by Big Brother & the Holding Company's cover). The rest tends toward the routinely competent, even when the artist (such as Lorraine Ellison, the Exciters, Ben E. King, Patti LaBelle, Barbara Lewis, and Freddie Scott) could clearly work wonders with superior songs. Still, nothing's that mediocre, the tunes and arrangements sometimes displaying Berns' predilection for similar Latin-flavored beats and chord progressions. It's not necessarily reason to buy this CD, but Otis Redding collectors may want to know that this anthology includes a previously unreleased alternate take of "I Got to Go Back (And Watch That Little Girl Dance)" (aka "Look at That Girl"). Note, too, the 1967 single "Mojo Mama," so similar to Edwin Starr's later Motown hit "25 Miles" in some respects that Berns and co-composer Jerry Wexler would eventually get co-writer credits for the song.
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