Various Artists

Birth of Motor Town

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While Motown began to dominate Detroit soul at the beginning of the 1960s, there were several other, smaller local labels that did their part to record the city's talent and help the region make its transition from doo wop to soul. Birth of Motor Town documents much of the music released on the LuPine and Flick labels, run by Robert West. None of these two-dozen tracks, cut from 1959 to 1964, were hits, but they do include rarities by several soul notables who had a lot of success elsewhere. Undoubtedly the most famous of them is the primitive, energetic doo wop-cum-girl group 1960 single ("Tears of Sorrow"/"Pretty Baby") by the Primettes, a teenage group who would shortly afterward change their name to the Supremes. There are also, however, sides by Marv Johnson (who of course would also be important to Motown's early fortunes); the Falcons; ex-Falcons Eddie Floyd, Mack Rice, and Joe Stubbs; Betty Lavette; and a few no-names who might not even reside in large specialist soul collections. While there are some similarities to the kinds of records Motown was making in its very early days, when it was struggling to find its own sound (as in the occasional use of flute to make the arrangements more sophisticated), the likenesses aren't overwhelming. Nor is the quality of the music, though it's okay. There just aren't any striking tunes, and an awkward and sometimes raw '50s-to-'60s transitional feel hovers over the production of the earlier sides. As for the packaging, though the liner notes are informative, they're vague on some points like release dates of specific cuts. While the Primettes are credited as backup vocalists on the Marv Johnson sides, for instance, close reading reveals that attribution of those two tracks to both Johnson and the Primettes is more of an educated guess than a confirmed fact. The fidelity of the anthology is inconsistent, with some hiss and distortion remaining, whether due to flaws in the early recordings or in the less-than-optimum condition of the sources used to master the CD. Incidentally, the house band on most LuPine releases was the Ohio Untouchables, who included Clarence Satchell and Cornelius Johnson, later of the Ohio Players.