The stellar Bluesoul Belles: The Complete Calla, Port & Roulette Recordings spotlights Betty Lavette and Carol Fran, two of the more criminally underrated singers from soul music's mid-'60s golden era. Unearthing two dozen tracks from the Calla, Port, and Roulette vaults, many of them previously unreleased alternate takes, the set offers a persuasive argument that, while never earning the critical respect or commercial kudos of their contemporaries, both women deserve consideration alongside the greats of the period. Lavette's opening "Let Me Down Easy," a staple of the Northern soul scene and the countless anthologies it's yielded, is far and away the most recognizable cut here -- the song is her masterpiece, a blisteringly poignant requiem for romance gone bad distinguished by its unique, tango-like rhythm and sweeping string arrangement. The remaining seven tracks don't reach the same peaks, but from the Motown-inspired stomp of "What I Don't Know (Won't Hurt Me)" to the gospel-inflected "Cry Me a River," Lavette's versatility and raw power ring through loud and clear. Although Lavette receives top billing, Fran's contributions comprise fully two-thirds of the disc; best known for her latter-day blues efforts with guitarist husband Clarence Holliman, the aching beauty of her mid-'60s soul sides is revelatory. Though rooted in the blues, her crystalline vocals were nevertheless ideally suited to the uptown style and sophistication of her Port dates; the chart failure of these recordings is baffling, and in particular the remarkable "Any Day Love Walks In" merits the label of lost classic.
Bluesoul Belles: The Complete Calla, Port & Roulette Recordings Review
by Jason Ankeny