The civil rights movement had enormous repercussions felt at every level of society, including popular music. Change Is Gonna Come: The Voice of Black America 1963-1973 collects 23 statements of African-American pride from the era, largely by soul artists, though even the tracks by the more jazz-oriented performers represented here bear a heavy soul influence. None of these cuts were massive pop hits, though the Impressions' "We're a Winner," James Brown's "I Don't Want Nobody to Give Me Nothing (Open the Door I'll Get It Myself)," Nina Simone's "To Be Young, Gifted and Black," and Gil Scott-Heron's "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" are certainly well remembered. Even stars like the Staple Singers, Otis Redding, the Drifters, the Spinners, Parliament, the Chi-Lites, and the Temptations are represented by pretty uncelebrated efforts, and a good number of tracks are by artists known mostly to soul buffs. But unlike some compilations that largely eschew well-known cuts in favor of more obscure items, the quality is uniformly high, and the cross section of takes on black pride and protest intriguingly wide and eclectic. There's a moving lamentation about barriers to interracial relationships on Patrice Holloway's "Stay with Your Own Kind"; a witty jazz take on the legacy of slavery on Oscar Brown, Jr.'s "Forty Acres and a Mule"; haunting uptown soul-jazz fusion on Lou Gossett, Paul Sindab, Joe Lee Wilson, and Little Butter's "Blues for Mr. Charlie"; a dramatic recitation on Yaphet Kotto's "Have You Ever Seen the Blues"; and characteristically eccentric Southern soul-pop by Swamp Dogg on "I Was Born Blue." Ray Scott's "The Prayer" is a blatant anti-George Wallace attack that retains the capacity to shock even 40 years later, beginning with the plea "Oh Lord, let the governor have a 17-car accident," and getting yet more vicious with every subsequent line. The Drifters' "Only in America" is the infamous, but still seldom heard, version of a sardonically patriotic song made into a less ironic hit by white group Jay & the Americans. There's even a soul cover of Bob Dylan's early-'70s protest number "George Jackson" (by J.P. Robinson). With material so concerned with social commentary, there's always the danger of the music being not nearly so well conceived as the words, but almost without exception, these cuts have dynamic grooves as well as fiery, socially relevant lyrical sentiments. You'll rarely hear any of this on oldies radio, but it's as trenchant and musically stimulating a document of the civil rights movement in soul music as any that's been assembled, with Kent/Ace's typically fine liner notes.
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AllMusic Review by Richie Unterberger