This is the soul record people have been looking for for a long time, but may not have known it. Alongside the Stax/Volt and Motown compilations that keep selling, and every rarities collection from the soulful '50s and '60s that's issued in Europe or Japan and disappears upon release, exists a soul music every bit as vital and pure as those venerable recordings have offered us. Apparently, soul music is now a secret music in America, where in urban centers, on weekends, large groups of folks get together and clap, shout, and dance for their favorite performers -- some of whom have been making music for decades and some younger people who are making vital, exciting soul music now because it's the only music that moved them when they were coming up. This compilation aims to showcase a number of these current artists by juxtaposing their music against some of the genre's greats. The folks at Rhino, who do some of the best reissues in the world, are also committed to new explorers. The set opens with the illustrious silver-tongued angel Bobby Blue Bland with his deeply moving "Members Only," cut for Malaco in 1985 (and reached number 43 in the R&B chart). Bland is the consummate soul singer, and the arrangement is classic Chicago gospel croon à la Curtis Mayfield. When Bland sings "Members only, it's a private party/don't need no money to qualify/don't bring your checkbook, bring your broken heart/cause it's member's only tonight/say you lost your woman, say you lost your man/you got a lot of problems in your life/they're throwin' a party for the broken hearted/it's members only tonight," the melody is straight from "People Get Ready," and the strings swirl into the spare horn arrangements as the female vocals enter at the chorus. With a flute solo in the bridge, it's as deep and moving a song as there exists today. Johnnie Taylor, Bobby Rush, Clarence Carter (forget about "Patches"; his "Strokin'" is a racy, sensual extrapolation of "Givin' It Up for Your Love," Little Milton, Shirley Brown -- whose "Woman to Woman" is as marvelous, feminine, and tough a ballad as any ballad ever recorded) -- Betty Wright, and Millie Jackson are among the legends on the 16-track set. And so what -- right, these are all stalwarts who are the current soul dudes and divas that carry the torch for a music that seems impossible to make in the current cultural climate. Okay. First of all, there's the remarkable Sterling Harrison & the New Breed doing the classic "There's a Rat in My House" -- given such a stinging wrangling guitar treatment by Buddy Guy in the '80s that the song was lost -- is a blues that comes from the Magic Sam School of Blues & R&B. His growling, roaring gospel-preacher moans open the door for the backbone to slip on out the back door. Newcomer Ronnie Lovejoy's chitlin circuit jukebox hit (remember those), the cocky "Still Wasn't Me," is a deeper-than-blue study in romantic denial and deceit. His mix of righteous indignation and soulful pleading are infectious and reaching. The drums are a bit thin, but the tune's story, his killer voice -- Solomon Burke meets Wilson Pickett -- with Philly soul production and a huge chorus of female backing vocals are convincing evidence that deep soul is still alive and kicking. Sterling Meadows, whose spoken beginning is another tale of denial: the protagonist's former woman is hanging out steady with someone else, and he's refusing to buy it as authentic. When he croons with the backbeat: "She can fool her friends, that's the easy part/Just wait she can't fool her heart/You're still my love...You can't turn it off when you want to/Love don't work that way/For eyes that weep, there's a heart that yearns/And soon he'll learn/She's still my love...." Echoes of Al Green, Brook Benton, Cecil Womack, and David Ruffin slip through the mix unabashedly, but the tune has it all anyway. The delivery could be anyone because the groove is so deep. There isn't a dog in this 16-track bunch; I can hardly wait for the second volume.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek