Various Artists

Don't Forget the Motor City

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Three DVDs and six hours of Detroit soul featuring stars like the Miracles, the Supremes, the Contours, Mary Wells, Edwin Starr, and the Marvelettes sounds too good to be true -- and in some ways, it is. For although this package prominently bills those artists on the cover, labeling it as a "collection of 100 videos of the classic artists who originally brought you the Motown sound," there are reasons to beware. First, though all of the aforementioned artists are present here, most of the performers are not big stars; some of them don't have connections to the Motown label, and quite a few of them are so obscure that even major soul fans won't be familiar with the names. Also, this is not from the prime of the Motown sound or even Detroit soul, but has obviously been filmed at a considerably later date -- sometime in the 1980s or '90s, at a guess (no liner notes or source documentation are provided). Most important of all, these videos aren't very good, on several fronts. Much of it isn't performed live or with backup musicians, and the settings, whether on-stage, in home environments, or in the studio, are usually bare-bones and cheap. Most of the songs are unmemorable watered-down derivations of the '60s Detroit soul sound, often with a slightly discofied production. Some of the genuine Motown acts have significantly altered their lineups since their salad days. And the classic songs that are on these DVDs are not sung by the original performers; thus you get the likes of "Touch Me in the Morning" by Hattie Littles, and "You Are the Sunshine of My Life" by Frances Nero. After the opening video shows Mary Wells singing sans musicians on a minimal stage with a lackluster audience that seems to have been hijacked from the rotary club meeting next door, you're thinking it can't get any worse, but though it doesn't, it doesn't get much better, either. Occasionally performers like Bettye LaVette and Kim Weston show some spark, but overall this is a nastily deceptive package that does neither the Detroit soul sound nor its hardcore fans any service.

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