The title Gold Soul refers to the color of the CD itself, not the sales figures for the recordings it contains. The focus of this 20-song collection, which Cleopatra released on its Golden Lane label in 2000, is the Players' lesser-known pre-Westbound recordings of 1968 -- none of which were even close to gold in terms of sales. Back then, the Midwesterners were obscure, and it wasn't until the 1970s that they started having gold and platinum hits. But while Gold Soul may not contain the Players' most famous or commercially successful work, it is still interesting and enjoyable -- not to mention nicely assembled. Over the years, the Compass and Capitol recordings on Gold Soul have been reissued time and time again (usually on small budget labels), but rarely with the type of comprehensive, informative liner notes that Cleopatra provides. Written by singer Athan Maroulis -- an impressively versatile artist who has embraced everything from goth rock to jazz and pre-rock pop -- the liner notes offer a wealth of information on the Players' pre-Westbound period. Maroulis gets it right, explaining that before the Players were a 1970s funk band, they were into Southern-style soul à la Sam & Dave and Wilson Pickett. Some people have, over the years, incorrectly stated that 1971's Pain was their first album, but Maroulis obviously knows better. The Stax/Memphis soul influence is impossible to miss on Johnny Brantley-produced tracks like "Trespassin'" (a minor hit in 1968), "It's a Cryin' Shame," "I Got to Hold On," and "Street Party"; however, the Players' jazz-minded interpretation of the Gershwin standard "Summertime" hints at what was to come in the 1970s. "Summertime" is one of the few tracks that features guitarist Leroy "Sugar" Bonner on lead vocals; although he eventually became the Players' main vocalist, Dutch Robinson and Bobby Fears (both of whom left before Pain) were handling most of the lead vocals in 1968. This isn't the only CD that focuses on the Players' pre-Westbound period; unfortunately, many of the others aren't nearly as well-assembled. Gold Soul isn't recommended to those who have only a casual interest in the band; casual listeners would be better off sticking to essential Mercury titles like Skin Tight, Honey, and Fire. But for serious R&B collectors who want to hear what the Players sounded like before evolving into a 1970s funk powerhouse, Gold Soul is well worth obtaining.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson