Various Artists

Hi Times: The R&B Years Sampler

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Along with other Memphis labels like Stax, Goldwax, and American, Hi helped expose the world to Southern soul music. While the company didn't strike gold in the '60s along with its rivals, it did hit its stride in the '70s thanks to Al Green. Launched in 1959, the label first moved into the spotlight with Bill Black's Top 20 hit "Smokie, Part 2." Focusing on the honking R&B formula of that instrumental, Hi rode out most of the '60s with a steady stream of moderately successful releases. With veteran Memphis jazz musician Willie Mitchell coming on board as A&R director in the late '60s, however, the company found its sound and went on to become one of the most successful of all Memphis labels. The elegant, but earthy soul Mitchell preached can be ideally heard on Al Green hits like "Can't Get Next to You" and "Simply Beautiful," both of which are included on this substantial Hi sampler (the collection comes out of a three-disc set covering all the label's hits as well as a selection of minor gems). Along with other high-profile moments like Otis Clay's "Trying to Live My Life Without You," Ann Peebles' "I'm Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down," and Syl Johnson's cover of Green's "Take Me to the River," there are plenty of lesser-known prizes from Erma Coffee, O.V. Wright, Ace Canon, and Quiet Elegance. Also on display, the superb Hi rhythm section comprised of drummer Al Jackson and the brother team of Teenie, Charles, and Leroy Hodges on guitar, organ, and bass, respectively. A perfect introduction to at least one side of the fertile sound of Southern soul.

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