Rosetta Hightower

Hightower

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After the classic Philly girl group the Orlons ("South Street," etc.) broke up in the mid-'60s, lead singer Rosetta Hightower moved to England. Alongside other Yankee transplants like Geno Washington and Doris Troy, Hightower played the club and casino circuit that was in the early stages of developing into what would eventually be called Northern Soul. The outstanding compilation Rosetta Hightower collects the singer's late-'60s and early-'70s British recordings, including the whole of her self-titled 1971 album. Although the song selection leans far too heavily on familiar recent soul hits like "Tracks of My Tears" and "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," her vocal prowess is undeniable: rather than showy over-souled histrionics, Hightower's restraint becomes her trademark, lending an elegance to these smartly arranged pop-soul interpretations. It's the four pre-album single sides that are a revelation, however: in particular, the energetic "Pretty Red Balloons" is a lost classic with a killer chorus featuring a swooping string section in the classic bubblegum tradition, and her version of Eddie Floyd's "Big Bird" goes gritty and psychedelic in the manner of contemporaneous Temptations singles. For all the charms of the album, more of the giddy experimentation of the singles would have worked even better.

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