Big John Hamilton

How Much Can a Man Take

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Both sides of eight singles Big John Hamilton released in 1967-1971 (all but one for the Minaret label) are on this virtually definitive collection, as well as a couple previously unissued outtakes from the late '60s. These Southern soul recordings are in the same league as some of the more celebrated ones cut at famous studios in Memphis and Muscle Shoals. Ultimately, Hamilton himself isn't in the same league as Otis Redding -- the famous singer he most resembles, especially on the pleading ballads -- or other top artists who recorded in roughly similar styles. His material and congenial singing lacked the hard edge of Redding, Wilson Pickett, and Sam & Dave. However, that shouldn't take away from the average soul fan's -- and particularly the average deep Southern soul fan's -- pleasure in this well-annotated anthology. It's full of well-done tracks in the late-'60s Stax/Muscle Shoals style, and his most highly regarded single, "How Much Can I Take," is almost on the level of the best wrenching Stax ballads. "I Have No One" isn't too far behind in that category, and Hamilton could also take on more lighthearted uptempo numbers like "Big Fanny," as well as tunes of a decidedly bluesy ("The Train," "Love Comes and Goes," "Lift Me Up," "Take a Chance with Me") or almost swamp poppish ("Breaking Up Is Hard to Do") bent.

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