Various Artists

Ian Levine Presents Reaching for the Best: The Northern Soul of Blackpool Mecca

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The Blackpool Mecca was one of the dance venues in which Northern soul was popularized in England in the 1970s, and this two-CD, 50-track collection is an homage to the music you might have heard dancing the night away there. Unlike many a Northern soul compilation, however, its focus is not so much obscure midtempo to up-tempo '60s soul as it is '70s disco and sweet soul, or at least disco mixed in with early- to mid-'70s sounds that were harbingers of the disco explosion. Not only will you not find much duplication with other Northern soul anthologies here, but you'll find few names who will be instantly familiar beyond the hardcore faithful. Even some of the more renowned figures (Gil Scott-Heron, Bessie Banks, Derek Martin, Tony Clarke, the Exciters, the Whispers, Lamont Dozier, Felix Cavaliere of the Rascals) are hardly top-shelf household names to the general public, though a couple tracks (Evelyn Thomas' slightly suggestive "Weak Spot" and L.J. Johnson's "Your Magic Put a Spell on Me") became small British hits. These sounds obviously meant so much to the people who compiled this that it almost pains one to offer the opinion that rare and in-crowd as it might be, to the great majority of average soul fans, this isn't nearly as interesting and exciting as the best '70s soul had to offer. It's nonstop danceable should you be in the mood to take the floor, and at two and a half hours it's almost as much a marathon as an all-night dance session might have been. But for those without a personal connection to hearing the records spin at Northern soul venues back in the day, it's just OK period soul, mostly spanning the late '60s to the late '70s, with the odd cut here and there standing out depending on your personal taste. Items worth keeping your ear out for are the Anderson Brothers' almost voyeuristic "I Can See Him Loving You"; Robby Lawson's 1967 cut "Burning Sensation," which has much more of a classic '60s dance soul feel than most of the selections; the Whatnauts' "Blues Fly Away," with its buoyant vocals and swinging rhythm; the female-sung pop-soul of Odds & Ends' "Let Me Try," one of the relatively few songs here that sounds like it might have deserved some chart success; and Frankie "Loveman" Crocker's "Ton of Dynamite," a genuinely hot, raw funk instrumental that's far earthier than most of what surrounds it.

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