It was Lou Johnson's unusual fate to be known, especially to fans of Burt Bacharach and Hal David, for recording versions of songs that became bigger hits for others. In a crueler irony, those original versions have been hard to come by even in the CD era, at least prior to the reissue of this superbly packaged and annotated compilation. Incomparable Soul Vocalist presents 25 tracks Johnson recorded for Big Top in the early to mid-'60s, including four previously unreleased tracks and a previously unissued extended alternate take of "Unsatisfied." The highlights are, as expected, the seven Bacharach-David compositions, including his versions of "Reach Out for Me," "(There's) Always Something There to Remind Me," "The Last One to Be Loved," and "Kentucky Bluebird (Send a Message to Martha)," all of which are more famous as done by Dionne Warwick (who changed "Message to Martha" to "Message to Michael"). Also here is Bacharach-David's "Magic Potion," covered by the Searchers, and "If I Never Get to Love You," perhaps better known via interpretations by Marianne Faithfull, Gene Pitney, and Timi Yuro. Judged with toughness, Johnson's versions aren't as good as the more celebrated ones. But that doesn't mean they weren't good, as he was a fine suave soul-pop singer, though perhaps (like Dionne Warwick) closer to sophisticated pop than soul. Much of the other material was written by the songwriting team of Bill Giant, Bernie Baum, and Florence Kaye, and while it too has a smooth uptown pop-soul feel, it's simply not as memorable as Bacharach-David's output. "Please Stop the Wedding" is a very worthy wrenching downbeat ballad, though, and "Park Avenue" is neat in a kind of churning soul-pop-meets-Broadway fashion. The liner notes have a lengthy history of this cult soul favorite that doesn't just cover the Big Top recordings, but examines his whole career, with plenty of quotes from Johnson himself.
AllMusic Review by Richie Unterberger