The conceit behind Ace's 2014 compilation Let the Music Play: Black America Sings Bacharach & David isn't as idiosyncratic as it was for other similar Ace compilations covering the times when Black America sang the Beatles or Bob Dylan. Where Lennon & McCartney and Dylan performed their own songs, Burt Bacharach and Hal David were a songwriting team who existed behind the scenes, turning over tunes to singers who would turn them into hits. Often, those singers were African-American, including Dionne Warwick, whose elegance was an ideal match for the sophistication of Bacharach's melodies. Warwick opens this 24-track set with "Make It Easy on Yourself," an album track, not one of her big hits, which gives a good idea of the sensibility behind this compilation. There are plenty of standards here -- "My Little Red Book," "Always Something There to Remind Me," "Alfie," "The Look of Love," "Anyone Who Had a Heart," "Walk on By," "What the World Needs Now Is Love," "(They Long to Be) Close To You" -- but aside from Aretha Franklin's "I Say a Little Prayer," there isn't a hit version to be heard. This speaks to just how often Bacharach & David were covered in the '60s -- apart from Gloria Gaynor's disco-fied "Walk on By" from 1975, everything here was recorded between 1963 and 1971 -- and, indeed, there are several selections that were cut but sat in the vaults until some archival reissue in the '90s or 2000s. Far from scraping the bottom of the barrel, this emphasis on album tracks, unheard material, and semi-flop singles just reiterates both the depth of the Bacharach/David songbook and the strength of the '60s studio system. Most of these records sound like conceivable hits; certainly the songs often were hits, but the versions are rich, handsome, orchestrated pop-soul, the kind of thing that defined much of the sound of the '60s. For much of Let the Music Play, the compilation is devoted to this lush pop, the sound that's synonymous with Bacharach & David, but the last five cuts find some artists who brought the songwriters into the '70s; there's Gaynor's aforementioned disco single, Bobby Womack finding slow-burning funk in "(They Long to Be) Close to You," Gladys Knight & the Pips' smooth soul on "One Less Bell to Answer," and Isaac Hayes' melodramatic "I Just Don't Know What to Do with Myself." These are the selections that offer reinterpretations, but the rest of the set delivers what is expected from Bacharach & David, and is plenty satisfying for doing so.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine