One would have expected Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs to have their work represented by a good Rhino anthology, but they don't. Instead, Ripete Records out of Columbia, South Carolina, for which Williams has recorded in recent years, has released this 25-song compilation, which includes material going back to "Little Darlin'" by the Gladiolas (which appears here in an alternate take) and the original demo version of "Stay." There are very few stones left unturned here, as the disc features a mixture of rare outtakes ("Stay" with punchier rhythm instruments and an organ) and brilliant Williams originals, of which the most fascinating is "May I," produced by Marshall Sehom and Allen Toussaint. One of Williams' most beautiful songs, buried by the bankruptcy of Vee Jay Records, "May I" never charted, but Bill Deal and the Rhondells later had a hit with it. Williams' version is slower, more passionately and compellingly performed, if a little less smooth in its tempos and choruses than Deal's version. The overview provided by this anthology doesn't include background notes on every track, but the tracks justify themselves-"Return," which features Gladys Knight & The Pips on backing vocals, being a case in point, an elegantly soulful 1964 song mixing Williams' and the other voices very delicately. Four numbers from a 1965 live album cut at Myrtle Beach, S.C., show off Williams and company doing superb covers of other peoples' songs ("The In Crowd," "Sherry," "Stubborn Kind of Fellow," "It's Not Unusual"), the mix of band and backing vocals startlingly good for what should be one of the great mid-1960's live soul albums. The big surprise, however, is the quality of Williams' 1987 recordings-he still has the same gift for rich, memorable melodies, and inventive, clever lyrics, when he doesn't fall into the nostalgia trap, that he had in the late 1950's, a voice that's even more expressive if not quite as rich, and a great sense of how to phrase a lyric; coupled with tasteful arrangements, the results are as compelling as anything in Williams' output.
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AllMusic Review by Bruce Eder