Mable John

My Name Is Mable: The Complete Collection

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Mable John's stint with Motown was sufficiently obscure that even some of the relatively few soul fans who know of her work at all aren't aware that she started her career with the label. She did record a fair amount of material while there, and the accurately titled My Name Is Mable: The Complete Collection has all of it, containing all nine songs that showed up on 1960-1963 singles (including both the stringless and with-strings versions of "No Love" and both the 1960 and 1963 versions of "Who Wouldn't Love a Man Like That") and ten previously unreleased outtakes. It's fine music, not just as quality early soul by one of the style's more underrated vocalists, but also as a document of Motown when it was at its bluesiest, and still looking to nail down the pop-soul groove that would eventually become its strongest suit. Several of the figures who would be key to Motown's success were involved with these sides, among them (as producers and songwriters) Berry Gordy, Mickey Stevenson, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, Clarence Paul, Brian Holland, and Lamont Dozier. Too, the then-hitless Supremes and Temptations supplied backup vocals. What, then, was missing, considering that John was a mature, passionately strong gospel-influenced singer? Not much, except perhaps truly great songs that would have been obvious hits. The songs are decent, and though they've been a bit lazily classified as blues by some, you can virtually always hear the classic Motown sound in embryo. "Who Wouldn't Love a Man Like That" doesn't sound much different from the early Miracles' material, for instance, and you could certainly hear other songs fitting into the early repertoire of fellow Motowners like Marvin Gaye and Mary Wells without a problem. Some fans might prefer the funkier stuff that John recorded later in the '60s for Stax (as heard on the Stay Out of the Kitchen compilation), but this anthology is strong enough to appeal to general fans of early soul music, not just specialist collectors.