Northern Soul: Cream of 60's Soul

Various Artists

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Northern Soul: Cream of 60's Soul Review

by Richie Unterberger

For this two-CD, 32-track compilation, the concept is Northern soul: rare, dance-oriented '60s soul that has developed an enduring cult following in England, that is. You'll find some artists here who had hits, though you won't find their big hits on the disc themselves: Eddie Holman, the O'Jays, the Manhattans, Martha Reeves, Bobby Womack, the Olympics, Jackie Lee, the Ad-Libs, David Ruffin, Edwin Starr. A couple of these actually were hits: the Parliaments' "I Wanna Testify," with a young George Clinton, and Bob and Earl's oft-covered "Harlem Shuffle." And some of them, like Timothy Wilson's "Hiding in Your Heart," are luscious ballads, not up-tempo tunes. Most of this stuff, though, is pretty rare, or certainly not heard on oldies radio anymore even if they were low-charting R&B hits or got some regional action. There are many Northern soul compilations (almost all of them, unsurprisingly, from the U.K.), and judged by the basis of track selection, this is one of the better ones. The songs have the kind of hooks, energy, disciplined harmonies, and thoughtful production that put them into the league of records that at their best should have been at least small hits, and at their worst would be enjoyable filler on the average '60s soul broadcast. In its disfavor, however, the liner notes do not give original release details on most of the tracks, though they do give reasonable background information on the performers. The sound is okay but has obviously, in at least some instances, been taken from vinyl, and often has a harsh, brittle high end. It still sounds better than the average tape of such stuff would if you got someone to make it from a private collection. And, it would cost you a bunch to buy these in different formats, whether on other CD reissues (if you could even find them on reissues) or the rare original 45s. The best obscurity is the Flirtations' "Settle Down," which is mid-tempo female-sung harmony soul with an outstanding melody.

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