Various Artists

Northern Soul's Classiest Rarities, Vol. 4

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If you have any of the three previous volumes of this series, or indeed some of the Ace label's many Northern soul-oriented compilations, you know the drill: uptempo, vintage soul from rare discs that didn't come close to being hits, with a few tracks that weren't even released until the 21st century. This CD has 24 tracks from the mid-'60s to the early '70s, with an artist roster that will challenge the trivia banks of even those who collect Northern soul anthologies. Sure, Brenton Wood (represented by a rare, early 45) is familiar, and at a stretch, R&B singer Lord Luther might be, too, but otherwise these are ranks from the rear file. The music is acceptably decent without being classic, with the Motown sound casting a huge shadow over much of it. (Indeed the Jesse Davis Band's previously unreleased 1967 instrumental "Hang on in There Girl" sounds like a Motown backing track awaiting a vocal overdub.) That's not the only influence at play: Jesse James' "Are You Gonna Leave Me?" sounds like an Impressions outtake; Jerry Ganey's "Just a Fool" heavily recalls the Righteous Brothers (unsurprisingly, as the Righteous Brothers' Bill Medley produced and co-wrote the track); and both smoother group harmony and harder funk sometimes come into the picture, too. There's even a Jackie Wilson-ish novelty from 1964, Melvin Davis' "It's No News," with the inspirational opening line "if a dog bites a man, that's no news, but if a man bites a dog that's news." Nothing sounds particularly like a can't-miss hit, but that's not the point of these collections, which is to assemble fair upbeat soul that will have been virtually unheard by most people. On that count it succeeds, with more well-programmed variety than the typical such compilation. The story behind one of the better cuts, Salt-n-Pepa's lightly funky "A Man of My Word," is arguably more interesting than any of the music on the CD, having been recorded in Bangkok in 1970 by U.S. musicians serving at an Air Force base.

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