Various Artists

NPR Discover Songs: Soul Revival

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From a commercial point of view, soul music peaked in the '60, then died in the '70s as R&B morphed into funk, disco, and, finally, hip-hop. But by the '90s, an emerging genre dubbed neo soul, which looked back to that classic era for its inspiration, had begun to find a niche. Artists such as Maxwell, D'Angelo, Terence Trent D'Arby, and Erykah Badu led the way, and by the new century rolled around, a slew of new performers such as Amy Winehouse, Joss Stone, Macy Gray, and India.Arie had established careers singing in this style, which was never strictly retro but not bound to the conventions of the slicker, contemporary brand of R&B, either. The artists on this 13-song collection aren't all newcomers by any means, and several of them, while perhaps benefiting from the popularity of neo soul, are true flashbacks to the earlier era. Candi Staton, Chaka Khan, Ann Peebles, Betty LaVette, and Thelma Houston have been at it for decades, and calling them "neo" anything does them, and the movement, a disservice (although, to be fair, the compilers use recent recordings of the artists, Khan's a duet with Mary J. Blige, for example). Ditto the pairing of Steve Cropper and Felix Cavaliere, of '60s soul-rock bands Booker T. & the MG's and the Rascals, respectively. But some of the genuine revivalists presented here -- the ones who wear the word "retro" proudly on their sleeves -- justify the collection's title. The vibrant Ryan Shaw, who opens the program with his "Do the 45," and James Hunter, whose "No Smoke Without Fire" is included, are two dynamic vocalists who have absorbed the hallmarks of traditional soul. And Eli "Paperboy" Reed is the living embodiment of all that Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, and Wilson Pickett gave the world. But it's Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, represented here by the title track of their 100 Days, 100 Nights album, who have become the most heralded of the neos, and for good reason. Jones is a powerhouse of a vocalist who would have been a star if she'd been a little bit older in the heyday; she finally caught a break in the late '90s, and has a strong, deserved following today. This compilation isn't entirely indicative of the soul revival movement, but its heart is in the right place, and anyone not ready to commit fully to an album by one of its featured artists would do well to sample some of the more worthy tracks here and then investigate further.

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