Various Artists

Pied Piper Presents: A New Concept in Detroit Soul

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Pied Piper was not a label, it was a production outfit led by record man Shelley Haims and featuring Jack Ashford and Mike Terry. The latter two were veterans of Motown and were responsible for the sound and songs (Terry departed early on but left behind several tunes) while Haims was the money man, hustling deals and getting the productions out to RCA, a label that was eager to snag a piece of the Motown market. Pied Piper also had their own label called Giant -- a label that should not be confused with the Chicago label from roughly the same time (or Irving Azoff's '90s venture, for that matter) -- but this was by no means the only outlet for the tracks. Pied Piper's productions popped up on many different imprints (Karate, Kapp, Ruby) all through the mid-'60s, and all having one thing in common: they had no chart success and would have been lost to history if it wasn't for the Northern Soul movement in the U.K. in the '70s. Northern Soul has an insatiable appetite for unheard and forgotten singles and some fans noticed the Pied Piper production, leading to a small cult but to no reissues until Ace's 2013 set Pied Piper Presents: A New Concept in Detroit Soul. Through a byzantine turn of events -- documented in Ady Croasdell's complicated and necessary liner notes -- a treasure trove of Pied Piper-related acetates, singles, and tapes were discovered and prepped for release. Many of these were previously unreleased, but even those that were circulated can't be said to be known, as they barely made it out of the Midwest. This is exceedingly rare stuff and, as Northern Soul that celebrates exceedingly rare singles for the very virtue of their scarcity, it's easy to be somewhat skeptical of the quality of these 24 tracks but, by and large, they're all excellent, sterling examples of bright, effervescent '60s soul-pop. Well, that's not 100-percent true; the collection ends with two 1966 sides from Mike & Ray and the Sandpipers (seemingly a local Midwest group, not the easy listening outfit that had a hit with "Guantanamera"), singles that illustrate how the Pied Piper team could fit right into the thick of the pop mainstream. Nevertheless, the specialty of Pied Piper was that joyous, bouncing groove associated with Tamla/Motown, then spread out around the globe. Perhaps due to their time at Motown, Ashford and Terry knew how to construct a song and a record, and were flexible enough to adapt (witness how the Hesitations' "She Won't Come Back" captures much of the lush, string-drenched details of 1967), so this collection winds up playing like a jukebox from an alternate universe: none of the songs are a known, but they're guaranteed to give you a good time and perhaps ease their way onto playlists of favorite, obscure '60s soul.

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