Various Artists

Smooth Slow & Easy Soul Gems

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This collection of rare '60s, '70s, and '80s soul harmony obscurities brings the listener a complete record-listening experience, right down to hiss, crackle, and que-burns. Which is really fine, because the intended audience for Smooth Slow & Easy Soul Gems knows that many of these recordings are as rare as fabled Robert Johnson 78s from the '20s and that the noise apparent here is just part of the experience. However, in editing some of these tracks, greater care should have been taken; there are few things as unsettling as the dramatic, dead silence of a song cut short. Beyond these production foibles lies a collection of songs that are incredible documents of the weird and the beautiful, often within the same song. The Jaguars' "Wanda Why" blends a smoky Viscounts-like instrumental behind a great harmony that suddenly erupts in a crash of echo, and this might be the only place you can hear the El Roys' "I Crave Your Love" with its incongruous drum-machine backing and heartfelt, slightly fractured vocal. In fact, almost all of the 25 selections here have moments that suspend belief as they take uncharted paths along the edges of independent soul.

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