Various Artists

Soul Blues Hits

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Memphis-based Ecko Records specializes in contemporary blues and R&B, working old-school soul sounds with a full awareness that it's a hip-hop world. With horn and organ driven arrangements that make full use of bluesy electric guitar lines, Ecko provides a viable alternative to what passes these days for modern soul. The biggest name on this sampler of Ecko artists is probably Barbara Carr, whose sexy, sultry vocals mix gutbucket blues with Motown. Carr frequently works over looped beats that, although disconcerting at first, actually serve to draw attention to her powerful vocal presence, which eschews the melismatic posturing so popular in contemporary R&B for a more straight-ahead blues shouting style, an approach that makes her vocals sound almost larger than life. She is represented here by three tracks, "Shont Don't Don't," "I've Been Playing at the Hole in the Wall," and the smoldering "Stroke It." Newcomer Morris J has two strong songs here, as well, the heart-felt "Is Anybody Lonely" and the everyman shuffle ballad, "It's Friday." Nothing here will make you forget Stax Records, but these artists are trying to carry that deep Memphis groove into a post-hip-hop universe, and while not everything catches fire on this collection, the pilot is on and the match is definitely lit.

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