Soul Diva Sessions

Various Artists

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Soul Diva Sessions Review

by Richie Unterberger

There's not much rhyme or reason to this two-CD, 30-track compilation of woman-sung soul from the 1960s and 1970s. With just two big hits (Jean Knight's "Mr. Big Stuff" and Barbara Lewis' "Baby I'm Yours"), it's certainly not a best-of for the category. And though it does have tracks by a few hitmakers (Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone, Mavis Staples, Betty Everett, Patti LaBelle, Ike & Tina Turner, Gladys Knight & the Pips), none of those selections would count among these performers' better-known recordings. As a kind of arbitrary but wide-ranging compilation of not-too-well-known soul, however -- licensed from an impressive variety of labels -- it's a fairly good investment for someone who's not a systematic soul collector, but wants something full of pretty high-quality stuff in a style that they probably haven't heard before. The focus is too sprawling to lend itself to quick summarization, but some of the highlights span several micro-genres -- dramatic pop-soul (Betty Lavatte's "Let Me Down Easy," P.P. Arnold's "The First Cut Is the Deepest," Patti LaBelle & the Bluebelles' "All or Nothing"), pre-disco (Gwen McCrae's "Lead Me On," the Ad-Libs' cover of Van McCoy's "Giving Up"); upbeat dancefloor soul (Everett's "Getting Mighty Crowded," Knight's pre-Motown gem "Stop & Get a Hold of Myself"); funky New Orleans soul (Betty Harris' "There's a Break in the Road"); arching ballads (the Fascinations' "I Can't Stay Away From You"); Hi Records soul-funk (Ann Peebles' "I'm Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down"); and an obscure Curtis Mayfield cover in the Superfly style (Patti Jo's "Make Me Believe in You").

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