Before he revolutionized R&B, paved the way for funk and hip-hop, and became the most sampled man in show business, James Brown was a hard-shouting soul man, and this compilation of early Brown sides focuses on his more conventional R&B material, spotlighting Brown's skills as a soul singer rather than the brittle, groundbreaking music he crafted from "Cold Sweat" onward. Soul Machine is a solid collection of early hits, with "Please, Please, Please," "Think," "Lost Someone," and "I'll Go Crazy" sounding more comfortable in this context than alongside his later funk workouts, while also nodding to his brief flirtation with string sections ("Prisoner of Love" and "It's a Man's Man's Man's World") and his well-documented obsession with that long-defunct dance craze, the mashed potatoes ("Do the Mashed Potatoes" AND "Mashed Potatoes U.S.A." on one disc!). If Brown sounds more like an R&B classicist here than in his peak material from the late '60s and early '70s, right off the bat he sounds distinctive, and the late-innings appearance of "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" and "I Got You" point to his more adventurous period without really diving into it. Soul Machine is a well-edited collection that puts a valuable perspective on an often overlooked period of James Brown's career...and you can dance to it!
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming