Various Artists

Step Inside My Soul: Rare '70s and Modern Soul

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One thing that's often not understood when it comes to the decline of regional hits is how the relationship of radio and independent labels shifted in the '70s. As radio began to rely on national advertising over local advertising, DJs no longer held the power, program directors did, because PDs wanted to ensure they were playing music that appealed to the intended demographics. Generally, this meant PDs wanted to play songs that would secure ad revenue so they tended to play songs that would appeal to a nation, not a region, but the songs collected on Bear Family/Cree's 2014 compilation Step Inside My Soul: Rare '70s and Modern Soul existed right on the edges of this border; it was music intended for a large audience it was destined never to find. Every one of the 18 songs on Step Inside My Soul saw their first release on a promo single by Polydor but rarely surfaced outside of that original release. Some became collectable, some did not, and only one -- Creative Source -- were awarded with a full contract with Polydor. Step Inside My Soul doesn't quite suggest Polydor buried future classics so much as held the reins too tightly, preventing a bunch of excellent smooth soul, funk, and proto-disco acts from either breaking out of their region or even establishing deep roots within their states. Every cut here -- all released between 1972 and 1980, with most bunched around 1975-1977, thereby existing during disco without quite riding the Zeitgeist -- feels something like a misremembered hit, the kind of single that did indeed chart sometime in the past but only made a fleeting impression. That's the pleasure of Step Inside My Soul: it plays like transmissions from the subconscious, feeling comforting yet fresh because the form is familiar but the specifics surprising. Most of this music recalls other groups, either known or semi-remembered, but the details don't matter much because this is smooth and soulful, music constructed with care and delivered with care; and it withstands repeated plays, plays that make these forgotten tunes sound somewhat like hazy, neglected classics. It's a true treasure of pop archaeology.

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