With the 1971 volume of Sweet Soul Music, the ongoing Bear Family series arrives at the era that was covered in detail on Rhino's peerless early-'90s series Soul Hits of the '70s: Didn't It Blow Your Mind! Rhino roughly proceeded in chronological order yet blurred lines on the calendar, so individual volumes featured songs from more than one year. Bear Family does the opposite, diligently marching through the years on each volume. This deliberately paced order combined with broader licensing would give Bear Family enough distinction, but the German reissue label also makes a conscious decision to include superstars of the era along with selections from such labels as Motown and Stax, which were largely absent from Rhino. This means in addition to the lush pop-soul that dominated Didn't It Blow Your Mind!, there is plenty of deep Southern soul, hard funk, and psychedelic soul on Sweet Soul Music, which means it paints a fuller portrait of its era. On the 1971 volume, the addition of Southern soul is immediately apparent, as the 26-track disc opens with Jackie Moore's "Precious, Precious" and Johnnie Taylor's "Jody's Got Your Girl and Gone" and spends much of its first ten songs in similar territory, while also finding space for James Brown's hard-driving "Soul Power, Pts. 1-2." Generally, Sweet Soul Music 1971 has a slightly harder edge than the volumes that directly follow (and certainly harder than Didn't It Blow Your Mind!), but there's also space for the Latin boogie of the Beginning of the End's "Funky Nassau, Pt. 1," the tight, sexy groove of Al Green's "Let's Stay Together," the gorgeous group harmonies of the Chi-Lites' "Have You Seen Her?," and a bunch of bright, densely arranged pop-soul that both represented the year and hinted at where fashion was headed (the Honey Cone's "Want Ads," the 8th Day's "She's Not Just Another Woman," Jean Knight's "Mr. Big Stuff," Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose's "Treat Her Like a Lady"). At the edges there are hints of suspicion (the Undisputed Truth's "Smiling Faces Sometimes"), baroque melodrama (the Persuaders' "Thin Line Between Love and Hate"), and singer/songwriters (Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine"), all elements in what was an uncommonly rich year for soul music.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine