During the summer of 1970, Carla Thomas wound up recording a full album's worth of material with famed country producer Chips Moman, but the recordings lay in the Stax vaults until Ace released Sweet Sweetheart: The American Studios Sessions and More in 2013. The very presence of Moman suggests the direction Thomas took on these sessions: it's country soul rooted in the deep southern soul of Stax but steeped in Southern California show biz and hippie progressive country. A completed, compiled album was found in the vaults but remained unreleased, perhaps because the initial single "Hi De Ho (That Old Sweet Roll)"/"I Loved You Like I Love My Very Life" stiffed, its lack of success indicating the downward trajectory of Thomas' career more than the quality of the single. Nevertheless, the die was cast. The album was scrapped; Thomas did some more sessions for Stax, then the two parted ways. Hearing Sweet Sweetheart decades later, it's a little bit shocking that it wasn't released at the time, not because it's an unalloyed masterpiece but rather because it's a clean, pure, progressive soul record that belongs to its time; it plays by every commercial rule, from its sound to its song, it finds Thomas in impeccable form and the hazy soulful vibe -- reminiscent of Dusty in Memphis, but not quite as eager to please -- is quite appealing. Ace rounds out the rest of the disc with alternate takes from earlier in Thomas' stint at Stax, ranging from a slow version of "Good Good Lovin" to a different take on "B-A-B-Y." It's all worthwhile, particularly for hardcore soul fans, but the real attraction is that unreleased album which suggests a different, fruitful course for this classic soul singer.
Sweet Sweetheart: The American Studio Sessions and More Review
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine