Although former child R&B star Esther Phillips really hit her mature peak in the '60s, commercially she had a hard time finding a niche. "Release Me," her uptown R&B version of a country song, made the pop Top Ten in 1962. But she only dented the charts occasionally over the course of the next decade, despite recording frequently in a number of styles, usually (but not always) for Atlantic. This two-CD, 40-song set is an excellent distillation of work that isn't well known even by R&B devotees, drawing from about half a dozen albums and numerous singles, mostly from Atlantic, but also including 45s she made for Roulette in 1969; about half of the songs on this collection, in fact, were never issued on an album. Phillips was to a degree damned by her versatility: too suave and refined to be classified as a straight soul singer, she takes on jazz, pop, show tunes, blues, the Beatles (her gender-morphed "And I Love Him" was a substantial hit), the Rolling Stones, Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, and more. Like Etta James, the Columbia-era Aretha Franklin, and Nina Simone, she was one of those singers who fell between genre cracks: not quite soul, rock, R&B, jazz, pop, or blues, though elements of all those styles were present in her work. Actually, she wasn't quite as good as any of those above-mentioned legends, with a nasal, edgy style that won't be to everyone's taste, somewhat reminiscent (though not as impressive as) Nina Simone's. The smooth arrangements mine the wide territory between Dinah Washington and Dionne Warwick, though again, she wasn't as well-equipped for success with such an approach as those two were. All these caveats aside, if you enjoy the work of any of the reference points listed above, you'll most likely like Esther Phillips' work on these recordings as well; she's just not quite in the same Hall of Fame class.
AllMusic Review by Richie Unterberger
Track Listing - Disc 1
feat: Jimmy Ricks
Track Listing - Disc 2