Various Artists

The Curtom Story [Charly]

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It's a sad commentary that the only reasonably definitive retrospective of the most important Black-owned record label of the early '70s exists only as a British import. Charly Records' 51-song double-CD Curtom Story is the perfect companion volume to Rhino's Curtis Mayfield triple-CD set, with surprisingly little overlap -- more than 30 artists are represented, not only Curtis Mayfield (two songs) and the Impressions (five songs), and the expected stars like the Stairsteps, Leroy Hutson, the Natural Four, and Linda Clifford, but also Gene Chandler, Jamo Thomas (who was on Eddie Thomas' self-named label), the Fascinations, June Conquest, Donny Hathaway, Major Lance, Cash McCall, the Amazers, the Winstons, the Symphonics, the Stridells, Baby Huey, the Bobby Franklin Insanity, Moses Dillard & the Tex Town Display, Jesse Anderson, Freddie Waters, the Triplett Twins, the Notations, the Staple Singers, Mavis Staples, the Notations, and Fred Wesley. What's more, there's hardly a weak track anywhere on this set, which is also annotated with extraordinary thoroughness by Trevor Swaine. Additionally, in contrast to some Charly reissues of the '80s, The Curtom Story boasts stunning sound. The hits by each of these artists are here, from Jamo Thomas' 1966 "I Spy (For the F.B.I.)" to Fred Wedley's "House Party," from 1980, a range and a time span that speak volumes about Curtom Records' importance in the R&B field -- even the non-hits such as the Mayfield Singers' "I've Been Trying" show off a level of style and sophistication in its arrangement that pointed toward Curtis Mayfield's ambitious, early-'70s solo work; and even where the material isn't groundbreaking in some respect, as in the case of June Conquest's "What's This I See," the Amazers' "Without A Warning," the Symphonics' "Guilty" (with a delicious baritone sax solo that comes out of nowhere), or the Winstons' gloriously harmonized "Need a Replacement," it's so eminently listenable and enjoyable on its own terms, that the set is irresistible, especially the first disc, covering the earlier history of the company. The disco era material may be a little hard to absorb for those attuned to the label's earlier sound, but the assembly of tracks is so careful, that one more or less eases into that period, and there are so many hard-to-find singles included here, that it should be a part of any serious soul CD collection.

Track Listing - Disc 1

Title/Composer Performer Time
1 2:35
2 2:17
3 2:52
4 2:44
5 2:44
6 2:32
7 3:03
8 2:10
9 2:39
10 1:42
11
2:18
12
2:53
13 2:52
14 2:53
15 2:02
16 2:44
17
2:34
18 2:45
19 2:23
20
2:34
21 2:30
22 3:16
23
2:48
24
2:17
25
3:24
26 3:28
27 2:44
28
2:38
29 3:12
blue highlight denotes track pick