R. Dean Taylor

The Essential Collection

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One of the pleasures of rock & roll is that the reality is always a little stranger than the history presented on VH1. Exhibit A: R. Dean Taylor, the only white artist signed to Motown in the late '60s and '70s. As a protégé of the Holland-Dozier-Holland hit machine, Taylor made uncredited contributions to minor classics like the Four Tops' "I'll Turn to Stone" and the Temptations' "All I Need." He also scored some cult hits of his own in England, including the ripping "There's a Ghost in My House." "Ghost" suggests that Taylor was an unsung visionary, part great white-soul hope, part proto-punk, but unfortunately, the rest of this so-called Essential Collection reveals that he was something wimpier and less interesting: a cut-rate Neil Diamond or Jimmy Webb. In the tradition of Diamond and Webb, melodramatic lyrics and dense, sound-effects-laden production make for a real kitsch-a-thon, though there are some pearls scattered among the atrocities. The bombast works well on the other two hits, "Gotta See Jane" and "Indiana Wants Me"; "Back Street" is likewise taut and stirring, and the two previously unreleased tracks ("Just Like in the Movies" and "My Lady Bug Stay Away From That Beatle") have a gonzo, Brill Building-style charm. On the other hand, the covers of James Taylor's "Fire and Rain" and the Beatles' "Two of Us" are worse than pointless, and "Shadow," a mariachi-flavored ode to a 14-year-old with the "body of a woman and the mind of a child," is just plain creepy. Approach with low expectations and a light heart.

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