Various Artists

The Girls of Hideaway Heaven, Vol. 2

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Like the first volume of this hard-to-find series, this offers "32 female teen and girl group rarities of the early '60s," in the words of the cover's subtitle. It's a similar grab bag of very hard-to-find 45s in the girl group (and girl group-influenced) style from the first half of the '60s, from both small and big labels. This actually might have a slight edge on volume one; while there's a similar bent toward lightweight efforts in the genre, there are a few more gutsier, more soulful outings this time around. Typically, however, the very best cuts are by the few names who actually scored some hits. Irma Thomas' "Take a Look" is so excellent that even non-girl-group fans could instantly pinpoint it as the set's standout, though it must be said that this particular track is hardly a rarity, having been issued on CD by much larger labels more than once. The entries by Maxine Brown ("Yesterday's Kisses") and Barbara Lynn ("To Love or Not to Love") might not be among those soul singers' better efforts, but similarly, it's obvious that they have much more going for them than the other artists, none of whom -- unlike Thomas, Lynn, and Brown -- ever had hits. Unfortunately, none of the other items are real top-flight girl group items, though a few come close, like Donna Lynn's Lesley Gore-ish "When Your Heart Rings, Answer"; Kelly Garrett's tensely assertive yet ebullient "Baby, It Hurts" (whose quality was recognized by British producer Joe Meek, who recorded a cover version with Glenda Collins in the U.K. shortly afterward), though unfortunately that cut has some of the harshest, hissiest sound on the CD; and Johnnie Mae Matthews' "Itty Bitty Heart," whose earthy delivery makes it seem doubtful this particular vocalist was still a teenager (or a particularly young adult). As other mild points of interest, Chi Chi McCauley's "Memory Lane" is one of the rarer items issued by the esteemed Red Bird label (though it's not too notable), while Diane Castle's "My Heart Belongs to a Devil of a Boy" has some intriguingly head-spinning (though not wholly effective) lyrical twists. If nothing else, this CD is a testament to how many labels -- from ones you've never heard of all the way up to MGM, Capitol, Warner Brothers, and the like -- issued so many flop singles in the style, though it's usually obvious the songs weren't strong enough to stand much chance of making the charts.