Various Artists

The Great Voice of Soul [Cleopatra]

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The upside of Cleopatra's three-disc, 40-track box The Great Voice of Soul is that there's a great deal of excellent music here, with an incredible variety of classic artists from virtually every major R&B genre of the '50s, '60s, and '70s -- smooth late-'50s and early-'60s soul (Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, Ben E. King), raucous New Orleans R&B (Lloyd Price, Allen Toussaint), gritty Southern soul (Sam & Dave, Percy Sledge, Etta James, Fontella Bass), Motown (the Temptations), girl-group pop (the Shangri-Las, Betty Everett, Little Eva, the Chiffons), the lush Philly soul sound (the Chi-Lites, Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes), funk (Funkadelic, James Brown, Curtis Mayfield), and even disco (K.C. and the Sunshine Band). But there are problems with this set -- for starters, all those genres are thrown together in seemingly random order, robbing the music of any flow or cohesion, not to mention a sense of R&B's history and evolution. Furthermore, there's so much more great music to be heard in all of those genres that taking one track apiece from those artists, plus many more, doesn't even begin to cover R&B and soul comprehensively; it can only provide a starting point, and there are much better, more listenable and logical starting points available than The Great Voice of Soul.

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