Various Artists

The Lake

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As any longtime resident of North Carolina -- especially from Sampson County and neighboring counties like Duplin and Harnett -- could tell you, Williams Lake was a special performing venue. From 1932 until 1970, when it closed, it was home to all manner of musical performances by many of the most popular of the big bands during the swing era, and from the 1950s onward, some of the top R&B and soul talent in the United States, from Stax to Motown and back again. A lot of that talent is represented on this 20-song compilation from KHP Music, hooked around the memory of Williams Lake -- the latter is beautifully and lovingly represented in a beautifully low-key essay by local historian/author Mary Lemuel Blalock. As to the music, which is what really counts, this is an enjoyable mix of soul sounds, and a surprising one -- yes, there are some nicely stomping dance numbers, most notably Mary Wells' "Apples Peaches Pumpkin Pie," but much of this collection is devoted to midtempo harmony-driven dance numbers, as well as some gorgeous ballads:Sonny Turner's "With This Ring," Bob Collins & the Fabulous Five's "If I Didn't Have a Dime (To Play the Jukebox)," "This Magic Moment" as rendered by Bill Pinkney & the Drifters, etc. One fascinating number is the Tams' version of "I've Been Hurt," a number more closely associated with Bill Deal & the Rhondels; also present is Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs' original version of "May I," a song that the Rhondels charted with nationally. But the biggest treat here may be the most unexpected -- Carl Gardner & the Contours doing the most gospel-inflected version of "If I Had a Hammer" heard in 45 years; it's worth the price of the CD by itself. There's not a bad track here, and the production is first-rate.

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