Percy Sledge cut one of the truly epochal sides of the Southern soul era, "When a Man Loves a Woman," but he rarely gets the acclaim he deserves, doubtless because he didn't have many other hits and tended to follow a similar musical pattern in the studio, devoting himself largely to midtempo tunes of loss and heartache. But he also had a strong voice and a masterful touch, and could routinely create something memorable even when he was seemingly following formulas, and this two-fer reissue of two of Sledge's albums from DBK Works finds the man at the top of his game. Released in 1967, The Percy Sledge Way features him covering 11 classic soul numbers, but while Sledge generally honors the intent of the originals, he doesn't struggle to put his own stamp on them as much as he lets his voice shift to the contours of the songs, and with numbers like "The Dark End of the Street," "I've Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)," and "Just Out of Reach (Of My Two Empty Arms)" on the set list, this is a superb exercise in late-night R&B, heavy on the heartbreak. The following year's Take Time to Know Her is a more stylistically diverse set, featuring Sledge's second-biggest hit (the title track) along with the tough, rollicking "Help Me Baby," the potent falsetto number "Come Softly to Me," and a cover of "Spooky" that's full of understated wit. But Sledge is smart enough to also give his fans plenty of what he does best, and there are a number of sterling examples of Sledge letting the slow, sad numbers simmer for maximum impact (and hats off to David Hood, perhaps the most patient bass player on Earth, who is solidly in the pocket no matter how the tune creeps along). DBK Works has done a great job with this reissue, with both albums boasting rich remastered audio and David Cole contributing a concise appreciation of Sledge alongside the original liner notes for both LPs. While many folks might prefer a "greatest-hits" disc as an introduction to Sledge (and they are advised to check out Rhino's excellent It Tears Me Up: The Best of Percy Sledge), this collection is as good as you can get from Sledge without including "When a Man Loves a Woman."
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming