Various Artists

The Soul of Disco [Ministry of Sound]

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The suffocating volume of disco compilations that flooded the market since the birth of the compact disc made it increasingly difficult for new additions to the pile to make a relevant impact. Even a good percentage of relatively obscure tracks that aren't nearly as ubiquitous as "I Will Survive" or "Y.M.C.A." became available on numerous packages. The Soul of Disco disc, from Ministry of Sound Germany, manages to balance out overlooked singles from established artists with rare underground truffles. Few of the selections have appeared on the dime-a-dozen discs that you see filling the average record-store bin. Best of all, there isn't a weak moment to be heard. As the title indicates, the point of the compilation is to highlight some of the best songs of the disco era that remained true to their roots in soul; with that in mind, several of the included cuts are more like post-disco soul, and aren't as geared toward the dancefloor (as in the absence of a pounding 4/4 rhythm), but they take in disco-like characteristics with soul as the foundation. As far as the popular acts are considered, Kool & the Gang contribute "Take My Heart" (instead of "Celebration"), and Sister Sledge are represented with "Thinking of You" (instead of "We Are Family"); these two songs illustrate how massive crossover success with signature singles can overshadow a deep catalog. The obscure artists deliver their fair share of the highlights as well. Chemise's "She Can't Love You," released by the sought-after Emergency label and produced by underground heroes Patrick Adams, Greg Carmichael, and Debbie Hayes, is a mid-tempo post-disco nugget that exemplifies the short era that connects the waning of traditional disco with the first throbs of house music. Carmichael is also behind Pam Todd & Love Exchange's "Let's Get Together," a late-'70s track that sounds more like a classic late-'60s soul single that was years ahead of its time (the observation will make sense when you hear it). Nine other tracks fill out the disc, all of which are keepers -- from Mtume's "Juicy Fruit" (RIP B.I.G.) to Odyssey's "Inside Out" to Leon Ware's "Why I Came to California" to the Strikers' "Body Music." One minor point: a handful of the inclusions were so hard to come by that they had to be mastered from vinyl copies. Regardless of the source, the sound is rich and vibrant throughout, and vinyl fetishists might find the soft crackles endearing.

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